Body Cavity Bombers: The New Martyrs. By Robert J. Bunker and Christopher Flaherty. Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse, 2013. 294 pp. $23.95, paper.
On August 28, 2009, Abdullah al-Asiri, an alleged member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was scheduled to meet Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, head of counterterrorism for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He had convinced the prince that he had surrendered and that he could persuade more al-Qaeda operatives to lay down their arms. Unbeknownst to the prince, Asiri had an explosive hidden in his anal cavity. The body cavity bomb (BCB) blew Asiri asunder in a truly gruesome fashion but did not kill Nayef. The world was thus introduced to the latest tactic in al-Qaeda's campaign of suicide terrorism.
Four years later, Bunker, a senior fellow with Small Wars Journal, who once held the title "Futurist in Residence" at the FBI Academy, and Flaherty, a London-based security, terrorism, and intelligence expert, examined this incident and others in an important and chilling new addition to the emergent field of suicide terrorism studies. Bunker and Flaherty wrote most of the chapters, but eight other authors, representing various technical specializations, also contributed to the book.
A combination of history, analysis, and speculation, Body Cavity Bombers explains through a series of ghoulish scenarios the significance of bomb types, blast dispersion patterns, and the possibilities inherent in the human anatomy for concealing explosives: vaginal, gastro-intestinal, subcutaneous, "new cavity" (i.e. surgically-created), and even breast-implant bombs. Perhaps the most macabre scenario explores the possibility of a terrorist organization aborting the fetus of a pregnant woman and implanting a bomb into her expanded uterus.
The authors argue that the inspiration for BCBs comes from American pop culture; in focusing on Hollywood's fascination with "the trope of the exploding man," al-Qaeda has entered into the realm of "mytho-fantasy," searching for a BCB that can take down buildings and kill scores of people. But no such bomb exists since the human body is a remarkably effective blast containment device. The BCB has thus far been limited to what the authors call "in situ attacks," which require terrorists to come close enough to embrace their targets.
Bunker and Flaherty's belief is that al-Qaeda's search for a compact bomb with so massive a payload "could easily lead ... into an expensive, time wasting search for the viable BCB, which ultimately leads to [al-Qaeda's] defeat." Such an estimation seems overly optimistic. However, few will disagree with their admonition that "the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] is not thinking strategically." One can only surmise what further intrusions the current approach to the "war on terror" will bring.