Package and Letter Bombs

Package and letter bombs are a common terrorist method to spread fear or gain publicity. Be aware of indicators that may help you identify a package or letter bomb and precautions you can take to avoid being victimized by such a device.

Precautions

Receiving mail at home makes you a more interesting and accessible target. It is a good idea to never accept mail, especially packages, at your home in a foreign country. Make sure that your family members and any household staff know to refuse all unexpected mail at home. At your office, ensure that clerical staff is instructed on how to deal with unexpected or suspicious letters or packages.

A suspicious package or letter should not be touched and certainly never be moved. Report it to security officials immediately and keep people away from it. Any movement, especially cutting tape, strings, or other wrappings on a suspect package could cause an explosive device to detonate. Putting a suspect letter or package in water could also cause it to explode.

Suspicious Indicators

Because of who makes them and how they are made, some package and letter bombs can be recognized as suspicious -- are at least highly unusual. Here are a number of indicators to look for. After each indicator, in parentheses, is speculation as to why bombs often show such obvious indicators.

  • No return address, return address is different from location where mailed, or mailed from an unusual or unknown location. (Bomb may be made in one location and then given to a different person to mail it.)
  • Incorrect spelling, address is poorly typed, address has an incorrect title or uses only your title and no name. (The people who make and send these bombs often have limited knowledge about you, are poorly educated, or are poor typists.)
  • Restrictive markings such as Confidential or Personal. (The goal is to try to get you to open it personally).
  • Excessive postage (This happens because the sender is afraid to take the bomb package to the post office to be weighed).
  • Unusual odor. (Many explosives used by terrorists smell like shoe polish or almonds.)
  • Oily stains on the package, or protruding wires, string, or tin foil. (Sloppy, amateur effort or perhaps made to look like a bomb just to scare and intimidate you.)
  • Package has unusual size, shape, weight, or balance of weight in the package. Envelope is rigid or the contents are lopsided or uneven. (Size, shape, and weight are whatever is needed to accommodate the explosive device within.)
  • Excessive string or tape to secure the package. (The maker of the bomb has a natural urge to make certain the package doesn't come open accidentally.)
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