Tools of the Trade of Western-Backed Jihadists

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Handicraft mortars, jeep-carts, armored cars, and even tactical missiles — this is a non-complete list of the improvised weapons that are used in wars currently in the Middle East. Militants in Syria and Iraq complement the development of fighters of the IRA, “Hezbollah”, and the Republicans during the Civil war in Spain with their own know-how. “” describes the most popular homemade shooters.

Blue bomb

A homemade blue shell bomb from a domestic gas cylinder is one of the trademarks of the armed Syrian opposition, as well as ISIS and “Jabhat al-Nusra”. The cylinder is filled with handicraft product (based on ammonium nitrate) or with factory explosives (extracted from unused artillery shells). Sometimes additional submunitions are used — small nuts and bolts, pieces of metal, thin steel plates. Then the cylinder is fastened to a fuse, and the bottom is welded to a base with stabilizers to ensure at least some firing accuracy. After this, the heavy wonder-shell is ready for battle. Ammunition of a smaller caliber is made from scraps of pipes, approximately on the same technology more or less.

It is fired using a makeshift mortar from a steel pipe of a large diameter, sealed at one end and attached to a steel support.

The design can be installed on a chassis. Before firing the mortar it is draped with stones for greater stability. The powder charge is ignited, like with ancient weapons, by a match through the opening in the breech. The firing range depends on the strength of the pipe and the number of cellophane bags with homemade gunpowder, which the militants load into the barrel. It is said that the projectile cylinder is capable of flying up to three kilometers. It serves as a weapon for only a few people, after all, to drag homemade bombs and to load them in the barrel is hard work.

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There are options where the shell is not lowered into the barrel, but is mounted outside like the mortars during the First world war.

In the video — a militant fires from such a mortar, which was made, in all likelihood, from the circumcision of the barrel of the actual cannon. For the projectile — the familiar blue cylinder.

In the 20th century, home-made mortars from pipes were used by the soldiers of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) to attack British barracks. They were called “barrack busters”. The mortar was brought in a truck or minivan and immediately after the attack, it left the position. Sometimes it was fired on the move. Also, mortars where as a projectile a keg of gasoline is used are mentioned.



From ersatz-mortars fighters even make multiple rocket launchers: several steel pipes are welded to the scoop of a front-end loader. Such a self-propelled cannon can conduct rapid fire on the enemy and, if necessary, quickly change position.

A more simpler and cheaper option is a large catapult or slingshot with rods of rubber bands. Hand grenades or improvised explosive devices serve as projectiles. The weapon is easily mounted and transported, it is convenient to use in urban fights. In the video, four militants stretch a harness slingshot, and the fifth lights the fuse of a homemade grenade. One more aims the actions of his comrades.

Heavy arbalests for throwing grenades were quite actively used by the French during the First World War.

The catapult towed by a truck, reminiscent of a medieval trebuchet, is used by the Syrian opposition in urban combat for launching homemade bombs.


A pickup truck with a large-caliber machine gun or a lightweight gun became a symbol of Middle Eastern conflicts since the war in Afghanistan. Militants like the proven and reliable Japanese Toyota SUVs most of all, mounted on which is the no less tried and tested Soviet DShK, anti-aircraft guns ZPU-1, ZPU-4, or if they’re lucky — ZU-23-2. According to the Pentagon, the Americans gave the Syrian opposition a few thousand Toyota HiLux pickups and Land Rover Defenders.

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If a unit of UB-32 is placed on the back of Toyota to fire 57-mm aircraft rockets, the SUV turns into an ultralight MLRS with a range of up to 1.8 kilometers. By the way, a similar system was developed for the Ukrainian army in the 1990’s.

According to media reports, to combat the “Jihad-mobiles” of militants, Russian “jeep-carts” – UAZ “Patriot” pickups – were transferred from Moscow to Damascus. Mounted on the back of these are 12.7-millimeter “Kord” machine guns and AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers. If necessary, the “Patriots” can be armed with anti-tank “Konkurs” or “Kornet” missile systems, hitting armored targets at a distance of up to 5 kilometers, or 120 mm mortar mines with a range of 9 miles.

All four wheels

Makeshift armored cars, small tanks, and bulldozers converted from conventional tractors, buses, trucks, and ordinary cars were first used en masse in the Civil war in Spain (1936-1939) — the Republicans tried to compensate for the lack of armored vehicles. A special term was even invented for homemade products – los tiznaos, and some models were produced in a small number in the factories of Barcelona and Bilbao.


Since then, armored oddities roam from one civil war to the next. The design of modern “tiznaos” would certainly be envied by the characters of “Mad max”. Today, ersatz armored cars are used by all parties in the Syrian conflict, the opposing factions in Iraq, the DPR militias, and by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The double-armored car of the Syrian rebels “Sham-II” is similar to an overturned trashcan. Only on wheels and with a machine gun. This is the kind of innovative technology – control of the weapon is achieved using monitors and joysticks, such as those used for video games. “Sham-II” is equipped with five video cameras: three in the front, one in the back, and one on the barrel of the cannon.

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Military groups of the Shiite “Badr” organisation used a hybrid of a tank and an anti-aircraft gun as a mobile weapon emplacement – the turret of a Soviet T-55 tank is mounted on a four wheeled chassis of an anti-aircraft gun. Judging by the video, before shooting it is better to leave the tank-cart and in general to stay clear of it.

Arab rocket aimed at the Zenith

Homemade rocket launchers were well mastered by Palestinian militants, waging a permanent war with Israel. It is believed that the first Qassam rocket of the “ground-to-ground” class was launched in the midst of the Second intifada in the fall of 2001. “Qassam” is made from scrap pipe about a meter long, in which several kilograms of explosives are placed. In the tail part a solid-propellant engine is equipped (as fuel — a mixture of sugar and potassium nitrate).


Sometimes the launch was carried out with the help of original devices, like a small garbage-truck, converted into an MLRS — such an installation in 2010 was captured by the Israeli military in the Gaza strip.


The experience of the Palestinian Von-Braun was adopted by rocket scientists from military groups in Syria and Iraq. But they don’t limit themselves anymore to small calibers. It is reported that the Shiite group “Kataib Hezbollah” in the fighting near Aleppo used a look-a-like of the improvised tactical rocket. Presumably, the starting parts of old Soviet anti-aircraft missiles S-75 or their Chinese copies are used.

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