Time bomb

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Concept.png Time bomb 
Time bomb.png
Fr Patrick Ryan bought 400 Memopark Swiss timers

A time bomb or Timer and Power Unit (TPU) is a bomb that is triggered by a timer which can delay detonation by hours, weeks or months. Since the 1970s, time bombs with Memopark timers have been employed extensively by the Provisional IRA both in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland.[1]

In the 1980s, long-delay TPUs were allegedly used for the Regent's Park bombing and the Brighton bombing, and a so-called ice-cube timer (barometric trigger) for the Lockerbie bombing.[2]


The explosive charge is the main component of any bomb, and makes up most of the size and weight of it. It is the damaging element of the bomb (along with any fragments or shrapnel the deflagration might produce with its container or neighbouring objects). The explosive charge is detonated by a detonator.

A time bomb's timing mechanism may be professionally manufactured, either separately or as part of the device, or it may be improvised from an ordinary household timer such as a wind-up alarm clock, wrist watch, digital kitchen timer, or a laptop computer.


Types of time bombs include:

  • Delayed-action bomb (bombs dropped by aircraft with a delay to increase damage/disruption)
  • Improvised explosive device (IED) ("home-made" bombs with a delay to allow the person placing the bomb to escape)
  • Limpet mine (attached to enemy ships by naval divers)

Notable TPU incidents

Year Event Location Perpetrator(s) Deaths Injuries Comments
1871 Attack on the Mosel (ship) Bremerhaven Alexander Keith, Jr. 80 unknown bomb set for insurance fraud purposes; detonated prematurely
1910 Los Angeles Times bombing Los Angeles John J. McNamara and James B. McNamara 21 100 Union-related action
1916 Preparedness Day Bombing San Francisco Labour leaders 10 40 Isolationist political action
1920 Wall Street bombing New York City Anarchists (suspected) 38 400 Followed other bombings in 1919
1939 Bürgerbräukeller Munich Georg Elser 7 63 Failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler
1942 St Nazaire Raid St Nazaire, France (wartime) Royal Navy, British Commandos 590 unknown To damage port facilities being used by enemy forces
1944 July Plot Wolf's Lair, Poland (wartime) German Resistance 4 ? Failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler
1955 United Airlines Flight 629 over Longmont, Colorado, USA Jack Gilbert Graham 44 0 Murder; insurance fraud
1972 Aldershot Bombing Aldershot, UK IRA 7 18 A 280 lb time bomb in a car
1974 M62 Coach Bombing West Yorkshire IRA 12 38 Continuing anti-British campaign
1974 Birmingham pub bombings Birmingham, UK IRA (suspected) 21 182 Continuing anti-British campaign
1974 Guildford pub bombings Guildford, UK IRA 5 65 Targeted against Army personnel
1977 Lucona sinking Indian Ocean Udo Proksch 6 0 Attempted insurance fraud
1982 Regent's Park bombing Beneath the bandstand in London's Regent's Park IRA 7 31 Targeted against Army bandsmen
1983 Church Street bombing Pretoria, South Africa probably Department of Military Intelligence 19 217 False flag by apartheid regime to blame ANC
1983 Harrods bombing Knightsbridge, London IRA 6 90 Car bomb
1984 Brighton hotel bombing Brighton, UK IRA, using long-delay MST-13 Timer 5 31 Attempt to assassinate PM Margaret Thatcher
1986 La Belle discotheque bombing West Berlin probably Mossad 3 230 False flag operation to blame Libya
1986 El Al Flight 016 Heathrow, UK probably Mossad Nil Nil False flag operation to blame Syria
1987 Korean Air Flight 858 Andaman Sea North Korea 115 (all) 0 State "terrorism" against South Korea
1987 Remembrance Day bombing Enniskillen, Northern Ireland IRA 12 63 Continuing anti-British campaign
1988 Pan Am Flight 103 Above Lockerbie, Scotland South African CCB with possible help from CIA, SIS and Mossad 259 (all) 0 Targeting UN Commissioner for Namibia Bernt Carlsson
1989 UTA Flight 772 Over the Sahara Desert (Niger) possibly CIA and/or MI6 170 (all) 0 Persuading France to vote for UNSCR 748 (1992) which imposed sanctions on Libya
1989 Deal barracks bombing Deal, Kent, UK IRA 11 21 Targeted against military personnel
1994 Philippine Airlines Flight 434 Between Cebu and Tokyo Ramzi Yousef 1 10 Foiled attempt.
1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing Atlanta, Georgia, USA Eric Rudolph 1 111 Politically-motivated anti-abortionist; occurred during 1996 Summer Olympics.
1998 Omagh bombing Omagh, Northern Ireland IRA 29 220 Worst single incident loss of life during the anti-British campaign.
1999 Russian apartment bombings Buynaksk
unknown 293 651 4 bombs over 4 days; purpose unknown.
2006 Moscow market bombing Moscow Racist organisation 13 46 Racially motivated attack

Time bombs in fiction

Time bombs are common plot devices used in action/thriller TV series, cartoons, films and video games, where the hero often escapes the blast area or defuses the bomb at the last second. Many fictional time bombs are improvised, and usually involve a beeping sound with a large prominent countdown timer (on rare occasions, the timer will count up).

Such fictional appearances include:


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:The plot to blow up El Al Flight 016Article6 April 2019Marianne Colloms
Dick Weindling
Two weeks after Nezar Hindawi's trial, French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac was interviewed on tape by Arnaud de Borchgrave, the editor of the Washington Times. When he was asked about the attempt to blow up the El Al plane Chirac said he had been told by the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher that they believe it had been set up by Mossad agents to destabilise Syria's Assad regime.
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