Christine Spigai

Between November 24 and December 2, six letter bombs were discovered at high-profile targets in Spain according to law enforcement, including Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid and other government offices. A Ukrainian employee at Ukraine’s embassy in Madrid was injured in an explosion after handling a letter addressed to Serhil Pohoreltsev, Ukraine’s ambassador to Spain.

One of the six letter bombs was uncovered and deactivated at a weapons manufacturer in the northern city of Zaragoza. It carried the same return address as the one that exploded in Madrid. While the name of the weapons manufacturer has yet to be released, sources indicate the company manufactures rocket launchers that Spain has sent to Ukraine as part of its military aid packages.

The sender(s) and motive are still unknown, although a recent report indicates that all the letters appear to have been posted from the northern city of Valladolid. In a potentially unrelated incident, law enforcement agencies in the Czech Republic reported evacuations at the Ukrainian embassies in Prague and Brnoaf following a series of suspicious packages, which upon investigation did not contain explosives.    

Historical Lessons

History indicates that significant international military operations, such as the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, can elevate the threat spectrum well beyond their borders. Additionally, international incidents such as these often serve as a precursor for events in the U.S. by motivating terrorists to act in response. IEDs are an often-used tactic for extremists and terror groups, many of whom provide online guidance to their supporters and other radicalized individuals on how to manufacture different types of explosives or incendiary devices.

Even small, unsophisticated devices using everyday materials easily found in stores can succeed in creating fear and endangering lives. One high-profile example is the Boston Marathon bombing.

On April 15, 2013, brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev planted two homemade improvised explosive devices (IEDs) created using pressure cookers. They hid the devices in backpacks near the race finish line. The explosions killed three people and seriously injured hundreds of others. A multiple-day manhunt resulted in the death of Tamerlan and capture of Dzhokhar, who revealed self-radicalized motivation tied to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Stay Smart on Screening

These current events underscore the need for diligent security screening procedures, especially during peak shipping season. While IEDs can be configured in a variety of ways, differing in shape, size and presentation, they all carry four basics: power source, initiator, explosive and switch (P.I.E.S). Stay focused on these basics.

Knowing what to look for and how to analyze the broad range of images are critical. Misinterpretation of a suspicious device is an enormous liability risk so in instances of uncertainty, access to experienced eyes is invaluable. MSA’s SmartTech®, An Allied Universal® Solution, is used in 55 countries to maximize screening success. It integrates with existing X-ray equipment to provide real-time access to MSA’s experienced bomb technicians and allows for instant analysis of any suspicious item in just about 90 seconds.  

MSA Security® prepared 10 Facts About X-ray Screening as well as a Screener Aptitude Test to further demonstrate the importance of proper screening.  Protecting people, property and brand reputation are priorities well worth the investment and far less costly than recovering from the damage resulting from a genuine or mishandled IED threat. To learn more, contact


Subscribe to Blog