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The Nokia 105 is ISIS’ Favorite Bomb Trigger

Mideast Syria IraqMideast Syria Iraq
An undated but verified image posted on a militant website on Jan. 14, 2014 showing fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), now called the Islamic State group, marching in Raqqa, Syria.Militant Website—AP

The entry-level Nokia 105 is the consistent choice for Islamic State militants building remote-controlled explosive devices in Iraq, according to a February report from the weapons monitoring group Conflict Armament Research (CAR). The feature phone is available for about $30 in the U.S., and Nokia parent company Microsoft touts its durability and long battery life.

Those features also apparently make it attractive to ISIS, though the phone has no specific capabilities uniquely suited to bomb-making. Speaking to NBC, CAR director of operations Jonah Leff said that consistency was likely the main factor making the Nokia 105 so predominant. “These people have streamlined the industry of bomb-making with this particular phone.”

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IEDs were the second leading cause of U.S. military casualties during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have been described as the defining feature of contemporary conflicts in the Middle East.

Easily-accessible consumer electronics have played a major role in helping make IEDs deadly by increasing the range from which they can be detonated. Phones operate in pairs to trigger the bombs, with one phone built into the bomb itself, and the other used by a militant to call the first phone, setting off the explosive. Prior to the wide availability of cell phones, explosives were often based on timers, frequently incorporating alarm clocks or digital watches.

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The CAR report details ten seized phones, which Microsoft (MSFT) helped trace from factories in Vietnam, China, and India, through dealers in Iraq and Yemen, and into the hands of militants. The report also tracks the journeys of the many other components that go into IEDs, including everything from Dutch barrels to Turkish fertilizer to Japanese microchips.