Fact Checked

What is a Bomb Threat?

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands

A bomb threat is an aggressive verbal or written warning concerning an explosive device that has been set to detonate in the near future. Threats such as these are deliberate acts intended to terrorize individuals who may be injured or killed in an explosion. In many instances, threats are made as a practical joke or simply to scare others while no actual bomb exists. A bomb threat, however, is always considered to be a serious crime punishable by law.

A bomb scare often involves the random discovery of a suspicious device or the receipt of a package suspected to contain an explosive device. Many times, however, a bomb threat is more directly made. Such threats are frequently delivered by telephone and are directed toward public places or government institutions where a major explosion is likely to cause extensive damage and loss of lives. In some instances, however, a bomb threat may be made in the form of a written threat either by a handwritten note, a typed letter or by an electronic message, such as email. Whether a threat is real or not, the mere mention of a possible bomb explosion generally wreaks havoc in the area targeted by the threat.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Once a bomb threat has been made, it is taken very seriously even before the level of danger has been verified. Often, threats are simply scare tactics, but concern for public safety calls for such warnings to be immediately acted upon while assuming that an explosion is imminent. When a device is visually recognized, experts warn against touching it or using other wireless devices such as computers or cell phones, as such may trigger an explosion.

Although perceived to be very dangerous, the United States Department of Homeland Security advises that anyone receiving a bomb threat not evacuate the premises before law enforcement officials arrive and properly assess the threat. Experts further advise that individuals who receive a bomb threat by phone to try to keep the person making the threat on the telephone for as long as possible while discreetly getting another nearby person to notify the authorities from another phone. Even after the caller has issued the threat and terminated a call, experts warn against hanging up the phone that the call was received on.

In most countries, a bomb threat is considered a terrorist act. The punishment for crimes such as these varies among jurisdictions. In the United States, under criminal law, such threats are considered to be a felonious crime punishable by fine or prison time.

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Is it criminal to simply write a bomb threat with no intent to deliver it?

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