Human bombs used to be mere puzzling headlines for the people of Pakistan till the 9/11 terror attacks, a part of stories of death and destruction emanating out of troubled West Asia. Then US-led Allied Forces invaded Afghanistan, making Pakistan personally experience the devastation a person strapped with lethal explosives could unleash.
With the avowed aim of physically eliminating all those who are siding with the forces of the infidel, the new breed of well trained and highly motivated suicide bombers strike not only Western targets, but Pakistani security and intelligence agencies also, especially the army, the police and the ISI, which spearhead the US war against terror in the country.
The security situation in Pakistan has been in utter turmoil for the past two years, and it went from bad to worse after the Operation Silence carried out against the fanatic Lal Masjid clerics in July 2007. Since then, it appears the extremist forces had not only gained strength in the tribal areas but also got a foothold in the country’s settled areas. Therefore, as things stand, hotels, police stations, police training centres, headquarters of intelligence agencies, army check posts, military training centres, government buildings, mosques, processions and markets have become vulnerable targets of the suicide bombers.
Investigations by Pakistani agencies show the involvement of several kinds of jehadi groups in the ongoing spate of suicide strikes including the Lal Masjid Brigade, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI), Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Jamaatul Furqaan (JuF), Jaishul-Islami (JuI), Fidayeen-e-Islam (FeI), Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade (ASB) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).
The human bombs coming from the Lal Masjid Brigade are those who have either been linked with Lal Masjid or Jamia Fareedia or had sympathies with the fanatic Ghazi brothers due to their ideological affinity. While some of the human bombs had been the students of the Ghazi duo, some were the relatives of those killed during the Operation Silence in July 2007. Authorities probing the ongoing spate of suicide bombings that took place after the Operation Silence believe that most of these attacks were carried out by young men in their 20s coming from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of South Waziristan and North Waziristan.
As soon as the Operation Silence came to an end, the agencies had warned that the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad could suffer from suicide attacks, as over 500 potential suicide bombers who had been studying at the Lal Masjid-run Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Fareedia had not returned to their homes after the ending of the Operation Silence. They had warned that the potential bombers were hiding in several madrassas and mosques in and around the twin cities, and were determined to blow themselves up any time, anywhere to avenge the killing of kin and friends. Hardly a few weeks after the operation ended, an 18 year old suicide bomber killed 22 highly trained commandos of the Special Services Group of the Army by targeting their Tarbela Ghazi mess, 100 km south of Islamabad on 13 September 2007. The bomber eventually turned out to be the brother of a Jamia Hafsa girl student killed during the operation, carried out by the Karar Company of the SSG.
The second kind of extremists involved in suicide attacks are those linked to the al-Qaeda and Taliban network based in the Waziristan region on the Pakistan-Afghan tribal belt. In the rocky and far-flung region of Waziristan, Islamic rebels allied to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda have literally taken control of virtually all of the entire North Waziristan tribal area on the Pak-Afghan border, thereby gaining a significant base from which to wage their resistance against the US-led forces in Afghanistan as well as the Pakistani security forces, especially through their highly motivated and lethal suicide bombers. Intelligence sources say the Pakistani security forces have mostly been targeted by the bombers trained and dispatched by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by Commander Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan.
According to a senior official of the elite Special Investigation Group (SIG), from the 26 suicide attacks carried out in 2007, from where the heads of the bombers were also recovered, it transpired that the vast majority of the human bombs came from just one tribe – the Mehsuds of central Waziristan, all boys aged 16 to 20. In fact, most of the recent suicide attacks carried out after the launching of the Operation Rah-e-Haq by the Pakistan Army in Swat have already been claimed by Baitullah – be it the Peshawar Pearl Continental blast, twin attacks on the Lahore headquarters of the Inter Services Intelligence and the Rescue 15, the murder of Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi or the fidayeen assault on the Manawan police academy in Lahore.
The man tasked with indoctrinating youngsters and converting them into lethal suicide bombers is Qari Hussain, also known as Ustad-e-Fidayeen or the teacher of suicide bombers. Believed to be the main ideologue of Pushtun Taliban working under Baitullah’s command, Hussain had been running his suicide training camp in Spinkai Ragzai, a small town in South Waziristan. As one such training centre was discovered by the military authorities last year at a Government-run school in the Kotkai area of South Waziristan, General Officer Commanding of the 14 Division Major General Tariq Khan told reporters in Dera Ismail Khan on May 18, 2008 that it was like a factory, recruiting nine to 12-year-old boys, and turning them into suicide bombers.
Qari Hussain is known in the TTP ranks for his strong anti-Shia views and close ties with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The Pakistani agencies are trying to hunt him down given his status as the one who may have recruited and indoctrinated the largest number of people from Waziristan to carry out suicide hits in the country. On January 17, 2009, Qari Hussain released an unusual video of statements from purported human bombs and footage of deadly attacks they claimed to have perpetrated in Pakistan.
The tape, released by none other than Hussain himself, showed youth, some in their teens, addressing the camera about their intention to carry out suicide attacks to background music of Urdu militant anthems. The two major suicide attacks claimed on the TTP video were the March 11, 2008 suicide attack on the Federal Investigation Agency building in Lahore and the November 24, 2007 twin suicide attacks in Faizabad area of Rawalpindi right in front of the ISI headquarters when a bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a bus carrying 35 ISI officers, killing 15 of them on the spot.
Another important sectarian-cum-jehadi group involved in suicide attacks across Pakistan is Lashkar-e-Jhangvi – a Sunni Deobandi organization which was launched in 1996. The Lashkar today is the most violent al-Qaeda terrorist group operating in Pakistan with the help of its lethal suicide squad, supervised by Qari Zafar who has become a trusted member of al-Qaeda’s hardline inner circle due to his acquaintance with Baitullah Mehsud. South Waziristan-based Qari Zafar, who in fact belongs to Karachi, is not only the suspected mastermind of the September 20, 2008 Marriot Hotel suicide attack in Islamabad, but the most sought after al-Qaeda linked terrorist is reportedly trying to target key strategic installations belonging to the ISI and the Army.
Then next in line is the Swat chapter of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi which is accused of carrying out several suicide attacks targeting the Pakistani security forces. The first such attack was carried out on November 8, 2006 when 45 Pakistan army recruits undergoing training at the Punjab Regimental Centre in Dargai, 100 kilometers north of Peshawar. Another major suicide attack was carried out on October 25, 2007 in Mingora, as two suicide bombers rammed their explosive-laden vehicles into a truck carrying the Frontier Constabulary personnel, killing 33 of them. The attack came following a warning by Fazlullah against the deployment of the security forces.
Then there are a few relatively unknown jehadi organisations like Jaishul-Islami, Fidayeen-e-Islam and Abdulllah Azam Shaheed Brigade which had claimed several major suicide hits. The Jaish had claimed the October 9, 2008 car suicide attack on the Anti Terrorist Squad headquarters in Islamabad. The Fidayeen had claimed the September 20, 2008 Marriott Hotel suicide hit in Islamabad while the Azzam Brigade had co-claimed along with the Tehrik-e-Taliban the June 9, 2009 attack on the Marriot Hotel in Peshawar. These three groups are supposed to be based in the Waziristan region. There are three other jehadi groups which have not yet claimed any suicide attack in Pakistan but have been found involved in several such attacks in the past.
The first one is Jaish-e-Mohammad led by India’s Most Wanted Maulana Masood Azhar while the second is Harkatul Jehadul Islami led by Qari Saifullah Akhtar, already named by Benazir Bhutto as her would be assassin in her posthumous book. To recall, the two human bombs who had tried to kill General Musharraf on December 25, 2003 by ramming their explosive-laden cars into his presidential convoy in Rawalpindi, were later identified as Qari Mohammad Jameel Sudhan, an activist of the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Khalique alias Hazrat sultan, an activist of the Harkatul Jehadul Islami.
The third such jehadi group, Jamaatul Furqaan, is led by Maulana Abdul Jabbar alias Umar Farooq, once the chief operational commander of Jaish-e-Mohammad and a close associate of Masood Azhar. The Jamaat is accused of masterminding the March 17, 2002 suicide hit inside an Islamabad church during Sunday service in diplomatic enclave, killing five people, including an American diplomat’s wife and his daughter.
And last but not the least, there is another jehadi organization, Lashkar-e-Toiba, which is accused of carrying out fidayeen attacks in Jammu & Kashmir, targeting the Indian security forces. Fidayeen or life daring attacks are its hallmark. The LeT prefer the term fidayeen to the more common ‘suicide attack’ because its Wahabi leadership strictly prohibits suicide. The fidayeen attackers seldom return from their penetrate-and-kill missions as their aim is not to save their own lives but to maximize the frightening psychological impact on the enemy by inflicting death and destruction on their targets.
The Pakistani investigators say all these groups follow their own techniques to achieve their objectives and use different mechanisms to attack their targets. The jehadi group comprising the toughest motivation category is to hit the military installations with the help of its suicide bombers. They include trained, skillful and equally motivated terrorists. The second category of human bombs attack personnel of law-enforcement agencies and government personalities while the third one is deputed to kill the enemy through a car bombing or blast through remote-controlled device.
The Pakistani authorities say the production of suicide belts in Waziristan has become a cottage industry as one household makes the detonator, another sews the belt, a third molds ball bearings, and so on. These are then collected and paid for by the Taliban, who claim in their propaganda that they have hundreds of willing youngsters lined up to carry out suicide bombings. Then there are some definite patterns of the suicide attacks being carried out in Pakistan. They say the suicide bomber generally never comes alone; he is charged up, brainwashed to the last moment, highly indoctrinated and fanatically intoxicated up till the last moment by his handler who makes sure that the tempo and temper of the suicide bomber reaches to the climax and to the extreme just as he approaches his target.
As far as the motivation of a human bomb to sacrifice himself is concerned, a careful study of the life history of 25 human bombs that exploded themselves between 2002 and 2005 across Pakistan showed that American atrocities against Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq had been the foremost motivation for a majority of them. The study, carried out by an elite intelligence agency, showed that none of the 25 human bombs came from the elite class: 16 of them belonged to the lower middle class while the other nine belonged to the middle class families. Another thing they had in common was illiteracy.
For years, the Pakistani intelligence agencies used to indoctrinate, motivate and train the jehadi cadres for export in the neighbourhood – to Jammu Kashmir and Afghanistan. The human bombs had, however, excluded their home ground from the scope of their holy war. But as things stand, there is a sharp decline in deadly suicide attacks in Jammu Kashmir, with Pakistan emerging as a favoured target of these attacks. Therefore, the human bombs originally designed by the Pakistani establishment to rip apart the so-called enemies of Islam and Pakistan, are now exploding themselves inside their own country and killing their fellow Muslims. Pakistan’s chickens have come home to roost.