Pakistan: The suicide-bomb capital of the world By Amir Mir
ISLAMABAD - Ten years down the road since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the
subsequent war on terror launched by the United States, Pakistan seems to have
been turned into the suicide bombing capital of the world, with the country’s
security forces, especially the army and the police, often being targeted by
lethal human bombs.
In 303 suicide attacks carried out in almost every nook and corner of Pakistan
4,808 people were killed and 10,149 others injured in the decade to September
11, 2011, according to Ministry of Interior data.
Statistically speaking, that staggering death toll means that on average,
suicide bombers have killed 480 people and injured 1,014 others every year
across Pakistan since September 11, 2011 - though, post-9/11, the phenomenon
first struck in 2002. Likewise, Pakistan has suffered an average 30 suicide
bombings every year
of the decade, or four attacks a month.
In comparison, in Iraq, suicide bombers have killed more than 12,000
civilians and wounded more than 30,000 since the war began in 2003, according
to study released by the British medical journal Lancet.
The study found that 1,003 documented suicide bombings accounted for 12,284 of
108,624 Iraqi civilian deaths, 11% of those killed between March 20, 2003, and
December 31, 2010. During the same period from 2003 to 2010, 79 documented
suicide bomb attacks were responsible for the deaths of 200 coalition troops,
the study found.
However, attacks have tapered off dramatically over the past year, while those
in Pakistan are on the increase.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, in the decade since September 9, 2001 - the
killing of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud by al-Qaeda suicide
bombers - a total of 736 suicide attacks have killed 3,755 people, the
India-based Institute of Conflict Management and its South Asia Terrorism
Pakistan, which the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hired during the
tyrannical rule of military dictator General Zia ul-Haq to spearhead the
so-called Afghan jihad against Russian occupation troops, suffered just one
suicide bomb prior to the past decade. That was an attack on the the Egyptian
Embassy in Islamabad in 1995.
Human bombs used to be just puzzling headlines until 9/11, a part of stories of
death and destruction elsewhere. It was after the US-led invasion of
neighboring Afghanistan in October 2001 that Pakistan began experience the
devastation a person strapped with lethal explosives could unleash. Suicide
bombers have since made whole swathes of the land their laboratory - from
rugged, lawless terrain of the tribal areas out west to the well-kept environs
With the avowed aim of eliminating all those who side with "the forces of the
infidel", the new breed of highly-trained and equally motivated suicide bombers
strike not only Western targets, but also Pakistani security personnel,
intelligence agencies and the police.
The nation's security situation is in utter turmoil today. The highly-secured
headquarters of the army and navy, the offices of the Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI), police stations, military training academies, check posts,
government buildings - particularly the symbols of the state - and mosques,
imambargas, churches, hospitals, schools and markets have all become
targets of the ruthless suicide bombers.
Suicide bombers actually came to Pakistan in force in 2002. The first attack of
its kind occurred on March 16 that year, when a suicide bomber blew himself up
in a church in Islamabad, killing five people and injuring 40 others.
Fifteen people died and 35 others were injured on May 8 that year when a bomber
rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into a bus near the Sheraton Hotel in
Karachi. Those killed in the attack included nine French engineers and five
Pakistanis technicians who were working on a naval project. The attacks placed
Pakistan on the world map of countries marred by suicide bombings.
The prime motive behind these attacks was the fact that in the aftermath of
9/11, Pakistan became a key US ally in the "war on terror" by reversing its
previous decade's policy of trying to influence Afghan politics through the
The reversal brought the Pakistani military establishment into conflict with
jihadi organizations active in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir. For years,
these groups had been ideologically motivated, mobilized and trained in
The next year, in 2003, a total of 70 people were killed and 114 injured in
three suicide attacks, two targeting the president, General Pervez Musharraf in
December and one targeting former prime minister Shaukat Aziz in June.
In 2004, 91 people were killed and 393 injured in seven incidents. The death
doll in 2005 was 86 people killed and 219 injured in four strikes, while 161
people were killed and 352 injured in seven attacks in 2006.
The following year saw an unprecedented rise in suicide attacks, in the wake of
the army's gory Operation Silence against fanatical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque)
clerics and their followers in the heart of Islamabad. A record number of 766
people were killed and 1,677 injured in 56 attacks in 2007.
The perilous trend of suicide strikes targeting the Pakistani security forces
touched alarming heights that year, averaging more than one hit a week as the
military establishment lost control of extremist jihadi networks and the
leaders it had nurtured to advance its agenda in Afghanistan and India.
The intensity of the aftermath of the July 2007 siege of Lal Masjid could be
gauged from the fact that Musharraf, as commander-in-chief, directed the armed
forces not to wear their uniforms in public, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
for fear of an extremist backlash.
Pro-al-Qaeda tribal leaders exploited the Lal Masjid operation to provoke
attacks against the army and demoralize troops. The idea was to convince the
intensively Islamized military rank and file realize that the army was making a
mistake by following the American dictates under the leadership of a
"faithless" Musharraf and his fellow generals.
The number of suicide bombings multiplied further next year - in 2008 - killing
895 people and injuring 1873 in 60 such incidents. There were 78 suicide
attacks in 2009, killing 951 people and wounding 2,361. The ugly phenomenon
peaked in 2010, when 1,172 people were killed and 2,204 injured in 51 such
It seems to be on the decline, with 601 people killed and 842 others injured in
36 incidents this year to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, compared to
the lives of 857 Pakistanis lost in who had lost their lives in 41 incidents
between January 1, 2010 and September 11, 2010.
In a grim monthly break-down of the suicide bomb statistics for 2011, 45 people
were killed in four incidents, 39 people were killed in three suicide attacks
in February, 127 more lost their lives in six suicide attacks in March; another
65 were killed in April, 154 people lost their lives at the hands of human
bombs in five such incidents in May, 66 more Pakistanis perished in four
attacks in June, 11 people were killed in three attacks in July, and 71
Pakistanis lost their lives in four suicide bombings in August. This month 24
people have killed so far in one suicide attack in Quetta on September 7.
Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked Pakistani terrorists learned their deadly skills
from their Afghan counterparts. Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah Akhund
was seen as the main architect behind the increasing number of suicide missions
against the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan.
Though Dadullah was killed in May 2007 in a military raid by the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) troops in Kandahar, the suicide bombing trend he
introduced continues to terrify the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan today.
It was Qari Hussain Mehsud who had encouraged fidayeen-style suicide
bombings in Pakistan in the wake of Operation Silence. Before being killed in a
US drone attack in North Waziristan in October 2010, Qari Hussain was known in
the Pakistani security circles as the master trainer of young suicide bombers
and thus referred to as the Ustad-e-Fidayeen, or the teacher of the
Trained by his Afghan counterparts, Qari Hussain had established a fidayeen
camp in North Waziristan where he used to recruit, train and indoctrinate
youths in order to multiply the number of suicide bombings.
Those he trained not only carried out barbaric suicide bombings in Pakistan but
also across the border in Afghanistan. Qari Hussain, the cousin of
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) amir commander Hakeemullah Mehsud, had
also formed the Fidayeen-e-Islam (FeI), a special squad of highly-trained
suicide bombers specifically assigned to target security forces and military
Even after Qari Hussain's death, the TTP is believed to have at least 2,000
trained suicide bombers across the country. "Our ulemas [Muslim legal
scholars] have termed suicide attacks as an elite form of jihad,'' says TTP
spokesperson Azam Tariq. ''Fidayeen is a sophisticated weapon of the
mujahideen; our enemies have no idea how to counter these lethal bombers.
Suicide attacks have made the mujahideen invincible".
Investigations carried out by the Pakistani security and intelligence agencies
show that several kinds of jihadi groups are involved in the ongoing spate of
suicide strikes. Along with TTP and Fel, they include the Asmatullah Maaviya
and Qari Zafar groups of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Brigade 313 of Ilyas
Kashmiri, the Badar Mansoor Group of Harkatul Mujahideen (HM), the Qari
Saifullah and Amjad Farooqi groups of Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI), Lal
Masjid Brigade (LLB), Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM),
Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Jamaatul Furqaan (JuF), Jaishul-Islami (JuI), and
Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade (ASB).
The human bombs of the Lal Masjid Brigade are those who either had been linked
with Lal Masjid or its Jamia Fareedia for boys or had ideological affinity with
the fanatic clerics of the Red Mosque. While some had been students of these
clerics, some were the relatives of those killed during Operation Silence.
Authorities probing the spate of suicide bombings following the army raid at
the mosque believe that most of the attacks in Rawalpindi and Islamabad were
carried out by young men in their twenties who hailed from the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the tribal agencies of South Waziristan and
As soon as Operation Silence came to an end, the agencies had warned the twin
cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad could be targets, 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.
Potential bombers, the agencies warned, were hiding in several madrassas
and mosques in and around the twin cities and were primed to blow themselves up
anytime, anywhere to avenge the killing of their loved ones.
Hardly a few weeks after the operation ended, an 18-year-old human bomber
killed 22 highly trained commandos of the Special Services Group (SSG) of the
army by targeting their Tarbela Ghazi mess, almost 100 km south of Islamabad on
September 13, 2007. The bomber turned out to be the brother of a female student
at the Lal Masjid-run Jamia Hafsa who had killed during the operation, carried
out by 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 in the Pak-Afghan
In that rocky and far-flung region, Islamic rebels allied to both groups have
taken control of almost the entire North Waziristan area on the Pak-Afghan
border, and gained a significant base from which to wage their resistance
against the US-led international forces in Afghanistan and against Pakistani
troops. Intelligence sources say the Pakistani security forces have mostly been
targeted by bombers trained and dispatched by the TTP, led by Commander
Baitullah Mehsud, chief of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan.
A senior official of the elite Special Investigation Group (SIG) says that from
26 suicide attacks from where the heads of the bombers were recovered in 2007,
most of the bombers were from just one tribe - the Mehsuds of central
Waziristan, and all were boys aged 16 to 20. In fact, most of the suicide
bombings carried out after the Pakistan army launched Operation Rah-e-Haq in
the Swat valley in 2009 had been claimed by Baitullah Mehsud, who was
eventually killed in a drone attack.
Another important sectarian-cum-jihadi group involved in suicide attacks across
Pakistan is Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) - a Sunni Deobandi jihadi group, launched
in 1996. The Lashkar today is the most violent al-Qaeda terrorist group
operating in Pakistan with the help of a lethal suicide squad supervised by
Mattiur Rehman, who has become a trusted member of al-Qaeda's hardline inner
circle due to his acquaintance with Hakeemullah Mehsud. North Waziristan-based
Mattiur is the most sought after al-Qaeda terrorist and is reportedly trying to
target key strategic installations belonging to the ISI and the army.
Then next in line is the Swat chapter of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi
(Maulana Fazlullah Group) which is accused of carrying out several suicide
attacks against the Pakistani security forces. The first was carried out on
November 8, 2006 when 45 Pakistan army recruits undergoing training were killed
at the Punjab Regimental Centre in Dargai, 100 kilometers north of Peshawar.
The attack came following a warning by Fazlullah against the deployment of
Then there are a few relatively unknown jihadi organizations like
Jaishul-Islami, Fidayeen-e-Islam and Abdullah Azam Shaheed Brigade which had
claimed several major suicide hits.
Three other jihadi groups have not yet claimed any suicide attack in Pakistan
but have been found to be involved in several such attacks in the past.
Jaish-e-Mohammad is led by Maulana Masood Azhar, while the second group,
Harkatul Jehadul Islami, is led by Qari Saifullah Akhtar. The third, 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
Pakistani investigators all groups involved in suicide attacks follow their own
techniques to achieve their objectives and use different mechanisms to hit
The authorities say the manufacture of suicide belts has become a cottage
industry in Waziristan, with one household making the detonator, another sewing
the belt, a third moulding 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 and ready to die.
There are reckoned to be some definite patterns in the suicide attacks carried
out in Pakistan. The suicide bomber generally never comes alone; he is charged
up, carefully brainwashed to the last moment, highly indoctrinated and
fanatically intoxicated till the last moment by his handler, who makes sure
that the tempo and temper of the suicide bomber reaches a climax just as he
approaches his target.
Pakistan's mighty military and intelligence establishment for years used to
indoctrinate, motivate and train jihadi cadres for export in the neighborhood -
to the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and Afghanistan. Those human bombs
had, however, excluded their home ground from the scope of their so-called holy
war. But in recent years there has been a sharp decline in suicide attacks
carried out in Jammu and Kashmir, as Pakistan as emerged a preferred target.
As things stand, it appears that suicide bombers, who the Pakistani
establishment originally designed to rip apart the "enemies of Islam and
Pakistan" are now exploding themselves inside their own country. In short, it
appears that Pakistan's chickens have finally come home to roost.
Amir Mir is a senior Pakistani journalist and the author of several books
on the subject of militant Islam and terrorism, the latest being The
Bhutto murder trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.
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