“Pakistan’s chickens have come home to roost.” From Asia Times, with thanks to EPG:
BANGALORE – Last week’s tit-for-tat suicide attacks by sectarian extremist groups in Pakistan mark not only a dangerous new high in sectarian violence in the country, but a changing battlefield, one where suicide bombers are more frequently being utilized. With there being no dearth of volunteers for suicide missions – in some attacks more than one suicide bomber has been used – the possibility of a surge in such attacks in the coming months cannot be ruled out….
What is particularly worrying about the recent spate of violence is that Shi’ite and Sunni extremist outfits are now deploying more suicide bombers to settle scores. In the past, they used guns and bombs against their rivals. This changed in July last year, when for the first time Sunni extremists carried out a suicide attack inside a Shi’ite mosque in Quetta, killing at least 50 and injuring more than 60 others. Apparently the attackers first opened fire on the worshippers, simultaneously hurling hand grenades at them. When police opened fire on the assailants, two of them who had explosives strapped to their bodies blew themselves up.
Subsequently, militant groups in Pakistan used suicide bombers to target Musharraf as well as Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. On December 25 last year, two militants tried to ram their vehicles, each loaded with 20-30 kilograms of explosives, into Musharraf’s car as his motorcade drove through Rawalpindi. They missed their target, but the explosion left 15 civilians dead and 45 injured.
Prior to the July suicide attack in Quetta, suicide attacks were used by Pakistani militant groups either in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir – local Kashmiris are said to have carried out only 2% of the suicide attacks, the rest being the work of Pakistanis or Afghans – or against Western targets and Christians in Pakistan, such as the May 2002 suicide blast that killed 11 French engineers in Karachi and the June 2002 suicide blast outside the US consulate in Karachi.
Islam frowns on suicide. Yet Islamic extremists have gotten around this problem by describing suicide attacks as acts of martyrdom. They have been justified as attacks on “infidels” and therefore a part of jihad. A suicide mission in which the bomber is able to take the lives of Westerners and Indians is thus not un-Islamic. Members of a rival sect, too, are regarded as infidels and therefore their killing through a suicide attack is not un-Islamic.
Mosques, processions and rallies have become vulnerable targets of suicide attacks by rival sectarian outfits. Since the aim is to create terror and maximum damage to the rival sectarian group, suicide bombers target mosques on Fridays, when thousands of worshippers attend prayers. And unlike suicide bombers elsewhere who simply detonate their explosive-strapped bodies, Pakistan’s sectarian suicide bombers first hurl grenades and shoot into the crowd to inflict maximum damage, then top off their operation by detonating themselves. They are also known to position themselves near pillars so that the explosion will bring down the roof causing more casualties.
Pakistan’s police have their hands full trying to protect the many thousands of mosques and processions from suicide attacks. They have raided several terrorist hideouts for potential bombers. But the terrorist network is far too complex and widespread to fight. They are now seeking the help of the public to eliminate suicide bombers. Early this month, police in Pakistan’s Sindh province issued guidelines on how to spot a suicide bomber. The guidelines point to anyone wearing thick clothes (to conceal the explosives), mumbling to himself (praying) or being freshly shaved and perfumed (in preparation for burial). Most suicide bombers are young – between 17 and 30 years of age.
So far all suicide bombers have been male, but the possibility of women joining their ranks seems only a matter of time. In an article titled “Jihad and Roses” in the Pakistani newsmagazine Newsline, the author cites a report submitted to the Interior Ministry that speaks of an Uzbek woman named Aziza who is said to be training female suicide bombers in northern Pakistan. Aziza is the widow of Obaidullah, an activist belonging to the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan who was apparently killed in the army operations in South Waziristan this year. Ansari also draws attention to two Pakistani sisters, Arifa, 20, and Saba, 18, who left home in July after telling their family members that they were embarking on a suicide mission and have been missing since. The two girls are nieces of Gul Hassan, the brain behind the suicide attacks in Karachi in May. Hassan, an activist of the Sunni Lashkar-i-Jhangvi who is now in custody, apparently revealed that he had “prepared” at least two girls for suicide missions and that they were waiting for orders regarding who their targets would be.
What complicates tracing female suicide bombers such as Arifa and Saba, who come from deeply religious and conservative backgrounds, is that there are no photographs of them. Orthodox Muslims are against human images. Consequently, police have no photographs to help them track potential female suicide bombers. Besides, many women in Pakistan wear burqas, which conceal their faces.
It was an organization – the Jaish-e-Mohammed – that was launched by the Pakistani government in early 2000 that introduced suicide missions to Pakistani cadres. Set up to target India, the Jaish-e-Mohammed is among the best-funded terrorist groups active in Jammu and Kashmir today. Its first successful suicide operation was against India and took place on December 25, 2000, when 24-year-old Bilal, a Muslim from Birmingham who joined the jihad in the mid-1990s, rammed his explosives-laden car into the Indian army’s headquarters in Srinagar, killing nine people.
The Jaish-e-Mohammed’s expertise in suicide terrorism has spread to other terrorist groups active in Pakistan. The human bombs originally designed and nurtured to rip India apart are now exploding inside Pakistan. Pakistan’s chickens have come home to roost.