Who is who of the Pakistani suicide bombers?


The endless wave of deadly suicide bombings across Pakistan, the Marriot Hotel attack in Islamabad on Saturday night being the latest one, signify the revival of al-Qaeda and the Taliban networks which had been earlier been forced to give up their bases of power in Afghanistan and Pakistan and flee to the Pak-Afghan border areas, with the launching of the war on terror by the US-led coalition of forces in Oct 2001.

At least 60 people were killed and over 150 injured in Islamabad, the Pakistani federal capital, when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden truck at the main gate of the lavish Marriot Hotel on September 20. The Marriott is a favorite place for foreigners to stay and gather, and has previously been targeted by a suicide bomber in 2007, killing seven people. The entire front section of the Hotel was blown out as a result of the bombing, about two-thirds of the Hotel building caught fire and wreckage could be seen everywhere in the high security zone. The intelligence sources say they had prior information about two human bombs having entered the federal capital to target the Parliament House building during the maiden address of the newly elected President Zardari to the joint session of the lower and the upper houses of the parliament during the second half of the day, where the entire civil and military leadership of the country had gathered. However, the plan could not be materialized due to unprecedented security measures taken by the law enforcement agencies which had sealed the federal capital since morning. The intelligence sources say the two security check-posts established on Saturday morning on the Constitution Avenue in the wake of the intelligence information saved the top civil and military leadership of Pakistan which had gathered in the Parliament House to listen to President Asif Zardari’s address.

From the rugged, lawless terrain of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas out west to the spiffy environs of Islamabad, the suicide bombers across Pakistan have made the whole swathe of land their laboratory, devastating lives, ruining families, imparting a murderous edge to humdrum existences and the target of these grisly human bombs is just about anyone, anywhere. The security situation in Pakistan has been in utter turmoil for the past two years, and it went from bad to worse after the Lal Masjid episode. Since then, it appears that the extremist forces had not only gained strength in the tribal areas but also got a foothold in the country’s settled areas. This can be gauged from the fact that even Islamabad is not spared by the lethal human bombs. Investigations by the intelligence agencies show the involvement of several kinds of extremist groups in the ongoing spate of suicide strikes.

The first of the kind are those which had either been linked with the fanatic clerics of the Lal Masjid in the heart of Islamabad or had sympathies with them due to their ideological affinity. Investigations show some of the suicide bombers had been the students of the Ghazi brothers and some were the relatives of those killed during the Operation Silence. The agencies probing the ongoing spate of suicide bombings that took place after the Lal Masjid operation have already concluded that most of these attacks were carried out by young men in their 20s coming from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Waziristan. As soon as the Operation Silence came to an end in July 2007, the agencies had warned the government that the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad were to suffer from suicide attacks as over 100 potential human bombs who had been studying at the Lal Masjid run Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Fareedia have not returned to their homes after the operation. They had warned that the prospective bombers were hiding in several madrassas and mosques in and around the twin cities and were firm to blow themselves up any time, anywhere to avenge the killing of their near and dear ones. The fears proved true after Rawalpindi and Islamabad witnessed a series of bloody suicide attacks, mostly targeting those in khakis.

An 18 year old suicide bomber killed 22 highly trained commandos of the Special Services Group (SSG) of Pakistan Army by targeting their Tarbela Ghazi mess, 100 km south of Islamabad on September 13, 2007. Investigations showed that he was the brother of a girl who was killed during the Operation Silence, carried out by the Karar Company of the SSG Brigade. The SSG is the same elite unit of the Army to which Musharraf himself belonged, and which was specially trained by the US Special Forces for carrying out covert operations and counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations across Pakistan, especially in the tribal belt of Pakistan. Two months before suffering 22 casualties in the Tarbela Ghazi suicide bombing, the elite SSG had lost 10 of its commandos, including a colonel, during the week-long gun battle with the fanatic clerics and students of the Lal Masjid Jamia Hafsa religious seminary.

The second kind of the groups involved in suicide attacks are those linked to the al-Qaeda and Taliban network based in the Waziristan region on the Pak-Afghan tribal belt. Intelligence reports say 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 Pakistan-Afghanistan 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. These reports say the security agencies are mostly being targeted by the suicide bombers being trained and launched by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ameer Commander Baitullah Mehsud – an al-Qaeda-linked tribal chief of the Mehsud tribe who is ruling the roost in South Waziristan, and has already been named as the prime accused in the former Pakistani Prime Minister Ms. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

Intelligence reports say Abu Ali Tunisi, an al-Qaeda-linked commander hailing from Tunis, has managed to bring the rebels of four Pakistani militant groups – Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI), Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) – under the folds of al-Qaeda. Their main aim is to launch a string of terrorist activities, targeting the personnel of the armed forces and all those government figures who are considered to be pro-US. Intelligence circles say besides the Abu Ali Tunisi network based in the Waziristan region, there is another group led by one Abu Adil, a militant of the Arab origin, which is working under the name of Al-Jehad, and was involved in the November 2006 incident of suicide bombing that killed 42 soldiers in Dargai, NWFP. Al-Jehad is further accused of carrying out four more suicide strike in Islamabad, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Mir Ali – all in 2007.

The last kind of the groups involved in suicide attacks are sectarian, primarily the banned militant Sunni group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Launched in 1996 as a splinter group of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni Deobandi offshoot of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the LeJ is infamous for its secrecy, lethal nature and unrelenting pursuit of its aim of targeting Western interests in Pakistan, the Shias and the eventual transformation of the country into a Taliban-style Islamic state. Most of the major terrorist operations carried out in Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks, appear to have a common grandmother – the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

Intelligence sources say all these groups, identified and classified under three different categories of terrorist groups, follow their own techniques for achieving their objectives and use different mechanisms to attack their targets. The group comprising the toughest motivation category is to hit the military installations with the help of suicide bombers. They include trained, skillful and equally motivated terrorists. The second category of bombers attack personnel of law-enforcement agencies and government personalities while the third is deputed to kill the enemy through car bombings or blasts through remote-controlled devices. The message from the human bombs after the Marriot attack is clear – we can hit you anywhere we want.


* Lahore

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