The Making of a Suicide Bomber

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Sultan M. Hali*


(The author has traced out the origin of suicide bombing and tried to explore the methodology involved in converting normal young men into killing machines, with the urge for self immolation. With the help of case histories from Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Britain and Lebanon, an attempt has been made to peer into the making of a suicide bomber. Various cases have been studied from different angles to shed light on this dark umbrage; from mental indoctrination, to the use of subliminal stimuli and special drugs, prompting the suicide bomber to indulge in this heinous crime. The war against terror has presented multifarious challenges to the Government. The impact of these kind of suicidal attacks on our political, economic, religious and social life will be fatal if not checked in time through effective measures. There is a need to address this problem with wholesome approach.  All stakeholders need to be involved, especially the Ulema, in preaching peace and tolerance rejecting terrorism in all its forms.

Definition and origin of the term “Terrorism”

Terrorism has been defined as the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.1 No universally agreed and legally binding criminal law definition of terrorism currently exists. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for a religious, political or ideological goal, deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians), and are committed by non-government agencies. “Terror” has been derived from the Latin verb terrere meaning “to frighten”.2 The terror cimbricus was the state of panic and emergency in Rome in response to the approach of warriors of the Cimri tribe in 105 BC. The Jacobins cited this precedent when imposing a Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.3 After the Jacobins lost power, the word “terrorist” became a term of abuse. Although the Reign of Terror was imposed by a government, in modern times “terrorism” usually refers to the killing of innocent people by a private group in such a way as to create a media spectacle. This meaning can be traced back to Sergey Nechayev, who described himself as a “terrorist”. Nechayev founded the Russian terrorist group “People’s Retribution” in 1869. In November 2004, a United Nations Secretary General report described terrorism as any act “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non- combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.”

Origin of Suicide Bombing

A suicide attack (also known as suicide bombing or “kamikaze”) is an attack intended to kill others and inflict widespread damage, in which the attacker expects or intends to die in the process.

In the late 17th century, Qing official Yu Yonghe recorded that injured Dutch soldiers fighting against Koxinga’s forces for control of Taiwan in 1661 would use gunpowder to blow up both themselves and their opponents rather than be taken prisoner.4  However, the Chinese observer may have well confused such suicidal tactics with the standard Dutch military practice of undermining and blowing up positions recently overrun by the enemy which almost cost Koxinga his life during the siege. During the Belgian Revolution, Dutch Lieutenant Jan van Speijk detonated his own ship in the harbour of Antwerp to prevent its capture by the Belgians. Another example was the Prussian soldier Karl Klinke on 18 April 1864 at the Battle of Dybbøl, who died blowing a hole in a Danish fortification.

In the 18th century John Paul Jones wrote about Ottoman sailors setting their own ships on fire and ramming the ships of their enemies, although they knew this meant certain death for them.

Modern suicide bombing as a political tool can be traced back to the assassination of Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1881. Alexander fell victim to a Nihilist plot. While driving on one of the central streets of Saint Petersburg, near the Winter Palace, he was mortally wounded by the explosion of hand-made grenades and died a few hours afterwards. The Tsar was killed by a member of Narodnaya Volya, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, who died while intentionally exploding the bomb during the attack.

Rudolph Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff intended to assassinate Adolf Hitler by a suicide bombing in 1943, but was unable to complete the attack.

During  the  Battle  for  Berlin  the  Luftwaffe flew Selbstopfereinstaz against Soviet bridges over the Oder river. These missions were flown by pilots of the Leonidas Squadron under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Heiner Lange. From 17 April until 20

April 1945, using any aircraft that were available, the Luftwaffe claimed that the squadron destroyed 17 bridges; however the military historian Antony Beevor when writing about the incident thought that this was exaggerated and that only the railway bridge at Küstrin was definitely destroyed. He commented that “thirty-five pilots and aircraft was a high price to pay for such a limited and temporary success”. The missions were called off when the Soviet ground forces reached the vicinity of the squadron’s airbase at Jüterbog.5

Following World War II, Viet Minh “death volunteers” fought against the French Colonial Forces by using a long stick-like explosive to destroy French tanks.

Modern instances of suicide bombing

The number of attacks using suicide tactics has grown from an average of fewer than 5 per year during the 1980s to 180 per year between 2000 and 2005,6  and from 81 suicide attacks in 2001 to 460 in 2005. These attacks have been aimed at diverse military and civilian targets in, amongst other countries, Sri Lanka, Israel since July 6, 1989, Iraq since the US-led invasion of that country in 2003, and Pakistan and Afghanistan since 2005. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the seventh Prime Minister of India, took place in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu, India on 21 May 1991. It was one of the first uses of suicide bombing for the purpose of political terror in the Sub-Continent.7 At least 14 others were also killed. Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was carried out by Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, a female member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). At the time India was embroiled, through the Indian Peace Keeping Force, in the Sri Lankan Civil War.

Suicide bombing in Pakistan

Various newspaper reports and information from news channels suggests that the phenomenon of suicide bombing is new in Pakistan. November 6, 2002 marked the occasion when a woman blew herself up in front of a news paper office in Karachi, injuring 6 people. Since then the fatalities have crossed 32,102 (see Tables8 below).

Annual Fatalities in Terrorist Violence in Pakistan, 2003-2010

Civilians                Security Force

Personnel           Terrorists/In- surgents  Total

2003       140         24           25           189

2004       435         184         244         863

2005       430         81           137         648

2006       608         325         538         1471

2007       1522       597         1479       3598

2008       2155       654         3906       6715

2009       2324       991         8389       11704

2010*    1608       423         4883       6914

Total      9222       3279       19601    32102

* Data till November 28, 2010 Source: Figures are compiled from news reports and are provisional.

Fatalities in Suicide Attacks: 2007- 2009

Total Number of

Suicide Attacks  Civilians                SFs         Militants              Total

2007       58           552         177         58           787

2008       59           712         140         65           917

2009       80           735         196         87           1018

Source: SATP Database

There has been a steady rise in the incidents since 2006 with its peak in August 2007. NWFP is the most affected province followed by the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).  Security personnel followed by opposing religious sects have been the main target of suicide bombings.

Making of a Suicide Bomber

Before we delve into the composition of a suicide bomber, let us examine a case study of a typical would-be suicide bomber, who was apprehended before he could execute his attack.

Abdul Baseer9 boarded a bus that would take him to his target.  He had already sent the grenades and explosive vest ahead of him. He was accompanied by a 14-year-old boy he had groomed as his suicide bomber. Before they could blow up their target, a luxury hotel in Lahore where they believed Americans would be staying, the two were arrested and are now in jail—Baseer was unrepentant, however, the boy confessed that he had no idea of what was in store for him.

Abdul Baseer’s media   interview   provided a rare insight of the world of a Pakistani suicide bomber, from his education at hard-line Islamic schools, through his professed participation in an attack on a US patrol in Afghanistan, up to his arrest by Pakistani police along with the boy, Mohi-ud-Din. Experts say that his tale is similar to those of the thousands of others that have been recruited as foot soldiers  in the Taliban-led insurgency that is ravaging Pakistan. It also shows how the wars here and in neighboring Afghanistan bleed into each other. The with police present for most of the meeting at a police interrogation center in Lahore, the capital of Punjab.

Baseer was born in 1985 close to the Swat Valley, which was overrun by Taliban and recaptured by the Pakistan Army last year. The eldest of seven children, his father was a wheat farmer and earned barely enough to feed the family. Meat was reserved for guests, he recalled. Like many who cannot afford a regular education, Baseer attended three Islamic boarding schools where children learn the Qurān by heart and spend little time on secular subjects. The religious schools provide free board and lodging, but are widely criticized for indoctrinating students with an extreme version of Islam. At least one of the schools Baseer attended, Jamia Faridia in the capital, Islamabad, has been linked to terror.

“Through my studies, I became aware that this is the time for jihad and fighting the infidels, and I saw that a jihad was going on in Afghanistan,” said Basser, a rail-thin man speaking just louder than a whisper. “I looked for a way to get there.”

A trip to Afghanistan is considered part of the profession for a militant; it is almost like a final internship prior to graduation. The presence of US troops there fuels the resentment and acts like a catalyst to drive the youngsters towards self immolation for a religious cause. Baseer said he spent three summer vacations in Kunar, an Afghan province just across the border from northwest Pakistan, which he reached through a network of sympathetic clerics. On his first trip, in his mid-teens, he cooked for around 30 to 40 other militants, most of them Afghans, who were living in a large cave complex. On his second stay he had military training and learned to make suicide jackets. On the final trip he took part in the ambush of a US patrol after he and other fighters had lain waiting in the snow for two days. “I was happy to be in place where I could kill unbelievers,” he said. “I thank God that we all returned safely and had a successful mission.”

He said he was in the rear of the attack, in which automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were fired. He said the vehicles were left smoldering and that later the assailants were told two US soldiers were killed, but there was no way of confirming that.

Back in Pakistan, Baseer worked as a mosque preacher in the Khyber region, not far from the northwestern capital, Peshawar. He said it was there that he hooked up with a man named Nazir, a commander in the Pakistani Taliban, who was plotting the attack in Lahore. Baseer said he made 10 suicide vests for Nazir. Baseer boarded a passenger bus along with the boy, Mohi-ud-Din, heading down the highway to Lahore, where they were supposed to pick up the bomb and grenades. Police officer Waris Bharawan, as well as Baseer, said the plan was to hook up with other militants and storm the PC International, one of Lahore’s grandest hotels. They said the suicide vest for the attack was sent to the city before the strike.

Baseer gave only a rough outline of the plan: He and others were to hurl the grenades around the lobby or entrance gate of the hotel, and then Mohid-ud-Din was to run in and detonate his explosive belt. Did he feel any guilt about what lay in store for his traveling companion? No, he said. “I was feeling good because he was going to be used against Americans.”

As he sat in Bharawan’s office, handcuffed and dressed in a robe and baggy pants, an officer brought in the vest, dropping it on the floor with a thud. The explosive pads studded with ball bearings looked like slices of honeycomb. Also in the evidence bag there were 26 grenades. Baseer obliged with a demonstration, miming the yanking of a white cable that would detonate the vest. “My instructors used to say this was the most important weapon in the fight against the enemy,” he said. In the same lockup, a crumbling building built when Britain ruled the Indian subcontinent, police also briefly presented Mohi-ud-Din to the media. He seemed nervous and tongue-tied, claiming only that he knew nothing about the alleged attack. The pair were arrested as they arrived at the house of another suspect, just days before the attack was due to have taken place, said Bharawan, who led the arresting officers. He said they acted on surveillance work in Lahore, but declined to give details. Inside Pakistani jails. During a short time when no police were present, Baseer was asked how he was treated. He said he was beaten, but by members of Pakistan’s secretive and powerful intelligence agencies soon after his arrest, not by the police. Police said Baseer and the boy would be tried for terrorist offenses behind closed doors and without a jury, as is customary in Pakistan.

What turns a young man into a suicide bomber?

How does an individual go from standing on a street corner to flicking a switch and blowing himself up? The question is apparently simple. The answers are not. The religious extremists and harbingers of hate follow a rigid curriculum in brainwashing young men to become suicide bombers.10   After all, replacing an individual’s intrinsic love of life with death worship, propelling him on a path that ultimately ends up with him in a suicide jacket ready to become a bloody statistic, is not really an easy task.

Here is how it’s done. The indoctrination lectures proceed from the general to specific. Throughout these lectures, the teachers convince the young recruits, of whom there is no dearth in the impoverished region they come from, that their religion is the most superior in the universe; that theirs is the only true religion with all the rest being false or erroneous; and that the adherents of those other religions are actually an impediment in the total spread of the one true religion. These initial lectures are given with a fiery rhetoric, laced with suitable quotes from the holy book and traditions.

Next, through daily sessions, it is instilled in the recruits’ minds that the path they have chosen i.e. the propagation of this one true religion and the subjugation of all the rest, is essentially struggling in the cause of God. That this struggle (fight, jihad, sacrifice), though difficult, is ordained by God. They are constantly bombarded by relevant verses. They are told that heaven and its untold pleasures is the reward for those who die while fighting in the cause of God.

This first indoctrination step, acting as a foundation for what is to come, is unproblematic. The students having been born into their religion are already convinced of everything that is told to them. The lessons only come to them as reinforcements to what they already believed. Yet, the fierier the rhetoric, the better the impact on the young minds.

They are then introduced to the implement that will launch them on that one-way journey to heaven—the suicide jacket.

With painstaking thoroughness, the children are taught about a suicide jacket, starting from the trigger mechanism to its contents and effects. They are taught that it usually consists of several pockets filled with plates or sticks of explosives. That the explosive is surrounded by material for fragmentation effects. That the resultant shrapnel is responsible for most of the bomb’s lethality i.e. about 90% of all casualties caused by an exploding suicide jacket. That a “loaded” jacket may weigh between 5 to 20 kilograms, with 60-40 ratio of explosive to shrapnel material and may be easily hidden under loose flowing garments. That for excellent shrapnel effects, any small metal pieces could be used but the best are ball bearing, nails, screws, nuts and metal wire. That the most dangerous and widely used shrapnel are ball bearings that are 3 to 7 millimeters in diameter.

In the evenings further indoctrination classes are held. In a sweet lilting voice the teacher explains to the children that modernity and the secular culture of the West are abominable sins; that the import of Western culture is leading the faithful away from God; that the unbelief of the West is so grave a sin that it merits death whenever it becomes a hurdle to the spread of the one true religion; that God has humiliated the recruit’s nation only because his brethren have strayed from the path of God; and that is why He has made the infidel, sin-loving people masters of the entire planet.

By the end of these lectures, the recruit is usually filled with a feeling of utter humiliation and blinding rage. A consuming hatred for infidels and their local lackeys (no distinction is made between the two) comes as a natural accompaniment of course to get used to a garment they will be wearing till the gates of heaven. From there onwards, of course, it will be silken robes till eternity.

So goes the cycle of lectures and practical drills for months. On the last day of training, they are taken to a special hall. Its walls are painted with beautiful images of lush green vistas, dotted with fruit laden trees, interspersed with streams of milk and honey. In attendance in the images are lovely dove-eyed females that are beaming inviting smiles at the onlookers. Here the recruits are told that their training is over and they now have to wait for the calling—a proposition almost unbearable for some of the impatient ones. Two last instructions are given;

  1. Not to feel guilty for the victims. The suicide bomber is carrying them to the heavens with him. They will in fact be waiting at the gates of heaven to greet him with garlands.
  2. To look down while pulling the handle on the suicide jacket. This will ensure that their faces are blown in to a million little pieces. That not only guarantees that the infidels cannot track down their identities to the training institution, others’ chances of ascension to heavens are also preserved.

While conducting research for this article, I had the opportunity to accompany a team of national/international media persons, who were flown into the remote former Baitullah Mehsud territory of Spinkai Raghzai (South Waziristan) by ISPR. We witnessed a human tragedy of epic proportions. The village was devoid of any human life apart from army soldiers patrolling to keep the miscreants at bay. The houses in Spinkai Raghzai village indicated that their occupants had left in extreme urgency, not even bothering to take their valuables with them. Earlier at Dera Ismail Khan, the GOC 14 Division had briefed us that not a single civilian casualty had occurred because leaflets were dropped asking the civilians to vacate or face the wrath of the Army. Those who stayed behind were killed or forced to retreat. 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) were provided refuge in different camps.

The media team, led by its host the DG ISPR, Major General Athar Abbas had the opportunity to interact with a group of IDPs. They narrated their sad plight, the torture they received at the hands of Baitullah Mehsud and his band, who tried to impose Talibanisation on the hapless residents by terrorizing them with threats of dire consequences. Mehsud’s men, especially the infamous Qari Hussain alleged to be the master-mind behind the campaign of suicide bombings in Pakistan was engaged in indoctrinating and training suicide bombers. Brigadier Ali Abbas, the commander of the brigade, that had carried the brunt of the attacks in Spinkai Raghzai area as part of Operation Zalzala launched on January 21st, after Baitullah Mehsud razed the Sararogha Fort, showed the ruins of two suicide-bombing-jacket factories and training schools.

Earlier, the GOC informed us that 52 children had been recovered from the clutches of Mehsud’s men, who had been trained as suicide- bombers. The children were so innocent that when asked about their future, they stated that when they grew up, they would become fighter pilots or lawyers, doctors, etc.; oblivious of the gory end planned for them. They have been handed over to an NGO “Save the Children” for better upkeep and enabling them to return to normal lives. The IDPs told this scribe that Mehsud’s men would entice the children to come to the training camps under the pretext of teaching them how to ride motorbikes. Once in their clutches, they would use every trick to follow their diktat. The father of one recovered “suicide-bomber” tearfully told me that a child, who lost his nerve and wanted to return home, was publicly slaughtered by his mentors to strike terror in the hearts of the naive and innocent souls. Children between the ages of 12-20 were regularly indoctrinated, being issued with “Shahadat” certificates, promising a place in paradise along with forty close relatives. The children were taught Pashto hymns with wordings like “Oh Allah, I am coming to you but in pieces, o comrades bid me farewell…” and so on. The GOC 14 Div showed us videos of the so called nurseries for producing suicide-bombers. In a specifically gruesome scene, a young boy was urged to slit the throat of a uniformed Law Enforcing Officer. He gleefully obliged chanting “Allah-o-Akbar”, raising the severed head of his victim. In another video, a young trainee was made to kill another boy, shooting him at point-blank range. The training videos domestic utensils like water coolers, stuffed with explosives, assembling suicide bombing jackets and other deadly weapons. The GOC’s briefing contained a component titled: ‘Misguided youth used for suicidal acts,’ which provided valuable insight into the making of a suicide bomber. Extracts and summary of the briefing are presented below:

Background:  Suicide bombings and IEDs are two components of an asymmetrical conflict that we are experiencing which  have proved to be successful. A well thought out long term response must be worked out.

Suicide bombers comprising of young boys were mainly brainwashed/ trained in different Madrassas established in the tribal areas. On being apprehended, they were subjected to detailed investigation in coordination with the Intelligence agencies and the local civilian police. As a result of this investigation, an effort is being made to rehabilitate some of these boys through different means. In this regard the NGO, “Save the Children” is working for their rehabilitation. It may be noted that if these boys are given back to their families then they will most likely fall back into the same militant groups/ organizations operating in the tribal areas.

The measures recommended in this article are not only meant for re-habilitating these captured/intercepted boys, rather they are aimed at bringing change in the overall outlook of the youth/ people of this area.

Why the Youth Fall Prey? A dispassionate analysis leads to the following factors which help luring innocent kids in such activities:-

•             Negative  influence/motivation by  Maulvis/so  called  Ulemas mainly through Madrassas.

•             A lack of proper education facilities in tribal areas.

•             Motivating the youth on the pretext of fighting against US forces in Afghanistan and then subsequently employing them against their own Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) once their motivation level comes to a desired point.

•             Inaccessibility of the people to TV/radio in these remote areas.

•             Non-existent  business  opportunities  and  overall  poor  living conditions.

•             Lack of any recreational activity.

Psychological Indoctrination

Subliminal stimuli is used frequently to implant an idea or thought in the subconscious from where the thought can be triggered for the incumbent to carry out the act of terrorism. Subliminal stimuli (literally “below threshold”), are any sensory stimuli below an individual’s absolute threshold of conscious perception. Visual stimuli may be quickly flashed before an individual may process  them, or  flashed and then masked, thereby interrupting processing of the same. Audio stimuli may be played below audible volumes, similarly masked by other stimuli, or recorded backwards in a process called backmasking. Introduced in 1897, the concept became controversial as “subliminal messages” in 1957 when marketing practitioners claimed its potential use in persuasion.11  A subliminal thought may be implanted into the subconscious via a stimuli, where the visual or aural perception may miss the message but the sub conscious picks it and allows the idea to lie dormant till stimulated or triggered to execute action. It has been discovered that the indoctrinators of suicide bombers are frequently using the technique of subliminal stimuli to brainwash their wards. The would be suicide bomber thus becomes willing unconsciously to carry out the dastardly deed of self immolation and killing and maiming others.

The use of drugs

Powerful drugs may be used to induce the desired action from a suicide bomber. The drugs numb the senses and the individual’s capacity to distinguish right from wrong. The suicide bombers are drugged into a stupor, which permits action but puts the mind to sleep. The zombie like actions of the suicide bomber is controlled by his handler, who steers him towards the targets and commands him to trigger the bomb. High- level sources say the drug given to suicide bombers is called Pervitin, which is a chemical derivative of methamphetamine, a psychoactive stimulant. Methamphetamine, which is commonly known as meth, is available in Pakistan in the form of medicine by the name of Ritalin.

Its availability is scarce because of potential misuse. The drug is usually used for treatment of attention-deficit hyperactive disorder.

Non-prescriptive use of the drug can cause paranoid psychosis, a term used to describe “loss of contact with reality” which helps users achieve their target without giving anything else a thought.

Pervitin was also used in Nazi-Germany. German paratroopers caught behind British lines were described as ‘fearless and berserk’, marching further than was considered humanly possible. Also Japanese kamikaze pilots were documented to be high on meth. Pakistani officials believe that the drug is injected into the bombers, making the effect more lethal, yet also fast receding.12

Historically, the use of drugs to produce an act of terrorism was first introduced by Hassan-ibn-e-Sabbāh who founded a group whose members are sometimes referred to as the Hashashin or Assassins. His followers were given Hashish (Cannabis) and under its effect, were commanded to carry out political murders. He had constructed a “paradise” in Alamut, where gardens, rivers and beautiful women known as houris were presented to his drugged followers. After experiencing the ephemeral effect, the follower was asked to conduct the assassination of a certain personality if he wanted to visit the “paradise” again. Having tasted the effect of this false paradise, the Hashashin was constrained to carry out the orders to return to the ephemeral bliss promised by Hassan- ibn-e-Sabbāh. His support and involvement with the series of killings of famous scholars, Imams and other noble personalities has given his group the title of being one of the very first terrorist organization in the world. Some of the more prominent events and assassinations in those dark centuries associated with Hashashin include the following;13

  1. 1092: The famous Seljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk is murdered by an Assassin in Baghdad. He becomes their first victim.
  2. 1094: Al-Mustansir dies, and Hassan does not recognize the new caliph, al-Mustali. He and his followers transfer their allegiance to his brother Nizar. The followers of Hassan soon even oppose the caliph in Baghdad.
  3. 1113: Following the death of Aleppo’s ruler, Ridwan, the Assassins are driven out of the city by the troops of Ibn al-Khashab.
  4. 1110’s: The Assassins in Syria change their strategy and start undercover work and build cells in all cities around the region.
  5. 1123: Ibn al-Khashab is killed by an Assassin killer.
  6. 1124:  Hassan  dies  in Alamut, but  the  organization lives  on stronger than ever. — The leading qadi Abu Saad al-Harawi is killed by an Assassin killer.
  7. It is believed that almost thousands of scholars were killed by Hashashin in that era

Why the Pakistan Army is targeted?

The handlers of the Suicide Bombers imprint on their minds that the Army of Pakistan has been corrupted by the US and has become a vassal to their bidding. They, therefore, justify that attacking and killing them is mandatory, since they have become infidels and exterminating them would be an act of justice and would result in paving the way for reaching paradise by the suicide bomber.

The Way Out. Though the Pakistan Army is doing its best to help out this category of individuals, yet it is strongly felt that effective involvement of specialist organizations in this process will have synergetic effects in the rehabilitation process of young children. As highlighted earlier, organizations like “Save the Children” can prove very useful in this regard. The focal point, while addressing the problem areas, remains “helping the children to survive and thrive after being through such an intense experience of terrorist activities.”  The focus should remain on:-

•             Demobilizing the child soldier.

•             Psychological treatment to terror stricken minds.

•             Rehabilitation of innocent kids.

•             Provision of education and changing their overall outlook/vision about society.

•             Promoting a positive image of life.

•             Reuniting with respective families.

A sustainable solution is required that will benefit children and their communities for years to come.  Support to strengthen schools, the healthcare system and other infrastructure is required and can be achieved if appropriate skill-based training and resources are made available to the people.

Factors Influencing an Individual to become a Suicide Bomber Detailed interrogation/interviews of the apprehended miscreants/ small boys employed for suicide bombing indicated some important factors which force an individual to take such an ultimate step. Some of these are:-

Role of Madrassas. Unfortunately, madrassas are playing a leading role in moulding the minds of individuals, especially young boys, towards becoming suicide bombers. Certain Ulema with vested interest are using some Madrassas as a platform to prepare innocent children for this act. Through the projected reward of getting eternal happiness in heaven, the young and immature minds are subjected to indoctrination by so called religious leaders/militant commanders to undertake suicidal attacks. Shahadat certificates being issued to such individuals are an example.

Coercion. Instances have been reported whereby individuals being detained by miscreants were forced to undertake suicidal acts due to threats that if they were not prepared to do so then they along with their family members would be killed/slaughtered.

Polarized Society. The people of our tribal areas tend to remain confined to their own tribe/community and as such have never really integrated with society/nation in general.

Lack of Communication. Most of these areas do not have access to televisions/radios thus limiting the vision of the local populace to the information/motivation provided by the so called Ulemas.

Negative/Exaggerated Media Reporting/Propaganda. Un-warranted propaganda being unleashed by some sections of the electronic and print media against Security Forces and their actions to eradicate militancy has inadvertently assisted the recruitment efforts of the militants.  The dismal picture portrayed by the media of misery and damage caused by military action only strengthens the resolve of the youth to join the ranks of the militant organizations.

Lack of Protection/Insecurity. The people of the area have developed a sense of insecurity and general feeling that they are unprotected against the actions and brutality of the militants. This is essentially due to the loss of writ of the political administration/government in these troubled areas.

Lack of Opportunities.     Triggering the feeling of deprivation and frustration existing in the minds of kids (especially those studying in Madrassas) the miscreants (comprising some excellent orators) bring the individual to a level where he considers the rest of the world responsible for his sufferings/failures and is desirous of revenge.

Remoteness/Close Proximity to Afghan Border.   Far flung areas/ locations being comparatively inaccessible provide inbuilt training areas for harbouring such activities. Moreover, the proximity to the Afghan border, assists the so called Jihadi Organizations to have their training camps without any interference.

Involvement of Foreign Hand.  Age old traditional tribal rivalries are also one of the reasons behind terrorist activities. The prevailing mistrust between different tribes is exploited by foreign fighters/organizations with vested interests through heavy funding. Propaganda revolving around well chalked out themes alters the mind set of young boys in particular to act against the government/its LEAs.

Element of Revenge.   Seeking revenge for near and dear ones who have lost their lives due to the actions of Security Forces has also led some to pursue the path of a suicide bomber.

Afghan Factor.  The presence of US/Coalition Forces in Afghanistan also acts as a motivating factor; especially for boys studying in Madrassas. Suicidal attacks on the LEA are justified to the youth by portraying the former as allies of foreign forces.

Chilling video offers step-by-step suicide vest instructions14

Videos are accessible on the internet that teach terrorists to make suicide bomb vests.   A detailed 26-minute video on how to make a sophisticated suicide bomb vest, along with a demonstration of its kill range, using a mannequin, titled “The Explosive Belt for Martyrdom Operations,” was posted in a militant Islamic chat room.  The video obtained by NBC News demonstrates how to make an explosive vest that would be tough to detect, mostly from common off-the-shelf material, “The most disturbing thing about this video is that it exists,” says NBC analyst and retired military intelligence officer Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.  “Every military commander in Iraq and Afghanistan should be aware of this,” says Francona. “This video shows someone how to more effectively attack American troops.”

Experts believe the video was made by a Palestinian group.  “The video was accompanied by a note that explained it was there for the purposes of aiding the brothers, the fighting brothers, in cities in central Iraq,” says NBC terror analyst Evan Kohlmann.

The person/organization that posted the note specially mentioned their desire to help fighters in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul. The person who posted the note and video on the Internet called himself “terrorist 007.”

In one demonstration, a would-be bomber is told where to stand in a bus for maximum carnage. Someone in the video says in Arabic, “Notice that the shrapnel has greatly penetrated all of the seats.” This was translated by NBC News.

Another demo shows a vest that causes lethal wounds 30 yards away.

“I was startled by the amount of damage that such a small amount of explosives with the ball bearings could do,” says Francona. It’s a chilling reminder of the sophistication and cold-blooded determination of terrorists.

Lessons from Sri Lanka

Tamil journalist, S. Manoranjan was interviewed by Joe Rubin for Frontline/World May 2002 issue. He says that the Tamils used to collect children (many as young as 5 to 6 yrs) from refugee camps where they had lost their parents. They were taken away into indoctrination camps and turned into suicide bombers.15

“A human being himself is a weapon”

Manoranjan says that the world has to understand the dangers that this organization poses because of its capacity to create human bombs. Members of the organization say that this is the biggest achievement of their leader. In their military writings they, “The modern world has a capacity of improving the dead weapon. … All these weapons are dead weapons.” They [the modern world] can improve the weapons, they can make sophisticated weapons, but there needs to be a human being to operate them. He further explains that the leader makes the children realize that a human being himself is a weapon. No need to carry him. He will walk and explode. That is his achievement, his discovery.

“He has to go and die”

According to Manoranjan, the common belief is that the cadres are courageous and possess conviction. That is not the case. The cadre has no other solution. Once chosen as a Black Tiger, or suicide killer, there is no way of getting out of the whole thing. … He can’t go back, because saying “I can’t do this” will be a shameful act on his part.

So before dying the individual goes to meet the leader, has dinner with him and gets a photograph taken with him so that he will be respected in Tamil society. This can be considered as a form of brainwashing methodology.

On the final day, the individual is sent to the site where he has to conduct this heinous act. He’s watched. This person has no way of getting out of the whole thing. He is aware of the internal intelligence that is following him. So he has no option but to die. He has to. Whether he is hitting the target or not, once he wears the jacket, he has to die.

More Case Studies

Before reaching any conclusions and making recommendations, a few other case studies are presented here to illustrate the phenomenon of suicide bombing, to shed light on it from different angles.

Jason Burke of daily The Guardian, in his Op-Ed, ‘The Making of a Suicide Bomber’, carried in the January 20, 2008 issue16 comments “I spoke to many imams who have dealings with young people attracted by radical ideas on a daily basis and of course to both lawyers – defence and prosecution – and government officials engaged in Britain’s counter- terrorist at all levels. Interviews overseas with similar interlocutors provided breadth and context. Interestingly, both the activists themselves, in their public and private statements, and those watching them tend to describe a similar phenomenon and factors leading to radicalization and eventual violence. Recruiters are not ‘the preachers of hate’ but older brothers, respected peers, charismatic strong characters. Many militants are ‘self-starters’, not brainwashed recruits. The images that bombard us all are important – not just clever propaganda. Yes, frustration, alienation, a sense of injustice, a search for adventure, a need for recognition is all important but so are ‘small group dynamics’, who you happen to meet and when. Increasing isolation within the group is essential for the progressive dehumanization of ‘the enemy’ and the hardening and maintenance of psychological readiness to die ‘for the cause’. The preferred reading in UK counter-terrorism circles is works by experts specializing  in  ‘social  movements’,  many  of  which  have  nothing to do with Islam. However, with many British militants, the input of senior terrorist figures, often encountered in Pakistan, who adeptly exploit resources within the Islamic faith and the political and religious ignorance of most of their admirers, appears critical in the final stages of individuals turning towards mass casualty suicide attacks. Equally, militants in the UK are not predominantly well-educated, as is often said. They are also older than many think – with an average age of 29. They are not loners either and the level of psychological illness, as far as anyone can tell, is little higher than that of the general population. As with all journalism, our investigation is a compromise: limited by space, time, strict sub-judice laws, recent anti-terrorist legislation and by all the other myriad constraints that any journalist works under. It could easily have been five times longer. A discussion of identity issues among a given community, of the problems of defining that community, of the vexed question of the ‘responsibility’ or ‘function’ of Islam in radical violence, of the very idea that a profile of a ‘suicide bomber’ exists, of the terminology used to describe ‘al-Qaida’ and modern Islamic militancy would have necessitated a short book, not an article in a Sunday newspaper magazine.”

Former CIA officer Robert Baer traces the origins of terrorism’s most potent cult and explains why it will be hard to stop. In his Op- Ed ‘The Making of a suicide bomber’ published in The Sunday Times of Sept 03, 200617, he outlines the typical case of an English suicide bomber. In relation to the July 7, 2005 London underground bombing case, he describes the case of a young man, lost and bewildered on the streets of London, who is desperately ringing his friends but they have already left without him. Around him the city is falling into chaos as the emergency services report explosions in the Underground. Trains are being stopped, ambulances are racing to the scene, senior commanders at New Scotland Yard are scrambling to reach their desks, and Downing Street is on alert. He does not stop on his mission: the 18-year-old boy is now a perfect soldier. Downstairs on the No 30 bus he fiddles again and again with his equipment. Something is wrong, the circuit is broken. He could so easily turn back and save his life. But at 9:47am the device finally works and Hasib Hussain, on the top deck, blows himself to pieces. Thirteen innocent passengers are killed.

Robert Baer worked for 21 years as a CIA agent in the Middle East. He was stationed there when the first suicide bomber appeared from nowhere and blew up the US embassy in Beirut in 1983. He survived, because he was not in the building at that time but six of his close CIA colleagues were killed. He says that the embassy bombing was not just a devastating terrorist strike. It was the beginning of a new kind of warfare the suicide bomber. At that time the CIA had no idea who or what had hit them. All they knew was that a truck had somehow been driven into the lobby. The idea that this was a human bomb, a “martyr” operation, was inconceivable to them. He says that once he knew a human being had done this he made it his mission to discover the name and face of the bomber, and thus identify the organization or state who carried out the attack. Beirut was a dangerous and lawless place. The first of the western hostages were being seized, and it took years of patient spying, and the recruitment of sources within Hezbollah, before he had a name and old picture of the bomber — Mahmud Hassuna. He was a Shi’ite from a village in the south whose family was told he was “martyred” on the battlefields of the ongoing Iran-Iraq war. In reality he was one of Hezbollah’s first suicide bombers in Iran’s undeclared war against the United States. He questions the connection between Hassuna and Hasib Hussain, an 18-year-old British Asian who was born four years after Hassuna killed himself. His response is that although separated by time, sect and ethnic origin they all share the same deadly virtue— their willingness to sacrifice themselves to commit mass murder for a cause. He wasn’t surprised when British police discovered home-made “martyrdom” videos on laptops in later raids. This terrorist “artwork”, a filmed declaration justifying the coming slaughter and debuting the latest would-be martyr, is an intrinsic element of the cult of the suicide bomber. Robert Baer has now left the CIA but over the past two years, working with a British documentary company, he has gone back on the intelligence trail to trace the origins and evolution of that cult. From Iran, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and now Britain he has followed the “virus” of the cult of the suicide bomber as it has migrated from one conflict to another and mutated from a weapon of war to a weapon of chaos. His conclusion is that the origins of suicide bombing lie among the Shi’ite in Iran. A 13-year-old child, Hossein Fahmideh, strapped rocket- propelled grenades to his chest and blew himself up under an Iraqi tank in November 1980. Ayatollah Khomeini’s embattled Islamic republic adopted Fahmideh as a national hero and as an inspiration for further bloodshed and martyrdom. Even today on the streets of Tehran huge propaganda posters depict Fahmideh as the “grandson” of the Islamic revolution. The posters are adorned with tulips and beds of flowers — symbols of eternal life. His tomb on the outskirts of the city is a national monument, a site of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of Iranians. The Khomeini regime even issued every Iranian schoolchild with a plastic knapsack depicting Fahmideh’s heroic sacrifice under the tank and the grenades he used to blow himself up. It’s not difficult to read the message. In life you may be a nobody but if you die for Khomeini or his successors you will become a blessed Shaheed, a martyr, and rise up in death, and dwell in paradise. Robert Baer says that normally, it is not easy to persuade anyone to kill themselves. Instinctively even small children are wary of the potential harm. To create a willing martyr like Fahmideh or Hasib Hussain one needs to overwhelm every natural instinct. Suicide bombers are not born but indoctrinated. And it helps to have a cult that glorifies those who have blown themselves up which encourages fresh recruits. The cult has spread, like the recipe for the bomber’s home- made explosives, over the internet. If one knows Arabic and knows where to look, one can download a constant stream of martyrdom videos from Iraq. He claims that western suicide bombing is a collective act, a tight conspiracy of individuals drawn together by what at the beginning is an unfocused anger at the West, their own sense of frustration with their lives and a search for identity. As the group tightens in on itself its distorted view of the world blocks all alternative viewpoints. Every allied blunder in Lebanon/ Iraq/ Afghanistan merely confirms what the group sees as a revealed truth that the US and its ally the UK are at war with the Ummah, the entire Islamic world. The videos, the glorification, compound the distorted world view of the would-be bombers help cancel out other loyalties like marriage, love and education. A willingness to die becomes the ultimate loyalty test to the group and its leader. Both the September 11 cell, based in Hamburg, and the July 7 bombers spent a huge amount of time in each other’s company at mosques and gyms insulating themselves against the outside world.

But what makes suicide bombing different from other forms of terrorism is its doctrine of religious sacrifice. For the would-be bomber the deliberate sacrifice of his or her own life guarantees a place in paradise and thus a vindication of the deed. Dying on a distant Afghan battlefield fighting British troops and blowing yourself up in the toilet of a crowded transatlantic plane are one and the same.

Robert once asked a failed suicide bomber in an Israeli prison what he thought would happen to him when he pressed the detonator. “Jenna,” paradise was his one word answer. When he asked about the innocent bus passengers he said they would all be going to hell. Reflecting on 9/11, Baer says that on his last night on earth, Ziad Jarrah, the Lebanese- born hijacker pilot of United 93, wrote a final love note to his Turkish- German girlfriend Aysel Sengun: “I love you and I will always love you, until eternity. I don’t want you to get sad. I live somewhere else where you can’t see me and can’t hear me but I will see you and I will know how you are. And I will wait for you until you come to me.”

The  July  7  ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan,  in  his  death video, proclaims that “by presenting ourselves for this work we are guaranteeing ourselves a place in paradise.” The thought process is circular: because they are going to sacrifice their lives they really do believe they will go to paradise. And because they are going to paradise their act of mass murder is therefore justified. No target, an airplane, a Tube train, even, as in Iraq, a mosque of fellows Muslims, is off-limits. Robert contemplates that eventually, like all other plagues, the “virus” of the cult of the suicide bomber will burn itself out and cease. But as the recent alleged airline plot in the UK has revealed he doubts if the world is even at the end of the beginning of this suicidal terrorism.

A final case study is closer to home. It’s from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, situated adjacent to the troubled tribal area, which bears the brunt of the suicide bombing attacks. “There were six suicide bombers that attacked us in the middle of the night,” says Colonel Nadeem, Commandant Dir Operation. “Five of them detonated the explosives strapped to their bodies; however, one was missing till we discovered him hiding in the bushes. He was scared to kill himself because the effect of the drug had ended.” Nadeem was referring to an attack in years of age, was shot dead after he hurled a grenade, killing a security officer. But he did not pull the cord of his suicide jacket.

“Children who are trained as suicide bombers are injected with drugs to create an elated sense of self. Once the effect of the drug wears off, the bomber is incapable of detonating himself,18” says Nadeem.

The general perception of a suicide bomber is someone indoctrinated with  religious  fervour.  However,  authorities  have  always  claimed that much more than simple indoctrination is required to carry out suicide attacks. Medical tests and research seems to be justifying this understanding.

Nevertheless, poverty, oppression and illiteracy are some of the core reasons that lead many young people towards militancy. The story of one would-be suicide bomber illustrates this point. He is currently in Sabaon, an institution for the rehabilitation of those trained as suicide bombers. His story reflects how innocent children are turned into killing machines.

The bomber, whose name is kept confidential, was apprehended by security forces during a search operation. During interrogation he yelled “beat me more, as they tortured me before,” says a security official. “Upon hearing this, we took him out of solitary confinement and kept him with ourselves as he narrated his story. His father was a drug addict who hit him every day. At the age of 11 he was given some money by his mother to run away because she was afraid he would be killed by his father. He then found his way to a Madrassa where the caretaker and his colleagues used to torture him. Escaping the torment, he ran away to Afghanistan where he joined the Taliban. They trained him in carrying out suicide attacks and sent him back to Pakistan where he was arrested.”

Important Conclusions. From a dispassionate analysis of the complete situation and the various case studies presented above, one can safely draw the following conclusions:-

A majority of the suicide bombers are between the ages of 14-20 years when their minds can be indoctrinated easily.

A sizeable number of people are being lured in by militants/Jihadi

Organizations through different means i.e. mainly by funding and motivating on the pretext of fighting against US forces in Afghanistan.

Most of the individuals studying in Madrassas are falling prey to such acts owing to socio economic deprivation.

Some sections of the media are not playing the desired role.

The news being aired on TV or appearing in the print media merely aims at increasing the despondency amongst the common populace.

Successive Governments have  not  been  able  to  address  the problems of the area.

There has been a total lack of coordinated intelligence efforts in these areas which has allowed the miscreants to increase their power and influence without any hindrance.

The killing of local tribal Maliks and elders by the Taliban has created a vacuum which has led the common man to support Taliban out of fear.

There has been a wide range of weapons and resources made available to miscreants which indicates the level of free movement of resources/funding that exists in these areas.

Lack of proper education facilities in these areas has allowed the existing Madrassas in these areas to infuse negative propaganda in the minds of the young people.

The government functionaries i.e. Political Agents, Assistant Political Agents, etc. have totally lost their credibility/capacity to operate and function especially in the troubled areas of Waziristan, thereby, giving the militants a free hand to establish a parallel authority/government.


Keeping the above conclusions in mind, the following recommendations are proffered:-

Polarization/Integration. In the long run the socio-economic deprivation of the people, which encourages extremism and militancy needs to be addressed by the Government through the adoption of well deliberated policies to uplift the quality of life as a whole in these areas. However, while doing so it must be kept in mind that the tribal culture seldom accommodates integration with other factions. This, therefore, must be done in a way that gives them opportunities with a gradual and subtle thrust towards dependency with other parts of society. Linking of College/ University degrees to affiliated institutions in Peshawar can be a step towards this direction.

Establishment of Schools. To curtail the increasing influence of Madrassas, there is a requirement to open/run Government/ privately sponsored schools (with the help of different NGOs) which can provide alternate mean of education to the children of the area.

Media Policy. A strong and well knitted media policy needs to be worked out which should promote peace and harmony amongst the people. The newspapers/channels that are unleashing negative propaganda especially related to the fight against militancy/ extremism in should be investigated and if necessary disbanded.

Significance  of  Religious  Education  for  All.  Giving  due significance to promote the true version of Islam through renowned scholars, such programmes should be promoted, thereby, giving the people an opportunity to identify for themselves what the true message of Islam is i.e. as per Qurān and Sunnah.

Coordinated Intelligence Effort. The Intelligence setup needs to concentrate their resources and efforts to unearth and locate the foreign hands involved in these areas. Sources of foreign funding need to be checked as it would certainly affect the loyalties of the miscreants with foreign agencies/organizations.

Youth Program. A well chalked out youth program should be worked out to harness the potential of the youth in a positive direction. Special quota/ incentives to the youth from this area can be offered for studying in various schools/colleges. Establishment of Poly Technic Institutes in these areas will pay rich dividends in this regard as would the introduction of extracurricular activities such as sports, debate competitions, etc. :-

IDP Rehabilitation.It needs to be understood that as an outfall of collateral damage, life of many innocent people have also been affected. A well deliberated rehabilitation plan needs to be put in place so as to win the feelings/loyalties of the local populace in favour of the Government.

Strong Political System. There is a need to strengthen the political system in real terms so as to give the people the confidence in establishment/ Government functionaries.

Business Opportunities.                There is a need for the Government to ensure that a well planned economic uplift programme is implemented in these areas.

Role of NGOs.

NGOs like “Save the Children” if contacted can play a very active role in bringing the life of the affected children to normalcy.

The war against terror has presented multifarious challenges to the Government. The impact of these kind of suicidal attacks on our political, economic, religious and social life is going to be fatal if not checked in time through effective measures. There is a need to address this problem with wholesome approach. What is needed is to involve all stakeholders, especially the Ulemas, in preaching peace, tolerance and to reject terrorism in all its forms.


1 “Terrorism”, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary., 1795.

2 “New York Times columnist William Safire wrote that the word “terrorist” has its roots in the Latin terrere, which means “to frighten.”

3 Geoffrey  Nunberg  (October  28,  2001).    “Head  Games/It  all  Started  with Robespierre/ “Terrorism”: the history of a very frightening word”, San Francisco Chronicle, Retrieved 2010-01-11. “In 1792 the Jacobins came to power in France and initiated what we call the Reign of Terror and what the French call simply La Terreur.”

4 Yu Yonghe. Small Sea Travel Diaries, trans. Macabe Keliher, SMC Publishing Inc., 2004, ISBN 957-638-629-2, Page 196.

5 Beevor, Antony, Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books, 2002, ISBN 0-670-88695-5, Page 238

6 The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism Figure 1, p.128

7 BBC News, “1991: Bomb kills India’s former leader Rajiv Gandhi” May 21, 1991


9 ‘The Making of a Suicide Bomber’, daily Dawn, April 19, 2010

10  Hussain, Anwaar, ‘The Making and Unmaking of a suicide bomber’ Pak Tribune, May 04, 2010

11  Krosnick, J. A.; Betz, A. L.; Jussim, L. J.; Lynn, A. R. (1992). “Subliminal Conditioning of Attitudes”, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 18: 152.

12  Firdous Iftekhar, ‘What goes into the making of a suicide bomber’ The Express Tribune, July 20, 2010

13  Praja, Juhaya, S., Islam Globalization and Counterterrorism

14  Myers, Lisa & the NBC investigative unit. December 22, 2004

15  Rubin, Joe interviews S. Manoranjan for Frontline/World May 2002 issue ,

16  Burke, Jason, ‘The making of a suicide bomber’, The Guardian, January 20, 2008

17  Baer, Robert, ‘The making of a suicide bomber’, The Sunday Times, Sept 03,2006

18  Firdous Iftekhar, ‘What goes into the making of a suicide bomber’ The Express Tribune, July 20, 2010.