Inside a school for suicide bombers

I discovered earlier today this video up on the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) website. I’ve been vaguely aware of TED for a while, but this TED Talk caught my attention, for obvious reasons. Its given by a female documentary maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who hails from Pakistan.

Entitled ‘Inside a school for suicide bombers’, her talk revolves around her new documentary, ‘Children of the Taliban’. The video shown during the talk centres on excerpts from Taliban propaganda coupled with interviews Obain-Chinoy has conducted with children who have been through the schools she claims the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) are now running expressly to indoctrinate children.

The talk outlines what Obaid-Chinoy beleives is the TTP’s five-step process for turning young boys into suicide attackers:

  1. The recruiters target large, poor rural families who can’t afford to look after all their children; with promises that their kids will be fed, sheltered and educated, the parents give up their children to the recruiters.
  2. The children are taken to madrassas where they are taught to read the Koran, in Arabic (which they don’t understand). So they are reliant on the instructors to teach and interpret the Koran for them. The kids are banned from reading or listening to any external media source, thereby isolating them from all external views and events.
  3. The kids are taught to hate the world they live in, through a process of beatings, underfeeding, and a ban on any form of recreation. All the children do is read the Koran for eight hours at a time.
  4. Older Taliban fighters are then brought in to tell the kids about the glories of martyrdom and the rewards that will await them in the afterlife if they sacrifice themselves.
  5. The Taliban show the children propaganda films showing the deaths of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, telling them that the Western powers and their local client states do not care about civilian casualties and thus civilians who support the government are legitimate targets.

Its a pretty interesting talk, particulalry the segment where she interviews a boy who has been through the process and she asks him:

‘Do you want to carry out a suicide attack?’. To which he replies ‘I would love to. But only if I get permission from my Dad. When I look at suicide bombers younger than me, or my age, I get so inspired by their terrific attacks’.

Time to start trawling through the TED archive perhaps.

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Gone in 53 hours

Perusing the charge sheet against Faisal Shahzad, the alleged Times Square failed bomber, a number of interesting little nuggets are apparent.

1. Shahzad had returned to the US from a five-month trip to Pakistan on 3 February, where he claimed to have been visiting his parents. Shahzad appears to be the son of a senior Pakistani military officer. Interestingly he had also left his wife behind in Pakistan (and the NYT notes his two young children). Shahzad has apparently admitted to having recently received training in bomb-making in Waziristan.

2. Inside the failed VBIED, the police found keys to Shahzad’s rented home in Connecticut and to his other vehicle. Despite changing the number plates, Shahzad had failed to remove the VIN or Vehicle Identification Number, allowing police to track down the person who had sold it to him and provided the police with a description of Shahzad.

3. The police were somehow able to tie a pre-paid (i.e. disposable) cell phone to Shahzad. Such phones are supposed to be highly anonymous so it will be interesting to see what details emerge on how they went about this. As the NYT notes:

Though they declined to say precisely how they tracked such an anonymous number, they established not only that Mr. Shahzad was the buyer of the Pathfinder, but also that he got four phone calls from a Pakistani number associated with him in the hour before he made his final calls to arrange the purchase of the vehicle, according to the papers.

Shahzad apparently also used the phone to call a store that sold the fireworks used in the VBIED’s construction.

4. Shahzad’s rented residence gave him exclusive access to a garage, which presumably allowed him to construct his device without being observed.

5. Inside the vehicle officers found at least two firearms.

The apparent carelessness about leaving his residence keys in the VBIED makes me wonder if this was meant to be a suicide detonation that went wrong. Also, the point about him leaving his wife and children behind in Pakistan and the fact he took several days to try and extract himself from the US might support this theory. The use of clocks as timing devices in the vehicle might undermine this however. Of course, he could just be really incompetent and have left the keys behind by mistake. By the same token, it appears that the ‘training’ he received in Pakistan was of limited use.  However, the admission to having been to a camp in Waziristan might lend some credence to the apparent claim by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) to have been behind the attempted bombing. If so, it says something about the TTP’s ability to project force beyond their immediate areas of control.I wonder if this will turn out to be similar to cases in the UK (7/7, 21/7) where individuals have travelled with a view to fighting in Afghanistan but have been turned around and sent back to conduct an attack in their country of residence.

The discovery of the firearms is also interesting; why – if you are not confident about your explosives capability – risk bungling the attack when you could just walk into a shopping mall and shoot potentially dozens of people, perhaps taking inspiration from Nidal Malik Hasan? Is there something symbolic or talismanic about an causing an explosion that a shooting attack does not satisfy?

The other thing that jumps out of this investigation is that it took the authorities just over 53 hours from the discovery of the VBIED to the making of the arrest. That’s pretty impressive in anyone’s book. Though the revelation that the FBI surveillance team lost track of Shahzad and that he had managed to board a plane bound for Dubai is a little alarming.

Defection

An interesting little story from AFP, about ‘Hameed’, a 25-year-old Afghan ‘reformed’ suicide bomber. He was apparently recruited by his uncle, a member of the Taliban, and was trained to assassinate the Chief of Police in Wardak province. The details of the training he received are pretty familiar. He was sent to a madrassa near Peshawar and

“soon after I arrived that I was told for the first time that I was going to be trained for a suicide bombing mission. I was assigned to attack the Wardak police chief, General Abdul Yameen Muzafaruddin”. He and about 15 other Afghans were trained in how to put on suicide vests, how to choose the target and how to stay calm.

But Hameen had a change of heart and decided not to become a bomber, contacted his other uncle who was a police commander (family get-togethers must be interesting) who extracted him and presented Hameen to his intended target. Hameen recited the plan and handed over his explosives vest.

The former bomber is now a police officer working for the man he was trained to assassinate. Quite the turnaround, but I’d not like to be sitting next to him in the patrol car. This is the first instance I’ve come across of a failed suicide attacker being turned in such a way – if anyone has other examples I’d be very interested to hear about them.

Attacks in Pakistan, Iraq

Following on from yesterday’s assaults in Lahore and Kohat, there was another suicide VBIED attack on a police investigation agency building in Peshawar. Eleven were killed and 15 injured, including three police officers.

Initially it was reported that the attacker might have been a woman on a motorcycle.  However, police have apparently now retracted this claim and think the woman may have been an innocent bystander.

Police now believe a woman seen near the scene on a motorcycle was an innocent victim and had been a passenger on a motorcycle travelling behind the car bomb, reports the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad.

This would have been significant as it is virtually unheard of for women to mount suicide attacks in the region. The only such case I am aware of was in December 2007 when a woman tried to attack a military checkpoint in Peshawar.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, there was an attack in Tal Afar, near Mosul. A bomber detonated himself in a Sunni mosque. Apparently the atacker first shot the mosque’s imam and then blew himself up, killing eight and wounding 30. I suspect this will turn out to be another AQ in Iraq hit on someone who was opposing them locally. There appears to be a tendency for these attacks to occur during Friday prayers – presumably because it represents a fixed point in time and space when they can be sure the target will be present. I wonder if there is a religious element also?

Suicide Assaults in Pakistan

A Pakistani bomb disposal squad member removes a suicide jacket from the body of an attacker in Lahore (AFP)

A Pakistani bomb disposal squad member removes a suicide jacket from the body of an attacker in Lahore (AFP)

It would appear that the Pakistani Taliban are attempting to forestall a much anticipated Pakistani military offensive by pre-empting with one of their own. Three security buildings have been attacked in Lahore – the Federal Investigation Agency offices and two police training facilities. There has also been a suicide VBIED attack on a police station in Kohat (scene of a suicide attack on 18 September).

Four gunmen are reported to have attacked the FIA building, killing at least three in addition to the attackers. At least one of the assaulters had a suicide vest. The same building was hit by a suicide attack in March 2008.

At the Manawan police academy, three attackers are said to have detonated suicide vests, killing at least six police personnel. The same building was struck in March earlier this year in a similar assault.

The third target in Lahore was the Bedia police training complex, which was attacked by a team of at least eight gunmen – it appears fighting is still ongoing at time of writing.

The SVBIED in Kohat apparently struck the wall of the police station, causing both police and civilian casualties.

The use of suicide-vest wearing assault teams appears to be a growing tactic. We’ve seen repeated instances of this approach recently in Afghanistan, with attacks on government buildings and security stations in Kabul and wider afield. The team that attacked the Pakistani GHQ over the weekend was also apparently wearing suicide vests. It is interesting that the attacks in Pakistan appear to be more successful than those in Afghanistan, where the attackers are frequently killed before they have a chance to inflict significant casualties. This either suggests that Pakistani Taliban’s operatives are considerably more effective and better trained, or that the Pakistani security forces are less capable than their Afghan and ISAF counterparts – especially given that two of the sites attacked today have been struck quite recently. Perhaps its a combination of both.

Its also worth noting that the TTP have been able to coordinate three different attack teams against three separate ‘hard’ targets across Lahore in near-simultaneous attacks, an indication of a pretty sophisticated planning capability, not to mention the men and materiel requirements.

Increasingly bloody attacks in Pakistan

Hakimullah Mehsud

Following on from the attack on the Pakistani military’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, and a mass casualty attack on a market on 9 October, there has been another suicide VBIED in the North West Frontier Province. Reportedly a VBIED struck a military vehicle in a marketplace in Alpuri, killing at least 40 people and wounding many more. Ten of the dead are said to have been military personnel.

What is interesting about this is that, to date, suicide attacks against military and security forces in Pakistan have been relatively discriminating (in that they did not normally have very high levels of collateral civilian casualties).  Previously, mass civilian casualty attacks have been limited to sectarian attacks on Shia mosques or neighbourhoods.

When Hakimullah Mehsud became the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, he was described as reckless and more aggressive than his predecessors. So with this attack and the incident on the 9th, where another 40+ were killed in an apparently indiscriminate attack on a market in Peshawar, it might be that we are about to see a much more lethal set of incidents in Pakistan, as the TTP become less fussy about who they kill in their attacks. As Pakistan gears for a much-heralded offensive against the TTP, there may be bloody days ahead.

Mass casualty attack in Peshawar

From the The Associated Press:

A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle along a road near a well-known market in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar on Friday, killing 41 people and underscoring militants’ ability to strike in major cities despite

Television footage showed the charred skeleton of a bus flipped on its side in the middle of a major road. Twisted remains of a motorbike lay alongside the bus. A nearby vehicle was in flames.

Peshawar Police Chief Liaqat Ali Khan said the attacker was in a car packed with “a huge quantity of explosives and artillery rounds.” A minibus apparently carrying passengers nearby was also leveled in the blast.