Human Boobytrap

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=kandahar&iid=9651293″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”229″ /]An interesting little snippet from Afghanistan. This sort of ‘come on’ trap is pretty common (PIRA used them a lot in Ulster), but not sure I’ve heard of one using a suicide attacker laying in wait before. Presumably the white clothing referred to were martyr’s robes.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Afghan policeman shouldered his rocket-propelled grenade launcher one day in the first week of September and pointed it toward the police truck, a blue Ford Ranger pickup, and fired.

It was an easy shot, but the grenade missed, exploding in a tree nearby. A figure in a white robe fell out of the tree and the policemen ran, yelling they had seen a ghost.

The ghost promptly exploded; he was a suicide bomber, a human booby trap waiting for them to approach the police truck.

The truck had been stolen by a rogue policeman, after he drugged the dinner of seven of his comrades and then assassinated them while they were unconscious on Aug. 17. The Taliban later claimed the policeman was an insurgent agent. The truck had just been found during a clearing operation that had chased the Taliban from the District 6 neighborhood of the city and the adjoining suburban community of Mehlajat.

Lt. Col. John Voorhees recounts that story with a rueful laugh, both for what it says about the training of the Afghan police, and the ruthless nature of the fight now going on in neighborhoods and districts around Kandahar. Colonel Voorhees commands the U.S. Army’s 504th Military Police Battalion, responsible for security in Kandahar City. ‘I’ve found that the stranger the story in Afghanistan, the more likely it is to be true,’ says Capt. Bradley Rudy, one of his task force’s company commanders.

‘Afterwards we found a human jawbone,’ the colonel adds. ’ ‘See,’ we said, ‘it wasn’t a ghost.’

(Via .) At War blog, New York Times


Candid car bombing

We were only joking...

Iraqi TV executives at channel Al Baghdadia  clearly have some odd ideas about commissioning new shows. According to the NYT At War blog, there is a show which has been running throughout Ramadan called ‘Put him in [Camp] Bucca’. The basic premise is that a celebrity is invited to the TV network’s offices for a meeting, but along the way someone plants a fake bomb in his/her car and he/she is then stopped at a fake security checkpoint. Much hilarity then ensues when the car is searched and the device discovered and hidden cameras record the celebrity’s (presumably shocked/horrified) reactions. An example of the dialouge:

Soldier : “Which group you are working for?”

Television Host: “Al Qaeda for sure.”

Guest: “I am an actor. What are you saying? Is this a game or what?”

Soldier: “This a military checkpoint. What do you think we are playing here? You have got a bomb in your car.”

Television Host: “Why are you doing this? Why are you putting me in such trouble?”

Guest: “I am a family man. I have two kids. How could I do this to my family? I am telling you the truth, it’s not me who planted the bomb.”

Hilarious I’m sure. Though I guess it still has more entertainment value than Big Brother.

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.

Details of alleged Norwegian plot

The Associated Press has an interesting story this morning, concerning the recent arrests of an alleged jihadist bombing cell in Norway last month. Three men, Mikael Davud (39), a naturalised Norwegian of Uighur origin, Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak Bujak (37) an Iraqi Kurd and David Jakobsen (31), who was a Uzbek national, are alleged to have been plotting to construct hydrogen peroxide based explosives, but had not chosen a target. Davud and Jakobsen were both arrested in Norway, while Bujak was arrested in Dulsburg, Germany before being extradited.

Apparently the authorities had been aware of the plotters’ intent for some time, having intercepted emails to and from a contact in Pakistan (who may have been al-Qai’da’s chief of external operations, Saleh al-Somali). Unaware that they were under surveillance, the men proceeded to procure the precursor materials for their devices and over a two-week period in August/September 2009 they purchased nail polish remover, a one-liter bottle of 30-percent hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, flour and laboratory equipment, including a scale, gloves and dust masks. However, the authorities had ensured that the pharmacy which sold the men their chemicals in fact sold them a hydrogen peroxide substitute, thereby rendering any device they went on to construct harmless (this is an old counterterrorism trick – in Northern Ireland the police and army were adept at identifying PIRA arms caches and replacing explosives and ammunition with inert or dud substitutes, a process known as ‘jarking’)*.

However, the alleged plotters never got to the point of finding out that their bomb components had been jarked. Apparently Davud was spooked when detained by police on a trip to Turkey in September 2009 – this is said to have made him more cautious; also, it is has been suggested that their al-Qai’da contact in Pakistan may have been killed in a drone strike in December 2009. Finally, one of the cell members, Jakobsen, switched sides and in Autumn 2009 went to the Norwegian security services and began informing on Davud. This appears to be another example of the sort of thing I talked about in this previous post, specifically the downsides to depending upon decentralised amateurs who don’t have access to expertise or resources from a sponsoring organization. This plot was apparently doomed from early due to a lack of effective operational security awareness, which was then compounded by one of the cell member having a change of heart and going to the police.

* For more detail on the use of ‘jarking’ as a means of disrupting attacks see :Urban, M. Big Boys’ Rules: The Secret Struggle against the IRA: Faber & Faber, 1992.

Image of the week

Iraqi soldiers inspect the room where a man allegedly involved in making car bombs was wearing an explosive belt and blew himself up when security forces surrounded his house, in the area of Sabaa al-Bor, north of Baghdad, on June 2, 2010. (ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images). From The Big Picture.

Insights into Afghanistan suicide assaults

One of the hardest things about researching suicide attacks is getting hold of detailed reporting and analysis of how attacks are undertaken. High-profile incidents such as 9/11 or 7/7 are of course awash with detail, due to the official and media manpower thrown at them, but the daily grind of attacks in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are hard to pin down in any great detail.

Which is why this is so interesting. A report from a private security contractor in Afghanistan, detailing the 5 May suicide assault by nine (probable) Taliban attackers on a government compound in Zaranj, Afghanistan.

Such complex assaults have become an increasing part of the Afghan insurgency’s tactical repertoire. From an abstract perspective such attacks are interesting because they represent an evolution of the suicide bombing tactic in that they:

1. involve the use and coordination of multiple attackers against a specific target. In this instance nine attackers were employed in two vehicles, dismounting outside the target compound.

2. are relatively discriminating; it appears that in this instance the intended targets were members of the provincial council and the governor. Note the comment in the linked post that when moving through the adjacent compounds to get to their target, the attackers did not fire upon their occupants.

3. involve the use of firearms and other munitions in addition to the employment of suicide explosive vests. This requires at least a degree of additional training and practice (though as FRI notes, in this instance the attackers’ weapon handling was pretty poor – something that has been noted about Taliban insurgents more widely). Reportedly one of the vehicles was also a VBIED but the driver  was unable to reach his target and disengaged.

This is some way from one Palestinian teenager blowing him/herself up in a Tel Aviv pizza restaurant, and would have required a degree of planning and reconnaissance as well as the logistic effort needed to muster such a force.

I’ve noted before the phenomenon of attackers detonating themselves without any prospect of killing the ‘other’ – either as human demolition charges or against infrastructure targets. This incident is an excellent example of such tactics, with the attackers gradually whittling away their numbers in an attempt to breach a series of defensive obstacles.

While such attacks do indicate an impressive degree of resource on the part of the Taliban, i.e. the ability to field nine suicide attackers simultaneously and to sacrifice them in such a way (rather than, say, using them individually in separate attacks). Also, their devices all appeared to have functioned and there is little doubt that the attackers were well motivated.

However, as the FRI report notes, their reconnaissance was lacking (their approach route had been blocked by new roadworks) and when they were unable to proceed to their objective, they simply blew themselves up in a futile effort to breach a wall. There is little to suggest that the attackers were able to adapt their plan when it began to go wrong.

This is a fairly typical outcome for such assaults in Afghanistan – the guard force tends to kill the majority of attackers before they even get to within striking range of their objectives. Which does somewhat beg the question why do the Taliban keep committing such significant resources to normally unsuccessful attacks? (In this instance nine attackers died in return for the deaths of one provincial council member, two policemen and a civilian). Perhaps the answer lies in the ‘propaganda of the deed’ concept – it does not matter all that much that the attack was largely a failure; the value lies in the fact that they were willing and able to attempt it in the first place. It shows that the Afghan government cannot even protect its own offices and compounds, much less the population.

Whence the threat

Europol has recently released the latest EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE_SAT 2010). One statistic in particular jumped out at me from this report. In 2009 there were 294 terrorist incidents in the EU (with another 124 in Northern Ireland). How many of these were perpetrated by Islamist/Jihadist groups or cells? Just one. And that was an amateurish effort by a Libyan to suicide bomb a military barracks in Milan, Italy. In that incident (noted in this previous post) the attacker managed only to seriously injure himself. The remainder of the attacks came from ethno-nationalist, separatist and left-wing/anarchist groups (almost all in France, Spain and Northern Ireland).

Of the 587 individuals arrested for terrorism offences in 2009, 110 were linked to Islamist activities (a decline of 41% from 2008 when 187 were arrested and continues a downward trend from 2007 when 201 were arrested for suspected jihadist links). Interestingly, two-thirds of those arrested in 2008 and 2009 could not be linked to a specific organisation, and nearly one-third were EU citizens. It might be reasonable to suggest that the decline in arrests is due to a reduction in the number of plots or attempted attacks being undertaken by jihadists in Europe.

The Europol report suggests that jihadist groups are using the EU as a platform from which to conduct support activities (fundraising, recruitment, logistics) rather than conducting actual attacks. Further, zones of conflict in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and others are acting as a magnet, attracting those who might try and do something in Europe to go and fight elsewhere. The other implication is that such groups are still limited by their organizational resources and capabilities within Europe and are not capable of mounting meaningful actions within EU member states.

Sadly the dissident Republican groups in Northern Ireland do not appear to have any problem in getting their devices to explode. The increase in the threat from Republican paramilitary groups was underlined in the latest UK Intelligence and Security Committee report, in which it was revealed that the Security Service (MI5) was facing “considerably more what we would call priority 1, i.e. life- threatening investigations, in Northern Ireland than we do in the rest of Great Britain” and as a result had increased its allocation of resources dedicated to combating Irish terrorism from 13 per cent in 2009/9 to 18 per cent in 2009/10. Jihadist attempts to cause mass casualties may still generate greater headlines and hyperbole, but the main threat in Europe still emanates from those groups who have both the intent and the capability to mount attacks.