Swedish attack update

Swedish police this week released details of their investigation into the failed Christmas 2010 suicide bombing in Stockholm. On 11 December 2010, Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, a Swedish citizen of Iraqi origin died in an explosion in central Stockholm. His body was discovered with abdominal blast injuries along with a bag containing explosive material. Al-Abdaly had previously lived in Luton in the UK, along with his wife and two children. At the time it appeared that one of his devices exploded prematurely. The new information from the Swedish investigation suggests that a faulty trigger mechanism prevented the main charge he was carrying from detonating. This would appear to tally with reports at the time of the incident, which referred to a suspected attacker who had died from abdominal injuries.

Al-Abdaly was carrying two devices, one in a backpack comprising some 10kg of explosives, the second, made up of 6kg of explosive was wrapped around his waist. The Swedes also revealed he had placed a device in a vehicle with a remote detonator,but this also appears to have malfunctioned. Apparently the car bomb was  made up of ‘ fireworks, gasoline and liquid gas tanks’, something that has been seen several times before – notably in the Times Square and Glasgow Airport bombings (see this previous post).

The video below, a news report from around the time of the attack, shows first the blazing car and then, just off-screen, the explosion when al-Abdaly’s device detonated. The aftermath shows he was fairly far away from the main shopping street, suggesting he may have detonated prematurely or had suffered a technical failure. The Swedish police also reported that his two devices were augmented with a large quantity of nails.

One theory is that he intended the device in the car to explode, drawing in emergency services and bystanders, and he would then set off his device amongst this crowd. A Swedish prosecutor stated that:

“A possible scenario is that the car was supposed to attract people and that the bomb was supposed to explode. The perpetrator planned to walk into this environment and trigger his bombs,”

Interestingly there is little detail about how al-Abdaly went about constructing his devices. He had apparently purchased materials and equipment in the local area, but the investigation has yet to discover where he manufactured and assembled the devices. It also appears that al-Abdaly was operating by himself within Sweden, although one man was arrested and charged in Luton in the UK. At the time of the attack there was speculation that al-Abdaly may have had help from others in Sweden. Al-Abdaly had also reportedly travelled to Syria and Iraq in 2007 and 2009, so it is possible be received some form of training in explosives while there.

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.

Dying without killing?

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The al-Sarafiyah Bridge in Baghdad - April 2007

Recently a reader of this blog (its good to know I have at least one) emailed pmsmartbomb at gmail dot com and asked some interesting questions about whether suicide attacks had ever been used against infrastructure targets rather than aiming at causing mass casualties.

The short answer was, yes they have.

The first incident I came across was in Iraq in 2003, when three explosive -laden boats attempted to attack an important offshore oil platform near Basra. The attack was beaten off by US naval forces, with two American fatalities. According to reports at the time the terminal was responsible for most of Iraq’s 1.9 million barrels per day of exports. So, strategically a fairly important target.

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Three man suicide assault and attack on police patrol in Kandahar

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Saturday saw a three man suicide team attempt to assault a detention centre in Kandahar operated by the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security. One attacker detonated at the front gate to the facility, the other two engaged the guards with small arms fire and then detonated themselves without gaining access to the building. A guard and a child were killed in the incident, and three other guards were wounded. The Taliban have form for this type of attack: in June 2008, they used two suicide attackers as the opening to a large armed assault on Kandahar’s Sarposa prison, freeing some 400 Taliban detainees. On this occasion however it appears the attackers failed to breach the facility’s defences.

On Friday a foot-borne bomber approached a police patrol vehicle in Panjwai district and detonated himself. There were no fatalities, but six policemen and three civilians were injured.

A backside-borne IED?

In late August, a known al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula militant attempted to assassinate the Saudi head of counter-terrorism, Assistant Minster of Interior for Security Affairs, Prince Mohammed Bin Naif. The attacker, Abdullah Bin Hassan Bin Taleh Asiri (23), was supposed to be surrendering himself to the Saudi authorities. He was transported from the southern border region to Jeddah on a Saudi private jet. Upon meeting the Prince and during discussions regarding the surrender of other militants, Asiri detonated his device.

There are two curious aspects to this incident: first, how did Asiri manage to get a device on an aircraft and then into proximity to the target; second, why was he the only casualty? Both questions might be answered by reports that he had secreted the explosives internally (to be specific, in his anus). This is the first time I have heard of a suicide attacker seeking to conceal a device in such a way. Presumably the combination of the necessarily small quantities of explosive (and I’m guessing not much in the way of shrapnel), combined with the fact the attacker’s body must have absorbed a large amount of the device’s energy is what saved the PRince from more than minor injuries.

An interesting example of an innovative but not entirely successful variation of the suicide attack. I wonder if an airport security scanner would be able to pick up such a device?