Suicide Bomber Cult Is Alive and Well in Pakistan

One morning in late August, a group of about 15 men from the Hizbul Mujahideen jihadist group walked into Lal Faqir's home to congratulate him for the 'martyrdom' of his son Bahar Ali who, they said, had died after ramming an explosives-laden car into a NATO vehicle in Afghanistan.

''I am not repentant over what my son has done. It's the easiest way to get the blessings of god almighty and enter paradise,'' Lal Faqir said, trying desperately to hide the grief at having lost his 23-year-old son.

Ali, said his father, was a calm person but religious to the core. He first left his family two years ago to take part in the 'jihad' in Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory long-disputed between India and Pakistan.

"After about six months he returned, but was off again before dawn the next day -- only once, did we receive a call from him, telling us that he was somewhere in Afghanistan and was fine," he added.

It all began three years ago when a group of mujahideen (holy warriors) visited the local gymnasium that Ali and his friends frequented and preached about the need for jihad. Before long, Ali became one of the hundreds of potential suicide bombers that the commander of the Taliban, Mullah Dadullah, claimed to have at his command, ready to go out and take on the forces of the United States and its partners in Afghanistan.

Just how deadly Dadullah's grisly cadres can be became apparent when a suicide bombing killed the governor of Afghanistan's eastern Paktia province, Hakim Taniwal, and two others on Sunday and a second one killed six more people at his funeral on Monday.

On Sep. 8, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a U.S. military convoy, killing 16 people in the sanitised centre of Kabul. The previous day, another coalition convoy was targeted in southwestern Kandahar, but no casualties were reported.

Many of Dadullah's recruits come from places like Charsadda, which lies 35 km north of Peshawar. These Pashtun villages are close to the porous Afghan border, forming natural refuges for the Taliban as well as launching pads for the resurgence that they are now believed to be staging.

A nationalist leader, Dr Said Alam Mahsud of the leftist Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, who is also a paediatric surgeon, pinned the blame on Pakistan's secretive Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for encouraging mujahiddeen activity.

Bahar Ali, said his lone close friend Farooq Asmat, developed an intense hatred for the U.S. and its allies especially after the events of 9/11 when Muslims were demonised. "He would say that he would lay down his life to seek revenge on U.S. forces for killing innocent Muslims," Asmat said.

Ali was not the only suicide bomber to target coalition troops in Afghanistan. On Jul. 22, 23-year-old Aminullah had blown himself up along with another suicide bomber while slamming their explosives-laden car into a coalition vehicle in Kandahar, killing two Canadian soldiers and injuring eight others.

The young man left a note for his family. "Don't shed tears for me, for this has been my life-long dream, to fight jihad and embrace shahadat (martyrdom). I am going to a suicide bombing (mission) and I am doing so on my own free will. You may not see my body, grieve not. I have chosen it to be so."

Like Ali's, his family was told about his death in the wee hours of Aug. 5 when a knock at the door awakened them to a rude shock. For the people of Aminullah's Shabqadar village, also 35 km north of Peshawar, the news came as a shock. "He was not the type," Karim, a cousin, said.

Son of a retired soldier from the Frontier Corps, Aminullah had followed in his father's footsteps and joined the paramilitary force. His last posting was in Balakot, Mansehra district, devastated by the quake last year. It is unclear whether he deserted the force or resigned, but his family said that Aminullah had told them that he had quit about six months ago to join the Tablighee Jamaat, a community of preachers.

His cousin said that Aminullah did not communicate with his family until 15 days before he died when he called them from Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province. "His sisters and mother cried on the phone and begged him to return," his cousin Karim recalled. "No one in the family knew what he was up to. He had never consulted anyone nor told any family member of his intentions, otherwise we would have stopped him," he added.

In the note that was delivered to his family he wrote that he was embracing 'martyrdom'. "I have not been forced by anyone," he said. "Had Allah given me one thousand lives, I would have sacrificed it -- a thousand times."

Curiously, neither Ali nor Aminullah went to any of the madrassas (religious schools) that are said to be the breeding ground for religious warriors.

Security officials warn that the numbers of would-be suicide bombers waiting in the wings in Pakistan's restive Waziristan and the adjoining parts of southern Afghanistan could run into the hundreds. Mullah Dadullah's boast was not an idle one.

"The thrust of suicide-bomber training is on religious indoctrination, motivating would-be bombers to kill themselves for Allah," an official said.

They are taught lessons in driving vehicles and motorbikes and they are given explosives-packed vests or explosives-laden vehicles. "All they are required to do is to push a button or pull a latch. It's as simple as that. You don't need an academy to make suicide bombers," he added.

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