The Thinking Bomb: Suicide Operations Evolve into a Tactical Method for Insurgents

By Ghazi, Jalal | National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Thinking Bomb: Suicide Operations Evolve into a Tactical Method for Insurgents


Ghazi, Jalal, National Catholic Reporter


The war in Iraq has enabled insurgent groups to develop the relatively modern innovation of suicide bombs into a strategic weapon.

Suicide operations, the signature weapon of the Iraqi insurgency, have evolved into a tactical method of warfare used by insurgents around the world. These "moving and thinking bombs" are more effective, numerous, adaptable and sophisticated--able to carry out both mass killings and targeted political assassinations--and are harder to counter since women and children are being used to carry them.

A study by the Gulf Research Center, a Middle East think tank, analyzes these operations from a technical perspective. The report, "Security and Terrorism: Suicide Bombing Operations," published in Arabic and English, focuses on suicide operations in Iraq, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Israel.

Although the study does not provide evidence of direct relations between insurgent groups operating in different countries, their similar tactics strongly suggest that they are learning from each other. The Iraq war has served as a suicide operations school for insurgent groups around the world, Dr. Mustafa Alani, director of Security and Terrorism Studies at the Gulf Research Center, told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya television network.

Suicide bombings in Afghanistan increased from one attack in 2001 to 118 in 2006, according to Hekmat Karzai, director of the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul. Half of all operations carried out by the Taliban in Afghanistan are now suicide operations.

The upper hand

The Taliban has successfully used these operations to undermine the Kabul government. This was evident in the early October attack on a police bus in the heart of Kabul, which killed 13 officers and civilians. Immediately after the attack, Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered the Taliban several posts in his government if leader Mullah Omar agreed to enter into negotiations with him. The Taliban refused the offer, a clear indication that they have the upper hand.

Suicide operations have evolved into a strategic weapon, Alani writes, because "in many cases, the suicide bombing technique has proved to be smarter than the high-tech Smart Bomb." These "human-driven bombs" can reach their targets like no other weapon, making them effective in targeted assassinations as well as mass killings. This is attributed to two unique characteristics of these so-called "moving and thinking bombs," Alani adds. "Moving bombs" refer to vehicle-borne bombs, while "thinking bombs" refer to person-borne bombs.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Mass killing suicide bombings are designed to maximize the number of casualties and psychological impact of the operation. Techniques such as the "trap combination attack" involve two suicide bombers: One detonates in a confined place, while a second bomber detonates near the exits as victims seek escape.

According to Alani, up to 150,000 Iraqis have fallen victim to suicide bombing attacks. Many American soldiers in Iraq have been killed in suicide bombings. The most lethal attack took place on Dec. 21, 2004, when a suicide bomber detonated his bomb in a mess tent on an American base in Mosul, killing 14 U.S. soldiers.

Suicide operations are increasingly being used to assassinate high-level officials in Afghanistan. In 2001, two al-Qaeda members pretending to be journalists blew themselves up near commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance and strongest opponent of the Taliban. In 2006, the list of assassinated Afghan officials included the governor of Paktia, Hakim Taniwal; former governor of Helmand, Muhammad Daoud; and Pacha Khan Zadran, a member of parliament.

Many high-level Iraqi officials have been assassinated. One of the latest of these was on Sept. …

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