Suicide Bombing?


On 8 May a powerful car bomb ripped apart the coaster carrying French technicians working on the Agosta submarine project in Karachi, leaving 11 French and 4 Pakistanis dead, injuring more than 2 dozen others. First reports indicated it was suicide bombing, later it transpired that instead of ramming the coaster the car had moved adjacent to its right side before blowing up. Whether the explosives, attached to the engine block, were detonated by the driver or it was remotely detonated, is still a matter of conjecture. Because of the recent spate of “suicide bombings” in Israel by the Palestinians and the repeated threats of Al-Qaeda about retaliatory attacks against the “war against terrorism” Coalition partners, expert opinion seemed to coincide with general public perception. For all practical purposes, “suicide bombings”, hitherto associated with Tamil Tigers and Palestinian activists of various kind, had come to Pakistan.

Staying in the Pearl Continental across the road from the Sheraton, a number of New Zealand and Pakistani cricketers were jolted, even in their rooms, besides being on the receiving end of flying debris. The New Zealanders were particularly lucky, most players were finishing breakfast, ready to depart for the National Stadium for the Second Cricket test. Their physiotherapist, standing next to their coaster parked behind the Pearl, took cuts and bruises in his right hand. Another few minutes and the car bomber would have had a full load of international cricketers in his bomb-sights. Having earlier cancelled their October 2001 trip because of Sep 11, the New Zealanders were in Pakistan more or less under duress. A bomb in their midst would have been an unmitigated disaster for cricket in particular and sports in general, for Pakistan, the repurcussions would have gone far beyond that for the poor French technicians. Botham would never have sent his mother-in-law here, as a sporting venue Pakistan would have become a desert!

The police quickly obtained a good enough description of the three persons who bought the vehicle a few days ago, one of them with distinct Central Asian features. With the forensic and investigative resources of both the US and French backing Pakistani efforts, it should be possible to trace out the perpetrators of this outrage. French forensic experts are believed to have reconstructed the disfigured face of “the Bomber” to an extent. If the aim of the attack was to delay the submarine project, that has been accomplished, at least temporarily. The French Defense Minister was right when she criticized the Pakistani security cover plan for the French nationals as unsatisfactory, if any concerted plan existed. However there is virtually no guard against suicide bombing once it is launched, the only defence is superb intelligence preventing the attack during the planning stage. Israel, which arguably has the best intelligence resources and personnel in the world, have not been able to prevent suicide bombers from causing havoc.

World War 2 saw Japanese airmen deliberately crashing explosive-laden aircraft on US warships in the Pacific. While the “Divine Wind”, literally Japanese for “kamikaze”, certainly hurt the US Navy, they did not affect the course of the war. This suicidal tendency served to influence US President Harry Truman, Jr that the US would take horrendous casualties on the Japanese mainland and led to the dropping of the two atomic bombs. There was a long hiatus thereafter till the Indian-trained Tamils started their rebellion in Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers, including their chief, Prabhakaran, were trained in evil-doing by India’s Research and Analytical Wing (RAW) in camps in and around Madras (now Chennai). Having fallen out with their Indian friends, the Tigers graduated from car bombs and assassinations, resorting to suicide bombings and suicide squads, very effectively against both military and civilian targets. The assassination of former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi by a female Tamil Tiger suicide bomber who set off the explosives strapped to her body was the ultimate.

Nobody is more experienced at the receiving end of “suicide bombing” than the Sri Lankans and Israelis, both having had limited success in pre-empting strikes by some superb intelligence work. Boaz Ganor, Executive Director, Institute of Counter-Terrorism (ICT) Israel, writes in MA’ARIV (and re-published in the May 2002 issue of DJ), to quote, “a suicide attack is an operational method in which the very act of the attack is dependant upon the death of the perpetrator. The suicide attacker is fully aware that if he does not kill himself/herself, the planned attack will not be implemented. The attack is carried out by activating explosives worn or carried by the attacker in the form of a portable explosive charge, or planted in a vehicle he is driving”, unquote. Boaz Ganor goes on to say “it is important to correctly define a suicide attack, different types of attack may be mistakenly considered as belonging to this special category: (1) the attacker sets out with the knowledge that there is a good chance of being killed. As long as there is a possibility of the attack being carried out without him being forced to kill himself during the course of it, this should not be “considered to be suicide attack” (2) sometimes the attacker makes concrete preparations for the possibility of death as a result of the attack (preparing a will, carrying out purification ceremonies, etc.) (3) in some attacks, the attackers are equipped with arms or explosives for blowing themselves up should the attack go wrong. The existence of such arms or explosives and even the decision to use them does not constitute adequate grounds for the attack to be defined as a suicide attack”, unquote.

Suicide attacks offer a variety of advantages: (1) many casualties and extensive damage (2) wide media coverage indicating a display of great determination and inclination for self-sacrifice on the part of the attacker and (3) shows up the law enforcing agencies (LEAs) as ineffective. Although very primitive and simple, suicide tactics guarantees maximum number of casualties. It is extremely difficult to counter suicide attacks once the terrorist is on his way to the target once he sets off on his mission, his success is virtually guaranteed. Even if the security forces do succeed in stopping him before he reaches the intended target, he can still activate the charge and cause damage.

Why a suicide bomber was needed for the Karachi attack stretches imagination, the target had nothing resembling the security cordon that a suicide bomber attempts to breach with his/her sacrifice. Given the routine timings, lack of armed guards or even any escort vehicle, the bus was a “soft target” that did not need “kamikaze” methods. The evidence is not complete but in both scenarios the motivations point more to India than anyone else. Could it be that (1) the attackers saw a coaster and white men and in the heat of the moment could not differentiate between technicians and cricketers (2) the man parking the car was trying to get out and either detonated the explosive device accidentally or was remotely detonated by the accomplice deliberately? The aim of scuttling the submarine project is obvious, the cricket-kill would have had lasting damage value. Since India’s leaders like Advani and Fernandes are paranoid about us, we need to develop some paranoia about them also. During the 80s Afghan KHAD/WAD cooperated with India’s RAW to explode several thousand devices in Pakistan, many in Karachi itself, the biggest one ( at least 250 dead) in the Empress Market. Now that Qanooni, who has been on the RAW payroll, heads the Afghan Interior Ministry, could the relationship have been revived? One must pursue all the leads and hope that it was not a case of “suicide bombing”. Because if it was, we are in big trouble.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).