By Sultan M. Hali

They [LTTE] collect children from refugee camps where they have lost their parents. [Many of these are small children], five years old, six years old. They have been brought up in this Red Garden[1]. And after two or three years they are separated … and taken to a hidden place in the jungle. That particular place is named as “Puti de Pumi,” a sacred land. This is the place where these human bombs are being produced. They [the children] are not exposed to the war. They only know about their leader. They have a last supper with the leader. They … feel that they are dying for the leader. That’s all. They don’t have any idea of fighting for separate state or the commitment towards the cause of the Tamils. Nothing. They are just robots.


This is the whole thing that the world should understand today. Because the most dangerous part of it is [that] this particular organization has a capacity of creating human bombs. They say it is the biggest achievement of their leader. In their military writings they use the very words, saying “The modern world has a capacity of improving the dead weapon. … All these weapons are dead weapons.” They [the modern world] can improve [the weapons], they can make sophisticated weapons, but there needs to be a human being to operate that.

But our leader [they say], his discovery … is that a human being himself is a weapon. No need to carry him. He will walk and explode. That is his achievement, his discovery.


Everybody thinks that [cadres] are coming out with a lot of courage and conviction. That is not the case. The cadre has no other solution. Once chosen as a Black Tiger, or suicide killer, there is no way of getting out of the whole thing. … He can’t go back, because saying “I can’t do this” will be a shame for him. Everybody will say, “What are you? You are nothing. No, you have to die for the leader.”

So before dying you [the cadre] go to meet the leader and have dinner with him. He’ll get a photograph with you. So that you will be respected in the Tamil society. It is this kind of brainwashing methodologies.

And on the final day, the cadre comes out of the sea and he’s left in a place like Colombo. He’s being watched. This cadre has no way of getting out of the whole thing. He knows from the beginning [that in this] society there is an internal intelligence which is following him. So here in Colombo he has to go and die. He has to. Whether he is hitting the target or not, once he wears the jacket, he has to die.

What turns a young man, apparently like any other, into a suicide bomber[2]? How does a singe individual go from standing on a street corner to flicking a switch and blowing himself up? The question is superficially simple. The answers are not.

Last year the editor of the Observer asked me to investigate this process. Today you can read my findings (part one here, part two here). Since writing my first pieces on radical Islam in the UK 15 years ago, I had amassed huge amounts of material – from interviews with so-called “preachers of hate” such as Abu Hamza conducted long before they became notorious to intelligence reports from the weeks before 9/11. Then there was all the research from work overseas: in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Algeria, Israel-Palestine and elsewhere. I added half a dozen newly filled notebooks and several large lever-arch files.

Who did I speak to? Some old militant contacts from the 1990s – though most are now in prison, have left the UK or are too scared to talk or even to meet as they did a decade ago. Some more recent sympathisers with radical Islam – though the pervasive fear of arrest and incarceration made even the most banal conversation with anyone, active or otherwise, about the possible reasons for young Britons being attracted by militancy very difficult. I spoke to many imams who have dealings with young people attracted by radical ideas on a daily basis and of course to both lawyers – defence and prosecution – and government officials engaged in Britain’s counter-terrorist at all levels. Interviews overseas with similar interlocutors provided breadth and context.

Interestingly, both the activists themselves, in their public and private statements, and those watching them tend to describe a similar phenomenon and factors leading to radicalisation and eventual violence. Recruiters are not “the preachers of hate” but older brothers, respected peers, charismatic strong characters. Many militants are “self-starters”, not brainwashed recruits. The images that bombard us all are important – not just clever propaganda. Yes, frustration, alienation, a sense of injustice, a search for adventure, a need for recognition is all important but so are “small group dynamics”, who you happen to meet and when. Increasing isolation within the group is essential for the progressive dehumanisation of “the enemy” and the hardening and maintenance of psychological readiness to die “for the cause”.

The preferred reading in UK counter-terrorism circles is works by experts specialising in “social movements”, many of which have nothing to do with Islam. However, with many British militants, the input of senior terrorist figures, often encountered in Pakistan, who adeptly exploit resources within the Islamic faith and the political and religious ignorance of most of their admirers, appears critical in the final stages of individuals turning towards mass casualty suicide attacks.

Equally, militants in the UK are not predominantly well-educated, as is often said. They are also older than many think – with an average age of 29. They are not loners either and the level of psychological illness, as far as anyone can tell, is little higher than that of the general population.

As with all journalism, our investigation is a compromise: limited by space, time, strict sub judice laws, recent anti-terrorist legislation and by all the other myriad constraints that any journalist works under. It could easily have been five times longer. A discussion of identity issues among a given community, of the problems of defining that community, of the vexed question of the “responsibility” or “function” of Islam in radical violence, of the very idea that a profile of a “suicide bomber” exists, of the terminology used to describe “al-Qaida” and modern Islamic militancy would have necessitated a short book, not an article in a Sunday newspaper magazine.

This article will provoke much debate. As ever, a large number of people will read it selectively, taking from it what they want to bolster their own predetermined positions. Some will launch the usual angry and abusive tirades. As anyone working in the field knows, few subjects touch as many raw nerves and provoke such passionate responses. This investigation is not meant to end the important discussion on the roots of radical militancy in the UK and elsewhere but is merely a contribution – an important and informative one we believe – to it.

On Sunday May 18, 2008, I had the opportunity to accompany a team of national/international media persons, who were flown into the remote former Baitullah Mehsud territory of Spinkai Raghzai (South Waziristan) by ISPR. We witnessed a human tragedy of epic proportions. The village was devoid of any human life apart from army soldiers patrolling to keep the miscreants at bay. The houses in Spinkai Raghzai village indicated that their occupants had left in extreme urgency, not even bothering to take their valuables with them. Earlier at Dera Ismail Khan, the GOC 14 Div. Major General Tariq had briefed us that not a single civilian casualty had occurred because leaflets were dropped asking the civilians to vacate or face the wrath of the Army. Those who stayed behind were killed or forced to retreat. 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) were provided refuge in different camps.

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The media team, led by its host the DG ISPR, Major General Athar Abbas had the opportunity to interact with a group of IDPs. They narrated their sad plight, the torture they received at the hands of Baitullah Mehsud and his band, who tried to impose Talibanisation on the hapless residents by terrorizing them with the threats of dire consequences. Mehsud’s men, especially the infamous Qari Hussain alleged to be the master-mind behind the campaign of suicide bombings in Pakistan was engaged in indoctrinating and training suicide bombers. Brigadier Ali Abbas, the commander of the brigade, that had carried the brunt of the attacks in Spinkai Raghzai area as part of Operation Zalzala launched on January 21st, after Baitullah Mehsud razed the Sarararogha Fort, showed the ruins of two suicide-bombing-jacket factories and training schools.

Earlier, General Tariq informed the media that 52 children had been recovered from the clutches of Mehsud’s men, who had been trained as suicide-bombers. The children were so innocent that asked they stated that when they grew up, they would become fighter pilots or lawyers, doctors and so on; oblivious of the gory end planned for them. They have been handed over to an NGO “Save the Children” for better upkeep and enabling them to return to normal lives.

The IDPs told this scribe that Mehsud’s men would entice the children to come to the training camps under the pretext of teaching them how to ride motorbikes. Once in their clutches, they would use every trick to follow their diktat. The father of one recovered “suicide-bomber” tearfully told me that a child, who lost his nerve and wanted to return home, was publicly slaughtered by his mentors to strike terror in the hearts of the naive and innocent souls. Children between the ages of 12-20 were regularly indoctrinated, being issued with “Shahadat” certificates, promising a place in paradise along with forty close relatives. The children were taught Pashto hymns with wordings like “Oh Allah, I am coming to you but in pieces, o comrades bid me farewell…” and so on. The GOC 14 Div showed us videos of the so called nurseries for producing suicide-bombers. In a specifically gruesome scene, a young boy was urged to slit the throat of a uniformed Law Enforcing Officer. He gleefully obliged chanting “Allah-o-Akbar”, raising the severed head of his victim. In another video, a young trainee was made to kill another boy, shooting him at point-blank range. The training videos comprised lessons in rigging incendiary explosive devices (IEDs) from domestic utensils like water coolers, stuffed with explosives, assembling suicide bombing jackets and other deadly weapons. The GOC’s briefing contained a component titled: ‘Misguided youth used for suicidal acts’, which provided valuable insight into the making of a suicide bomber. Extracts and summary of the briefing are presented below:

Background:  Suicide bombing and IEDs are two components of an asymmetrical conflict that we are experiencing which have taken have proved to be very fruitful but all the same a well thought out long term response must be worked out.

The suicide bombers comprising young boys were mainly brainwashed/trained in different Madrassas established in tribal areas. On being apprehended, they were subjected to detailed investigation in coordination with the Intelligence agencies and the local civilian police. As a result of this investigation, an effort is being made to rehabilitate some of these boys through different means. In this regard an NGO with the name of “Save the Children” is working for their rehabilitation. It may be noted that if these boys are given back to their families, there are all the likely chances of their falling back to the same militant groups/organizations operating in the tribal areas.

The measures recommended in this paper are not only meant for re-habilitating these captured/intercepted boys rather these are aimed at bringing change in the overall outlook of the youth / people of this area. This paper including a detailed analysis of suicide bombing highlights its prime reasons along with details of explosive jackets used for suicidal acts.

Why the Youth Fall Prey to Suicidal Acts?A dispassionate analysis leads to following factors which help luring innocent kids in such activities:-

  • Negative influence/motivation by Maulvis/so called Ulemas mainly through Madrassas.
  • Lack of proper education facilities in tribal areas.
  • Motivating the youth on the pretext of fighting against US forces in Afghanistan and then subsequently employing them against own Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) once their motivation level comes to a desired point.
  • Inaccessibility of the people to TV/radio in these remote areas.
  • Non-existence of any business opportunity / overall poor living conditions of the people residing in the area.
  • Lack of any recreational activity.

The Way Out. Though the Army is doing its best to help out this category of individuals, yet it is strongly felt that effective involvement of specialist orgs in this process will have synergetic effects in the rehabilitation process of young children. As highlighted earlier, organizations like “Save the Children” can prove very useful in this regard. The punch line of addressing the problem areas remains “helping the children to survive and thrive after being through such an intense experience of terrorist activities”. The focus should remain on:-

  • Demobilizing the child soldiers.
  • Psychological treatment to terror stricken minds.
  • Rehabilitation of the innocent kids.
  • Provision of education/changing their overall outlook/vision about society.
  • Promoting the positive image of the life.
  • Reuniting with respective families as good members of the society.

Desired Role of NGOs. In all areas of their work, they look for sustainable solution that will benefit children and their communities for yrs to come. They support and strengthen schools, healthcare sys and other infrastructure in the long term by giving people appropriate skills and resources such as specialist training and quality equipment.

Army’s Proposed Assistance to This Process.         In this process the Army’s assistance may include the following:-

  • For the Children
  • Provision of lodging facilities to the children in situ for a specific period till the arrangements are made by such organizations at their end.
  • Sponsoring the education by providing free of cost school facilities to some percentage of the kids as being done in Balochistan for few tribes.
  • Providing platform to kids by organizing various sports, education and other related events so as to influence the youths’ potential in positive direction.
  • Providing material support in term of donations from the individuals, units/Headquarters etc.
  • For the NGOs.  Perceived assistance required by the NGOs from the Army including:-
  • Provision of security to these organizations, for their functioning in troubled areas.
  • Arranging transportation means for their visits to highly remote areas.
  • Provision of accommodation/lodging facilities etc where required.
  • Assist these organizations to arrange different functions in troubled areas in order to influence the youth’s mind/heart.
  • Assist the organization in overcoming the bureaucratic snags/procedural hiccups.
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Areas Requiring Attention. The attention may be given to these areas in following order of priority:-

  • South and North Waziristan.
  • Swat.
  • Remaining parts of Tribal Areas.
  • Balochistan.

Factors Forcing an Individual to go for Suicide Bombing

The detailed interrogation/interviews of the apprehended miscreants/ small boys employed for suicide bombing indicated some imp factors which force an individual to take such an ultimate step. Some of these are:-

Role of Madrassas. Unfortunately, this has figured out as the leading factor moulding the minds of individuals especially the young boys to go for suicide bombing. The so called Ulemas of the areas, having vested interest are using the Madrassas as a platform for prep innocent children for such uncalled for acts. With the reward of getting eternal happiness in heavens, the young and immature minds are subjected to indoctrination by so called religious leaders/militant commanders to undertake the suicidal acts. Shahadat certificates being issued to such individuals are an example.

Coercion. Instances have been reported whereby the individuals being detained by miscreants were forced to undertake the suicidal acts on the threats that if they are not prep to do so as told by them, they along with their family members shall be killed/slaughtered.

Polarized Society. The people of our tribal areas tend to remain confined to their own tribe/community and as such never really integrate with society/nation in general.

Lack of Communication. Most of these areas do not have any access to TV/radio thus limiting the vision of local populace to the info/motivation provided by the so called Ulemas only.

Negative/Exaggerated Media Reporting/Propaganda. The un-warranted propaganda being unleashed by some of the electronic and print media against Security Forces’ on their actions against militants/their sympathizers also act as force multiplier. The picture painted on the miseries/damages caused in the area through military action, preparing the youth of the area living in other parts of the city to join militants fighting against security forces.

Lack of Protection/Insecurity. The people of the area have developed a sense of insecurity and general feeling that they are unprotected against militants’ actions/brutalities. This all has taken place essentially due to non-functioning of political administration/government’s writ in the troubled areas.

Lack of Opportunities.      Triggering the feeling of deprivation and frustration existing in the minds of kids especially studying in the Madrassas, the miscreants (comprising some excellent orators also) bring the individual to a level where he considers rest of the world responsible for his sufferings/failures and go for such acts as revenge against people/society.

Remoteness/Close Proximity to Afghan Border. The far flung areas/locations comparatively being inaccessible provide inbuilt training areas for harbouring such activities. Moreover, they being close to Afghan Border, provide easy way to so called Jehadi Organizations to have their training camps without any check.

Involvement of Foreign Hand. The age old traditional tribal rivalries are also one of the factors of terrorist activities. The prevailing mistrust between different tribes is exploited by the foreign fighters/organizations to their own advantage through heavy funding thereby resulting into in terrorist acts. Propaganda on a well chalked out themes is carried out to alter the mind set of young boys in particular to act against the government/its LEAs.

Element of Revenge.  There are few instances where the individuals go for suicidal killing merely to seek revenge of their near and dear ones who have lost their lives in the fight against Security Forces in troubled areas.

Afghan Factor.  The presence of US/Coalition Forces in Afghanistan also acts as one of the motivating factors especially for boys studying in Madrassas. The young lot is easily influenced to undertake suicidal acts by portraying own LEAs as an ally to foreign forces.

Important Conclusions. The dispassionate analysis of the complete situation leads to following conclusions:-

  • The suicidal bomber are by and large form the age group between 14-20 years where there minds can be indoctrinated easily.
  • Sizeable number of people are being lured in by militants/Jehadi Orgs through diff means i.e. mainly by funding and motivating on the pretext of fighting against US forces in Afghanistan.
  • Most of the individuals studying in Madrassas are falling prey to such acts owing to their socio eco and education deprivation.
  • The current situation leads to a sorry fact that at places media is not playing the desired role. The news being aired on TV or appearing in the print media merely aim at increasing the despondency amongst the common populace.
  • Owing to various reasons, the successive Governments have not been able to address the problems of the area right from the beginning.
  • There has been a total lack of coordinated intelligence effort in these areas which has allowed the miscreants to increase their power and influence without any hindrance.
  • The killing of local tribal Maliks and elders by the Talibans have created a vacuum which has led the common man to support Talibans out of fear.
  • There has been a wide range of weapons and resources available with the miscreants indicating to the free movement of resources/funding in these areas.
  • Lack of proper education facilities in these areas has led Madrassas to infuse negative propaganda in the minds of the young people.
  • The government functionaries i.e. Political Agents, Assistant Political Agents etc have totally lost their credibility/capacity to operate and function especially in troubled areas of Waziristan Agency thereby giving the militants a free hand to establish parallel authority/government.

Recommendations. Following recommendations are proffered:-

  • Polarization/Integration. In the longer run the socio-economic deprivation of the people, which encourages extremism and militancy needs to be addressed by the Government through the adoption of well deliberated policies to uplift the quality of life as a whole in these areas. However, while doing so it must be kept in mind that the tribal culture seldom accommodates integration with other factions. This, therefore, be done in a way that gives them opportunities yet making them dependent on other parts of society. Linking of College/University degrees to affiliated institutions in Peshawar can be example to quote.
  • Establishment of Schools.    To curtail the increasing influence of Madrassas, there is a requirement to open/run Government/privately sponsored schools (with the help of different NGOs) which can provide alternate mean of education to the children of the area.
  • Media Policy. A strong and well knitted media policy needs to be worked out which should promote peace and harmony amongst the people. Those news paper/channels should be disbanded which are unleashing the negative propaganda especially related to fight against militancy/extremism in the society.
  • Significance of Religious Education for All. Giving due significance to promote the true version of Islam through renowned scholars, such programmes should be aired/organized which lead the people to clearly identify at their own the true teaching of Islam i.e. as per Quran and Sunnah.
  • Coordinated Intelligence Effort. Intelligence setup be made to gear up their activities in unearthing and center the foreign hand involved in these areas. Sources of foreign funding need to be checked as it would certainly affect the loyalties of the miscreants with the foreign agencies/organizations.
  • Youth Program.A well chalked out youth program be worked out to harness their potential in the positive direction special quota/incentives to the youth from this area can be offered for studying in various schools/colleges. Establishment of Poly Technic Institute in these areas will pay rich dividends in this regard. Holding of following events may also be considered:-
  • Sports competitions.
  • Shooting competitions.
  • Debates/declamation contests.
  • Riding/tent pegging competition.
  • IDP Rehabilitation.       It needs to be understood that as an outfall of collateral damage, life of many innocent people have also been affected. A well deliberated rehabilitation plan needs to be put in place so as to win the feelings/loyalties of the local populace in favour of the Govt.
  • Strong Political System. There is a need to strengthen the political system in real terms so as to give people the confidence in establishment/Government functionaries.
  • Business Opportunities.        There is a need for the Government to ensure that a well planned economic uplift programme is implemented in these areas to give people the business opportunities.
  • Role of NGOs.   NGOs like “Save the Children” if contacted can play a very active role in bringing the life of the affected children to normalcy.
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The war against terror has presented multifarious challenges to the Government. The impact of these kind of suicidal attacks on our political, economic, religious and social life is going to be fatal if not checked in time through effective measures. There is a need to address this problem with wholesome approach. What is needed is to involve all stakeholders, especially the Ulemas, in preaching peace, tolerance and to reject terrorism in its all forms, including this unthinkable act of killing and destruction.

Explosive Jackets Prepared/Used for Suicidal Acts

During Operation Zalzala, some explosive jackets were recovered from general area Spinkai Raghzai. The jackets are similar in design and character. The Formation’s Engineers Battalion was tasked to undertake a detailed study of retrieved Jackets in order to know the composition and mechanism.

  • General Design / Description.The jacket has been made with military uniform cloth (camel colour). It comprises 2 x cloth packets (size 16” x 15”) for placing of explosives and steel balls. Both pockets are interconnected with cloth straps to be worn over the shoulders. In addition, 4 x straps are attached on the sides of each cloth packet for tying around the chest. Once worn, the suicide bomber will have an explosive section each at his chest and back. Each pocket contains a sheet of plastic explosives and a sheet of steel balls glued with adhesive (Samad Bond) to act as splinters. The explosive is connected with trigger mechanism through detonating chords. Trigger mechanism comprises 2 x pull switches and a booster charge.
  • Size and Weight              

Size: Explosive jacket is 43” long and 16” wide. Each explosive pocket is 16” x 15”. There is a gap of 13”x 6” between shoulder straps of the jacket, through which the suicide bomber puts his head for wearing the jacket. Each side strap in pocket is 8” long.


Total weight of the Jacket                –        10.2 Kgs

Weight of each Explosive Sheet    –             2.4 Kgs

Weight of Steel Ball Sheets                        –             2.6 Kgs

Composition: The Jacket includes following parts:

  • Trigger Mechanism.    2 x Pull switches have been used with each jacket to provide dual initiation mechanism. This has primarily been done to ensure operation. Each pull switch contains a steel ring which is pulled to initiate detonation. Major parts of pull switch include:-
  • Outer cover
  • Striker pin
  • Spring
  • Snout (including detonator)
  • Pull ring
  • Booster Charge. Approximately 25 grams additional explosive (wrapped in polythene sheet) has been attached with trigger mechanism to act as primer/booster of initial detonation wave caused by the detonator, as part of pull switch.
  • Detonating Chord.For the purpose of propagation of detonation, detonating chord has been used in these jackets. Two detonating chords have been used in each jacket, one for each explosive sheet. A total of 15 ft long detonating chord is used in each jacket. 7.5 ft length of chord is used on each side of jacket. Out of this 2.5 ft length is used to connect each trigger mechanism with the explosive, whereas around 5 ft length is embedded into explosive sheet simultaneously. 5 x knots have also been given to the embedded chord to act as booster for the explosive. Both detonating chords of a jacket are joined together, near trigger mechanism; with insulation tape.
  • 1 x Sheet of explosive(commercially available plastic explosive – Wabox), size 13” x 10” x ½”, is placed in each cloth packet. Each explosive sheet weighs approx 2.4 kgs, thus a total of 4.8 kgs, explosive is used in one explosive jacket.
  • Steel Balls.A sheet of steel balls (13” x 10” x 1/8”) has been placed on outer side of each explosive sheet. The balls are glued into a sheet with the help of adhesive (Samad Bond). There are approx 2400 balls in one sheet. Each steel ball is of approx 1/8” diameter. Upon explosion, each steel ball acts as a bullet.
  • Packing.  While packing, the steel balls sheet is placed on outer side of explosive sheet. Detonating chord is also embedded in explosive sheet. These two sheets are then wrapped together with packing tape to convert it into a homogeneous mass.
  • Modus Operandi.          Explosive jacket is worn by suicide bomber in a manner that a cloth pocket, containing explosive and steel ball sheets, hangs on his chest and back. Side straps are then tied together to grip the jacket with body. Trigger mechanism is held in the hand/pocket. Upon requirement, the two rings of trigger mechanism (pull switches) are pulled simultaneously to initiate action. Striker of pull switch strikes the snout which in turn activates the detonator. A shock wave is produced which is further boosted by primer/booster charge placed with the trigger mechanism. The detonation wave then travels through detonating chord and explodes the main charge/explosive. On explosion, steel balls are also sprayed into the target area causing supplementary damage to the target.

The IDPs. Now a word regarding the IDPs, who are surviving barely at subsistence level in the make-shift camps, with one voice said that they supported the Pakistan Army and the Government of Pakistan and were keen to return to their homes. DG ISPR explained that the Pakistan Army was relocating its positions to dominating heights to enable the IDPs to return.

Unmindful of the human tragedy, the foreign media teams accompanying us were more concerned with whether Baitullah Mehsud was facilitating attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan? The DG ISPR and GOC 14 Div. logically explained that the territory occupied by Baitullah Mehsud was not contiguous to Afghanistan and the Waziris of the North were hostile to him and would not provide ingress through their territory. The deserted village of Spinkai Raghzai and the rubble where once its marketplace had stood and has since been demolished under the FCR prescribing collective punishment were ample proof of the human misery and suffering of the people of Waziristan, calling for civilization to take cognizance of their wretchedness and providing a lasting solution to their heartrending predicament.

The suicide bombers and their composition including their weapons should provide an insight into what we are up against.

[1]  Rubin, Joe interviews S. Manoranjan for FRONTLINE/WorldMay 2002 issue ,

[2]  Burke, Jason, ‘The Making of a Suicide Bomber’, daily The Guardian, January 20, 2008