Thursday, March 13, 2008

Insights into a Suicide Bombing in Pakistan

While Pakistani authorities have had little success in catching perpetrators in most of the bombings, there have been several arrests in a November suicide attack on a Pakistan Air Force bus near an air base in Sargodha, 120 miles west of Lahore.

According to Associated Press, the probe by police and intelligence agencies into the attack provides insight into how the NWFP-based militant groups function and shows they are attracting recruits in other regions and ethnic groups.

Interrogation of a key suspect, a 19-year-old former madrassah student, Omer Farooq, who is accused of helping prepare the motorcycle-borne bomb used in the attack that killed at least eight people, revealed how he shuttled between his home village near Sargodha and South Waziristan during the planning.

A police report on his questioning obtained by the AP says Mr. Farooq learned as a youth how to handle guns and explosives at training camps in Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region split between Pakistan and India. Islamic separatists have pursued a bloody insurgency in Indian held portion for years.

According to the report, Mr. Farooq said he took orders for the November attack from another Sargodha-based militant, Mohammed Tayyab, who provided the money to buy potash, an explosive material often used in Pakistan for making firecrackers.

Mr. Farooq said he and another militant recruit he refers to only as Bilal bought the potash at a market in Lahore. They transported it by public bus to Mr. Farooq's home, where he packed it into milk containers attached to a motorbike, with the help of the bomber, Mohammed Abid, whom he said came from Waziristan to stage the attack.

Mr. Farooq, who has not faced trial and does not yet have a lawyer, told of Mr. Tayyab warning them that the plan to attack a military vehicle was "an order of the high command," the report says.

"He added this is jihad and this is what we must do to secure the blessing of God. He threatened us, whoever tries to ditch the operation, his head will be cut off," the report quotes Mr. Farooq as saying.

Aftab Khan Sherpao, who was the top civilian security official in the outgoing national government, said that despite dozens of arrests of major terrorists in the six years since Pakistan abandoned its support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the suicide bombing network is spreading.

"The fact is that they are moving from tribal areas to the cities. They have carried out attacks in Rawalpindi, Sargodha and Lahore," Mr. Sherpao told the AP. "They are present in all of our major cities."

Authorities have blamed Taliban militant leaders like Baitullah Mehsud for the wave of attacks, including the Dec. 27 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud operates from the lawless South Waziristan region, where al Qaeda leaders are also believed to hide.

Recruits for suicide bombings, which became a favored militant tactic in Afghanistan two years ago before spreading to Pakistan, often go for training in Waziristan before staging attacks, officials say.

But reaching into Pakistan's main province of Punjab, the country's business and farm hub where people have different ethnicity and language to the Pashtun tribesmen in the northwest, requires local help.

"You need to have the support of local facilitators to carry out such attacks, and no suicide bomber can operate without such support," Mr. Sherpao said.

Source: Associated Press

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