Suicide bombing is the ugly offspring of modern guerilla warfare. Rarely seen in past conflicts where military strategies consisted of maximizing THEIR losses while minimizing ONE’S OWN loss. Often, the strategy led to, “HE WHO FIGHTS AND RUNS AWAY WILL LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY,” started by Demosthenes in 338 BCE. It really isn’t until WWII and Japan’s last desperate attempt at saving the empire when Japan resorted to Kamikazes, or suicide pilots, to turn around an already lost war. History shows that these attacks were largely unsuccessful and wound up producing little impact in the war’s overall progress.
During the Vietnam War, there were numerous events where Vietnamese children were apparently given bombs to deliver to the GIs, only for those bombs to explode upon reaching their target. Nearly everyone of these stories proved to be false, a fabrication promoted by the media, and used as propaganda. The real story of the suicide attacker doesn’t actually begin life until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict decades later.
It wasn’t until 1983, a suicide bomber in a pickup truck loaded with explosives rammed into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. Sixty-three people were killed, including 17 Americans, eight of whom were employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, including chief Middle East analyst Robert C. Ames and station chief Kenneth Haas. All of a sudden, the suicide bomber was born. From this one regrettable act, the art of killing oneself has become a daily phenomena that glares at us through the television, and influences nearly every movement we make.
But let us examine the characteristics of a suicide bomber. What does it take to become a suicide bomber? As was stated before, a suicide bomber must be willing to end his or her life at a predestined time. It is imperative that the suicide bomber memorize the exact second that he/she commits the ultimate act of human defiance, that of autoextinction. This is not a popular choice among humans. Over the millennia, it has been proven that very few humans wish to offer up their life for one second of “also ran” news on the late night program.
There was the occasional suicide bomber in Israel during the 1980s and 1990s, usually during moments when the conservative movement in the US needed to pass key legislation. Apparently, the suicide rate of distant Arabs increases when American conservatives need to pass special legislation, usually aimed at attacking that very same group. It has always been a wonder how these suicide bombers knew exactly when to commit their unfortunate demise to coincide with the conservatives need for them to do so. It’s almost as if these suicide attackers were working for previous governments.
Since January 1, 2001, over 50 suicide attacks have rocked Israel. Before the Iraq War started, 99% of all suicide attacks occurred in Israel. In March 2001 three attacks that killed five and wounded ninety people struck the country. Another series of suicide bombings and a car bombing in the second half of May 2001 were eclipsed on June 1, 2001, when twenty-two-year-old Said Hutari blew himself up amidst a crowd of Israeli teenagers outside a popular Tel Aviv nightclub, the Dolphinarium. Over the next half-dozen years, suicide bombers would attack at a rate of one every six weeks. While this is indeed ghastly and unfortunate, it means that during five weeks, there are no attacks whatsoever.
Enter the Iraq War. The first such attack occurred on August 19, 2003, when a suicide bomber destroyed the UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing 24, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, and wounding more than 100. Later that month, Aug. 29, 2003 - a car bomb kills at least 83 people, including top Shi'ite Muslim leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, at the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf. The next attack didn’t happen until October 27, 2003, when four coordinated suicide attacks in Baghdad kill 43 and wounded more than 200. Targets included the headquarters of the Red Crescent (Islamic Red Cross) and three police stations. Still, that was clearly two months apart. The next attack wouldn’t happen until February of the following year, when about 109 Iraqis are killed by suicide bombings in Erbil. Only three more suicide attacks would occur in all of 2004. Believe it or not, a suicide bomber has never attacked any CIA headquarters around the world.
Here is where suicide car bombers leapt onto the scene in great number. But to understand the car bomber, we need to go back in time to the early 80s and the time prior to the aforementioned attack on the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. According to Tomdispatch.com and others, Gunboat diplomacy had been defeated by car bombs in Lebanon, but the Reagan administration and, above all, CIA Director William Casey were left thirsting for revenge against Hezbollah. "Finally in 1985," according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward in Veil, his book on Casey's career, "he worked out with the Saudis a plan to use a car bomb to kill [Hezbollah leader] Sheikh Fadlallah who they determined was one of the people behind, not only the Marine barracks, but was involved in the taking of American hostages in Beirut… It was Casey on his own, saying, ‘I‘m going to solve the big problem by essentially getting tougher or as tough as the terrorists in using their weapon – the car bomb.'"
The CIA's own operatives, however, proved incapable of carrying out the bombing, so Casey subcontracted the operation to Lebanese agents led by a former British SAS officer and financed by Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. In March 1984, a large car bomb was detonated about 50 yards from Sheikh Fadlallah's house in Bir El-Abed, a crowded Shiite neighborhood in southern Beirut. The sheikh wasn't harmed, but 80 innocent neighbors and passersby were killed and 200 wounded. Fadlallah immediately had a huge "MADE IN USA" banner hung across the shattered street, while Hezbollah returned tit for tat in September when a suicide truck driver managed to break through the supposedly impregnable perimeter defenses of the new U.S. embassy in eastern (Christian) Beirut, killing 23 employees and visitors.
Despite the Fadlallah fiasco, Casey remained an enthusiast for using urban terrorism to advance American goals, especially against the Soviets and their allies in Afghanistan. A year after the Bir El-Abed massacre, Casey won President Reagan's approval for NSDD-166, a secret directive that, according to Steve Coll in Ghost Wars, inaugurated a "new era of direct infusions of advanced U.S. military technology into Afghanistan, intensified training of Islamist guerrillas in explosives and sabotage techniques, and targeted attacks on Soviet military officers."
U.S. Special Forces experts would now provide high-tech explosives and teach state-of-the-art sabotage techniques, including the fabrication of ANFO (ammonium nitrate-fuel oil) car bombs, to Pakistani intelligence service (or ISI) officers under the command of Brigadier Mohammed Yousaf. These officers, in turn, would tutor thousands of Afghan and foreign mujahedin, including the future cadre of al-Qaeda, in scores of training camps financed by the Saudis. "Under ISI direction," Coll writes, "the mujahedin received training and malleable explosives to mount car-bomb and even camel-bomb attacks in Soviet-occupied cities, usually designed to kill Soviet soldiers and commanders. Casey endorsed these despite the qualms of some CIA career officers."
Mujahedin car bombers, working with teams of snipers and assassins, not only terrorized uniformed Soviet forces in a series of devastating attacks in Afghanistan but also massacred leftwing intelligentsia in Kabul, the country's capital. "Yousaf and the Afghan car-bombing squads he trained," writes Coll, "regarded Kabul University professors as fair game," as well as movie theaters and cultural events. Although some members of the National Security Council reportedly denounced the bombings and assassinations as "outright terrorism," Casey was delighted with the results. Meanwhile, "by the late 1980s, the ISI had effectively eliminated all the secular, leftist, and royalist political parties that had first formed when Afghan refugees fled communist rule." As a result, most of the billions of dollars that the Saudis and Washington pumped into Afghanistan ended up in the hands of radical Islamist groups sponsored by the ISI. They were also the chief recipients of huge quantities of CIA-supplied plastic explosives as well as thousands of advanced E-cell delay detonators.
It was the greatest technology transfer of terrorist technique in history. There was no need for angry Islamists to take car-bomb extension courses from Hezbollah when they could matriculate in a CIA-supported urban-sabotage graduate program in Pakistan's frontier provinces. "Ten years later," Coll observes, "the vast training infrastructure that Yousaf and his colleagues built with the enormous budgets endorsed by NSDD-166 – the specialized camps, the sabotage training manuals, the electronic bomb detonators, and so on – would be referred to routinely in America as ‘terrorist infrastructure.'" Moreover the alumni of the ISI training camps like Ramzi Yousef, who plotted the first 1993 World Trade Center attack, or his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who allegedly designed the second, would soon be applying their expertise on every continent.
As this method applied to the conflict in Iraq, we suddenly see an upswing in the number of car bombers. The US military began recruiting unsuspecting Iraqis into the loop, creating a virtual mass suicide car bombing assembly line for use by the government. The concept is actually quite easy and quickly accepted in Iraqi circles. It goes something like this:
At the many checkpoints around Iraq, especially in Baghdad, a driver is told that he is in violation of some law, and his car will be confiscated along with his driver’s license. He is told that he must return to the base the next day to pick up his car. His car is then summarily towed to a military base where the underside of the chassis is practically enveloped with explosives.
The next day, the anxious driver is told that he can have his car back, but the US military is not in charge of police matters such as driver’s licenses. He is told that he must meet a fictitious police lieutenant in the city to retrieve his license. Usually, he is told that the person is nearing the end of his shift, and that the driver must hurry to get there before the policeman leaves. As the driver approaches the police station, his explosives are detonated by remote control and another suicide bomber attacks. This method has worked well over the past three years to ensure that a steady supply of suicide bombers would be available for duty as the need arises.