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Who are the suicide bombers? Pakistan's answer.

Once unheard of in Pakistan before 9/11, a recent spate of suicide attacks has rocked the country.

By Owais TohidCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 17, 2005


In four years, 28-year-old Gul Hasan went from laying bricks to recruiting suicide bombers. An antiterrorism court convicted Mr. Hasan this month of planning suicide attacks on Shiite mosques in Karachi that killed dozens of worshipers. Now he faces the gallows.

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How people like Hasan get involved with militant Islam, and what they do to recruit others, are questions of increasing urgency in Pakistan, which has seen a spate of suicide bombings in recent weeks.

The attacks were carried out by splinter groups formed in the wake of a Pakistani crackdown on militant Islamic organizations after Sept. 11, 2001. Smaller and more isolated than their parent organizations, these splinter groups receive financial backing from Al Qaeda and draw their recruits from the ranks of the poor and enraged, say Pakistani investigators.

"This is a new breed [of militants], as suicide bombings are a post 9/11 phenomenon here," says Fateh Mohammad Burfat, head of the Criminology Department at the University of Karachi. The bombers are "unemployed, illiterate, and belong to poor social strata. [They also] perceive the US military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan as hostile acts against the Muslim world.... By suicide attacks, they get a sense of victory in the world and hereafter."

Hasan entered the world of militant Islam when his brother, a member of the splinter group Lashkar-e Jhangvi, was arrested. Over time, Hasan went from being a simple carrier of weapons to a dangerous militant leader in Karachi responsible for recruiting and transporting suicide bombers, say police officials.

Rising through the ranks

The splinter groups "provide the new entrants with poisonous extremist literature to brainwash them, and then start giving them responsibilities from shifting weapons to providing refuge to wanted militants," says Gul Hameed Samoo, a Karachi police official. "One rises through the ranks after fulfilling [certain] tasks."

The leaders recruit them for different purposes, with agendas ranging from killing Shiites to liberating Muslims from "infidels." The new trend of suicide bombings is packaged as a "ticket to Paradise."

Many of the splinter groups' top leadership fought in Afghanistan and Kashmir. They are believed to have made contacts and trained with Arab militants in Afghanistan.

Police investigators describe three layers of organization behind suicide attacks. In most of the cases, the mastermind is Al Qaeda, which gets in touch through a courier with the leader of a jihadi splinter group who plans the attack. The attacker is often a "brainwashed" jihadi.

In the case of the unsuccessful suicide attack against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Christmas Day 2003, police say the mastermind was Abu Faraj, an Al Qaeda operative now in custody; the planner was Amjad Farooqi; the slain chief of Lashkar-e Jhangvi; and the bomber was a local jihadi.

In a New York Times opinion piece on Tuesday, Peter Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.," and Swati Pandey argued that the Islamic terrorists behind many of the attacks against the West are well-educated - not brainwashed youth from madrassahs, or Islamic schools. In a sampling of 75 terrorists involved in attacks against Westerners, they found that 53 percent had attended college - a figure slightly higher than US averages. "[Madrassahs] are not and should not be considered a threat to the United States," the authors wrote.