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Face to face with suicide bombers

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Jane Corbin | 21:13 UK time, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

How do feel when you are about to meet a suicide bomber? Nervous, angry, intrigued? All of the above in my case. I came to Kabul in Afghanistan to meet young Pakistani men who had tried and failed to detonate suicide vests and bombs which would have killed them and many innocent bystanders. I wanted to understand what motivated them and how best to stop more of them attacking coalition troops and Afghans and people in cities all over the world like London and Madrid and Mumbai.

Khalil is 17 years old... just two years younger than my own son. He hates Westerners but he cannot articulate why. He wouldn't speak directly to me but answered my questions through my interpreter while I sat behind him out of line of sight. Wrapped in a brown shawl which hid his manacled hands and feet, he was a complete enigma to me. Khalil had spent years in madrassas in Quetta and Peshawar and was proud of his religious learning and his ability to recite the Koran. But somehow that was turned into hatred for Westerners although nothing in his family history suggested a motive for that - no-one had been injured or died as a result of Western intervention in Afghanistan or action by the Pakistani security forces. In fact Khalil told me he'd cut all ties with his family. He'd been recruited by the Taleban and sent to Afghanistan to blow up foreigners. Once there, the target was changed to an Afghan ministry... "I was told these people are spies for the foreigners and it is okay to kill them," he told me. When I asked him how he felt talking to me he said: "The Muslims can never be friends with the infidel." The warden told me that another bomber had told a visiting western journalist that if he hadn't been restrained by chains he would have killed him with his bare hands. That is the level of hatred shown by young men like Khalil that I just cannot begin to comprehend.

Abed was a different case entirely. He'd left his family in the Punjab in Pakistan to study in a madrassa and fell in with the wrong crowd. That's something all of us with teenage children dread - getting in with a gang or getting involved in drugs through the wrong mates. A friend of Abed's suggested a trip to the tribal area as a kind of gap year adventure. But once there, his friend took him to a Taleban camp where Abed was shown videos of US troops purportedly maltreating Muslims in Iraq. After a few weeks he declared himself ready for jihad - ashamed of the easy life he had been living back home while fellow Muslims were suffering. Abed was clearly intelligent and had, like Khalil, spent a long time in religious study.

But he was relaxed and happy to chat with me... to look me straight in the eye. He had no chains and manacles on. He explained that he was supposed to drive a truck bomb into a base full of US and British troops but he was deceived by his Taleban handlers. Once he got there he realised the soldiers were speaking the local language - they were Afghans, Muslims. So he surrendered. "The mullahs of Pakistan lead people astray," Abed told me with quiet anger, "they make Muslims fight against non-Muslim... I am determined to speak out about this". Abed believed that God would protect him and save him from the death penalty that awaits failed suicide bombers and those that survive the bombs they set off. Khalil will probably die, but Abed with his message that he was wrong and has repented will probably live.

Did I understand more after my encounter with the suicide bombers? Yes, in the sense that these are vulnerable young men who have seen the world polarised between Muslim and non-Muslim since 9/11 and were ripe for exploitation. What is hardest of all to comprehend is their willingness to die for their beliefs and the random nature of the damage they are prepared to inflict as a result of the indoctrination they undergo in the training camps of the militants. But as one of my contacts in Pakistan who has a lot of experience with militant networks explained: "You people are fighting to live, we fight to die. You love your life and we love our death."


  • Comment number 1.

    Thank You to your reporter for her very brave (where angels fear to tread....?) efforts on our behalf. A most interesting insight into what motivates these killers in the name of their religions, although it is unlikely that the average person will ever understand their mentality?


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