Written By: Brig Syed Wajid Raza (R)
During Operation Rah-e-Nijat, after initial phases, search and cordon operations began in South Waziristan Agency. In Kotkai area search began in a house located at the end of the village, that stretched along the highroad, over a hill point.
The house stood on steep slopes terminating at the bridle path, connecting few more houses at a distance. The fences rounded a solid gate, few carts painted green, stood in a shed. Within the house the paths were straight and a foot bridge over a stream had been built with handrails.
Once search commenced and while passing through the house, a well-dug 60 metre long tunnel inside the house was discovered that ultimately opened towards Tankzam river, overlooking the steep banks of the river.
The zigzag tunnel inside the house consisted of a threshing floor, unsophisticated outhouse, a crude bathhouse and a number of large brick curves having semicircular façade. These separated the course of tunnel; beside, it had in course of construction two rounds 20 metres apart that created space for a group to conference.
Similar fidayeen camps were discovered in various parts of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Swat Valley and, Malakand Division; drawing around 90% of Pashtun fidayeen and later number of non-Pashtuns also grew in various camps.
In South Waziristan Agency, fidayeen camps were especially set up to train suicide bombers in abandoned schools, or in houses of hardcore militants of North and South Waziristan, Orakzai, Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies.
The most prominent camps in South Waziristan Agency included: Kotkai, Nawazkot, Deeley, Karama, Kazha Pangha, Barwand, Karikot, Ladha and Tangay. In Swat these were set up in Charbagh and Peochar. In Orakzai Agency: Galjo and Ferozkhel; in Mohmand Agency Chinaari and Mohammad Ghat.
The fidayeen camp in Kotkai area was one of the most organized camps, run by Qari Hussain, a senior Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) member, popularly known as “Trainer of Suicide Bombers”. The Kotkai, was also hometown of Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, Amir of TPP.
A lot of material was recovered from these fidayeen camps, suggesting Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) on drills of continuously switching the location for the purpose of security, organization under Rahbars (guides), instruction on the strength of each camp that varied from 30-35 fidayeen, procedure of coming in and out and guards on each camp. However, no one was allowed to leave the camp area after Isha prayers.
The adults and juniors had different camps. Adult camps had trainees from age 16 years and older, while the junior camps had fidayeen from seven years to maximum 15 years of age.
The dates and months appended on the black boards or in attendance rolls of various camps suggested that training was conducted during good weather and away from the reach of law enforcing agencies. The writings on black boards recorded two languages, Pushto or Urdu.
However, some camps trained inmates for sensitive missions, where adults were trained to wear suicide jackets during sensitive missions; trained not to surrender rather blow themselves up, should such eventuality occur.
The training material contained weapon training of AK-47, Indian-made Light Machine Guns, 12.7 mm guns, 14.5 mm guns, 82 mm mortars, 75 mm Recoilless Rifle, Russian SPG-9, Chinese Single Barrel Rocket Launcher and myriad forms of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
The trend of recruiting children increased after military operations, as adult suicide bombers found it increasingly difficult to hit their targets. Therefore, children were seen more recruitable simply for being children.
Few trainees were retrieved by their parents and few left the camps at their own as revealed in the registers maintained by the Rahbars.
The records recovered from the camps suggested a network of recruitment mostly from the kinship or family friends of children. Majority of children were recruited from Madrassas being prime recruiting ground, streets or from low-income neighbourhoods brought by a network linked to the relatives, family friends and guardians of children.
However, many suicide bombers were attracted to these camps due to curiosity, proximity of the camps to villages and towns, unemployment or under-employment, poor academic options (most dropped out of school early), boredom, lack of entertainment or adventure through the network of recruiters.
The network of recruiters lured the children by offering a path out of boredom and drudgery of poverty that would promise them of ending all their problems. They are shown scenes of paradise, where rivers of milk and honey flowed, in exchange for giving up their lives.
Such a lax interpretation is contrary to Qur’anic message of peace, tolerance and mutual respect and certainly denies the persistent disaggregation and contextualization of an element of defining a supreme concept of human activities to be an ideological warfare, while it seems least to do with gaining deeper understanding of religion as faith (Iman).1
The militants exploited religious laxity of the concept with blurred persuasion without deep and intrinsic connections with concept of jihad, which is not only a religious obligation, but emphasizes all human endeavours for betterment of humanity, community, personal and collective.
In the camps, the ideological differential was motivating factor based on themes, such as atrocities against Muslims, taking revenge of helpless Muslims whose daughters and sisters are dishonoured by non-Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq and incitement of stories like Muslim women languishing in the prisons of infidels.
In the camp, Rahbars perfected the art of inflaming passions through all means, listing a litany of recognizable political grievances to ignite these passions, professing unhurried mutilation of infidels siding with the infidels.
Most lectures consistently emphasized on the religious permissibility of suicide attacks against non-Muslims and even their Muslim allies. In many sermons, atrocities against Muslims were argued, since Pakistan Army and other security forces are working in collaboration with the United States, hindering jihadist activities; therefore, suicide bombings against the army, security forces and even all government employees were in accordance with the injunctions of Islam.
Similarly, killing of Shias with suicide attacks or any other means was accorded in the lax religious injunctions. For this purpose, references were given from Holy Qur’an, Hadith, decrees of religious scholars, citing of the precedent of famous commanders and companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and Hazrat Khalid bin Walid. Stories of past suicide bombers were told to new fidayeen who had appeared in dreams saying that they were in jannat (paradise).
Lectures were adroitly prepared that satisfied fidayeen that innocents killed in suicide attacks are martyrs, and therefore, fidayeen would indeed be awarding shahadat to them. There were discoveries of videos of previous bombers planning their operations; but post-blast scenes were not shown as the images of carnage could have demoralized the recruits.2
The training material was carefully prepared. It helped to radicalize fidayeen to such an extent that they competed for the chance to be launched, preferably against Americans and Pakistan Army.
The fidayeen were pampered for winning jannat for giving up life for Allah in exchange. They would enter jannat as soon the explosive detonated, whose pain is not more than a prick and in afterlife they would recommend seventy people to be placed in jannat. Therefore, fidayeen were treated superior to other jihadists – for their supreme sacrifice for Allah.
Camp routine was very carefully programmed; starting from tahajjud (night vigils), recitation of the Holy Qur’an until fajar (morning prayers), breakfast, training of driving and maneuvers on cars and motorcycles and preparation for vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIED) to be used for suicide bombing.3
In the evening, besides recitation of the Holy Qur’an, they received lectures on Jihad and watched jihadist videos on a DVD player to be followed by mesmerizing emotional speeches by Rahbars like Qari Hussain. Every sermon contained countless references from Holy Qur’an and Islamic history to conclude the need of imposing Shariah as the way forward to justify armed struggle.
The two most well-known books in the camps were Islam aur Fidai Hamlay (Islam and Suicide Attacks), written by Mufti Abdul Bashar Qasmi, and Fazail-e-Jihad (Virtues of Jihad), written by Maulana Masood Azhar. However, famous lessons were from numerous stories narrated for an hour before going to sleep.
The targets are given only by the Amir (head of TTP for example) to Rahbar and fidai, who leaves behind either a note or “video wills” before departure; to be released after the mission or given to their families. The fidai before attack must take bath, shave his pubic hair, wear clean clothes (not new), recite Qur’anic verses until the actual blast.
The fidai is trained to follow the instructions of Rahbar, who takes the fidai to predetermined target either a few days before the attack, or on the actual day. As per recorded procedure, the fidai reserves the right to disobey Rahbar if he changes the venue of the attack, attempts to hand him over to another handler, or asks him to attack an impossible target or one that will result in too few casualties (less than 10), however, there is an exception to VIP targets.
The fidayeen are given code words, for example, assassination code of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was “the meal is ready”. The fidai is asked to recite Ayat-ul-Kursi or a verse from Surah-e-Yaseen as it is believed that he would be invulnerable to law enforcement detection.
The fidai on the instructions of Rahbar, pulls the ring of the striker sleeve. However, intoxication is not generally administered to fully motivated fidayeen and sermons of Rahbars revealed that there was no abnormal physical reaction of fidayeen such as sweating, dry mouth, restlessness, heart palpitations, or abnormal movements of the body.
However, some fidayeen were found anxious either due to fear or being puzzled about missing their targets, such as detonating their explosives was either early or too late. This could be due to intoxication as during raids a large quantity of syringes were recovered from the camps.
As per the recorded procedure, Rahbar visits the family of suicide bomber if close in the vicinity and normally no compensation is paid contrary to the general public’s perception. However, there have been cases where extremely destitute parents of fidayeen were given a small amount of financial assistance, therefore, posthumous compensation package is largely a myth.
1 This is albeit Holy Qur'an prohibits such actions. Verse 4:29 reads “O you who believe! Do not consume your wealth in the wrong way-rather through trade mutually agreed to, and do not kill yourselves. Surely Allah is Merciful toward you.” Verse Al-Anam 6:151 reads “and take not life, which Allah has made sacred, except by way of justice and law”.
2 Militants filmed actions of Fadiayeen, kidnapping of soldiers, journalists and diplomats and torturing and brutally killing of innocent civilians. They also filmed slaughtering of soldiers in the hands of teenagers.
3 IEDs are basic technique of preparing suicide bombers or vehicle borne suicide bombers. It is a product of reckoning cycle of human mind and militants’ gained expertise in making IEDs with magnetic field, sound, photo electric cell, delay action charges and collapsible circuits to produce effects from waves through blast pressure, fragmentation and incendiary. In Pakistan militants used conventional high explosive (HE) charges, commercial explosives like Wabox and Wabonite, Home Made Explosive (HME) made of urea, soap, diesel and unexploded ordinances (UXOs), like mines, rockets, artillery and motor blinds with plastic explosive to prepare suicide bombers and IEDs.