By Ajit Kumar Singh
On August 31, 2023, at least nine soldiers were killed and another 20 sustained injuries, when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle blew himself up, targeting a military convoy in Mali Khel area of Bannu District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The Hafiz Gul Bahadur faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said that an affiliated cell of the group, Sufyan Karawan, carried out the attack. A ‘spokesperson’ of the outfit, Toray Dawar, identified the suicide bomber as Dewana Latakwal.
On August 27, 2023, two soldiers sustained injuries when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated his device near a patrolling Security Forces (SFs) convoy in the Garyom area of North Waziristan District in KP. The Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP) claimed the attack.
On August 7, 2023, at least two civilians were killed in a suicide attack targeting a Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) team at Khadaki village in North Waziristan District. No group has claimed the attack, so far.
In another two suicide attacks in August – on August 2 and August 9 – though the attackers died (one in each case), no other casualty was reported.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Pakistan has recorded a total of 25 suicide attacks in the current year (data till September 3), resulting in 244 fatalities (71 civilians, 126 SF personnel and 47 terrorists). During the corresponding period of 2022, there were six such incidents which had resulted in 91 fatalities (71 civilians, 14 SF personnel and six terrorists). During the whole of 2022, there were 13 such attacks with 109 fatalities (79 civilians, 17 SF personnel and 13 terrorists).
The number of suicide attacks in 2023 is already the highest in a year since 2017, when there were 25 such attacks. The resultant fatalities in 2023 are also the highest since 2018, at 300. Almost four months remain in 2023.
Clearly, there has been a dramatic surge in such attacks and resultant fatalities.
Meanwhile, two of the most prominent suicide attacks of 2023 included:
July 30: At least 64 people were killed and more than 150 were wounded in a suicide blast at a Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl workers’ convention in the Khar Tehsil (revenue unit) of Bajaur District, KP. The bomber struck a gathering of over 500 attendees at the convention. An estimated 12 kilograms of explosives were used in the blast. Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl, headed by Fazalur Rehman, is a religious political party adhering to the Deobandi ideology, and is a coalition partner of the incumbent government in Pakistan. Islamic State-Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for the attack, and justified it by describing the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl convention as a ‘gathering of a political party which is part of the coalition government in Pakistan.’ The group also threatened more attacks against the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl and other similar religious political parties. Later, the Al Azaimmedia, the Islamic State’s mouthpiece, published a 92-page pamphlet critiquing Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl and called for more attacks against its scholars and members.
January 30: At least 93 persons, most of them policemen, were killed, and another 220 were injured, in a suicide blast inside a mosque in the Police Lines area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP. The suicide attacker, who was in a Police uniform, was present in the front row during the Zuhr prayer (the third prayer of the day, offered at noon). Later, two Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leaders, Sarbakaf Mohmand and Omar Mukaram Khurasani, claimed that the attack was “revenge” for the death of Khalid Khorasani, the chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s splinter group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, in the Barmal District of Paktika Province of Afghanistan on August 7, 2022. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan central ‘spokesman’ Muhammad Khorasani, however, denied any involvement in the attack, asserting, “according to our laws and general constitution, any action in mosques, madrasas, funeral grounds and other sacred places is an offence.”
The worst previous suicide attack was recorded way back in 2018. On July 13, 2018, at least 149 civilians were killed and 186 others were injured, when a suicide bomber blew himself up targeting a political rally of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) at Dringarh village in the Mastung District of Balochistan. According to the BDS, up to 15 kilograms of explosive material was used in the incident. The dead included Siraj Raisani, the BAP candidate from the National Assembly seat Province Balochistan–35 (PB-35, Mastung). Siraj’s elder brother, Nawab Aslam Raisani, was the Chief Minister of Balochistan Province between 2008 and 2013. Most of the other victims were residents of the Kanak and Dringarh areas, who had invited Raisani to announce their support for him. Both the Islamic State (IS) and the ‘Ghazi Force Lal Masjid’ wing of the TTP had separately claimed responsibility for the attack.
During 2023, SFs have neutralized at least seven terrorists (killed: four, arrested: 3) before they could carry out suicide attacks. Some of the incidents included:
May 10: A terrorist wearing a suicide vest was killed and another injured by the SFs when they tried to enter Hong Kong Rivers and Pak China Boatyard in the Sukkhan area of Malir District in Sindh Province, where around 31 Chinese nationals were present.
April 24: Three terrorists, including two suicide bombers who blew themselves up, were killed during a counter-terrorism operation carried out by Police in Pahar Khel Thal village of Lakki Marwat District in KP.
February 18: The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) arrested a female suicide bomber, Mah Pul, of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), and recovered a suicide jacket from her possession, in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. Officials reported that she planned to attack important installations or security personnel in Quetta.
February 17: A suicide bomber, Rehman Mehsud alias Nekro, belonging to TTP, was killed after his vest exploded during an intelligence-based operation (IBO) by the SFs, in the Spinkai area of South Waziristan District in KP. Mehsud had come to Pakistan from Afghanistan and was involved in various attacks on SF personnel. He was also a close ally of important TTP ‘commanders’ Azmat Ullah aka Lala and Khairban aka Khairu.
February 9: The CTD and other security agencies foiled a plan for a suicide attack in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad by arresting two TTP terrorists, during a joint operation in the Police Lines area of Rawalpindi city in Punjab. According to a spokesman, the terrorists had planned suicide attacks on the Saddar Bairuni Police Station, Rawalpindi District Courts and St. Paul’s Church.
Further, SFs recovered suicide vests/material used in making suicide jackets on at least 20 occasions. A total of 11 fabricated suicide vests were recovered during these raids.
Indeed, TTP, which has been responsible for most of the suicide attacks in 2023 [of the 25 attacks in 2023, 12 have been claimed: nine by TTP, one each by the Balochistan Liberation Front, Islamic State and TJP].
In December 2022, while announcing its new appointments, TTP divided the organization into various ‘ministries’, including ‘defense’. The ‘ministry of defense’, headed by Mufti Muzahim, who is on the United States Department’s list of designated terrorists, included a ‘Special Istishadi Force’ — a squadron of suicide bombers. The formation of the suicide squadron is now evidently bearing fruit.
More recently, on July 2, 2023, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) announced that it would attack Christians and churches in Pakistan, in retaliation to the Quran burning incident in Sweden, and declared that it would work with other like-minded groups in the region to carry out such attacks, including suicide attacks. LeJ ‘spokesperson’ Naseer Raisani threatened, “no Church or a Christian will remain safe in Pakistan.” Significantly, on June 28, Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Iraqi refugee in Sweden burned pages of a Quran in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque, during the Islamic Eid al-Adhafestival.
Pakistan is currently passing through a protracted socio-political-economic upheaval, with very little hope of normalcy being restored in the near term. Such a situation can only feed the assembly line of ‘willing martyrs’, and a surge in suicide bombings is likely. This can only augment the already distressing statistics of overall terrorist violence in the country, which has already recorded 894 fatalities in the current year, with another almost four months still to go.
- Ajit Kumar Singh
Senior Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management