Suicide Bombings in Afghanistan, Pakistan Have Soared in Decade Since 9/11

September 7, 2011 - 3:37 AM

Pakistan suicide bombing

Pakistani special forces at the scene of a deadly suicide bombing, this one on the outskirts of Peshawar on Thursday, May 28, 2009. (AP Photo)

( – Despite their histories of conflict, Pakistan and Afghanistan recorded just one suicide bombing each before 9/11. That changed dramatically over the decade since al-Qaeda used the grisly tactic to such devastating effect against the United States.

Suicide bombings in the neighboring Asian countries have become so pervasive that they tend to draw cursory attention unless unusual elements are present – such as the involvement of a woman bomber, as occurred for the first time in Pakistan on Christmas Day 2010 – or if the choice of target is out of the ordinary or the death toll particularly high.

Afghanistan endured 30 years of upheavals, including bloody coups, a 10-year Soviet occupation, civil war and the rise of the Taliban which in 1996 seized control of Kabul and most of the country. But it was not until September 9, 2001 that the first suicide bombing was reported to have occurred there.

On that day two al-Qaeda operatives posing as journalists killed Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Masood with a bomb hidden in a video camera, a killing some security experts believe was directly linked to al-Qaeda’s attack on the U.S. two days later.

In Pakistan, the first recorded suicide attack ever took place in November 1995, when a bomber drove an explosive-laden pickup into the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, killing 15 people, most of them Pakistani security guards. Three Islamic groups opposed to the Egyptian government claimed responsibility.

After 9/11, the situation in both countries changed, slowly at first, and then drastically.

Pakistan endured one suicide bombing in 2002, the bombing of the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, which killed 15, including 11 French naval engineers.

The following year saw two suicide bombings in Pakistan, one targeting a Shi’ite mosque in Quetta and the other a failed assassination attempt on military ruler Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi. Sixty-nine people were killed in the two attacks.

Data compiled by the India-based Institute of Conflict Management (ICM) and its South Asia Terrorism Portal show how the numbers of suicide attacks then began to climb: seven attacks in 2004, killing 89 people; four attacks in 2005, killing 84; and seven attacks in 2006, killing 161.

In 2007, the number of suicide attacks jumped to 54, with a combined death toll of 765. The following year saw 59 attacks, at the cost of 893 lives. In 2009, 949 people were killed in 76 suicide attacks, and in 2010 the death toll surpassed one thousand, with 1,167 lives lost in 49 attacks.

The figures for this year, up until August 19, are 30 suicide attacks, with 489 dead. That does not take into account several attacks that have taken place since Aug. 19, including one targeting the Frontier Corps in Quetta on Wednesday, in which at least 16 people were killed.

Pakistan suicide bombing

Pakistanis gather at the scene of a suicide attack in Khyber tribal area in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2010. A local government official says 10 policemen were killed in the attack.(AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

According to the ICM data the decade’s total for Pakistan is 4,681 people killed in 289 suicide attacks.

Afghanistan has followed a similar trend: Between 2001 and 2004, six suicide attacks occurred, at the cost of 12 lives; in 2005 the number of attacks climbed to 17 (39 fatalities) and in 2006 it soared to 136 attacks (272 people killed).

One hundred and eighty-three people were killed in 116 suicide attacks in 2007; 725 died in 146 attacks in 2008: 140 attacks in 2009 killed 1,054 people; and in 2010, 1,141 people were killed in 140 attacks.

The first eight months of this year have brought 35 suicide attacks, and 329 deaths, with July and August particularly deadly months. The latest such attack, targeting a private security firm in Kandahar province, took place on Sunday.

The total for Afghanistan over the decade since 9/11 is 736 suicide attacks, and 3,755 lives lost.

“Since 2005, Afghanistan has experienced a steady escalation in suicide bombing fatalities, as recruits from poor, under-educated or uneducated backgrounds, often recruited from madrassas (religious seminaries), are recruited and trained by a multiplicity of terrorist organizations, many at bases in Pakistan,” ICM research assistant Sanchita Bhattacharya wrote in an analysis on Monday.

Of the suicide attacks in Afghanistan since 2001, five accounted for between 30 and 40 fatalities, and two were responsible for between 40 and 60 deaths.

In the two deadliest, 67 people, including a senior tribal leader and police commander, were killed in a Feb. 2008 attack in Kandahar; and 74 people, including six lawmakers, were killed in a Nov. 2007 attack targeting a parliamentary delegation in Baghlan province, north of Kabul.

Bhattacharya said the attacks have targeted coalition forces, the Afghan military and police, politicians, government officials and community leaders, while civilian casualties have risen dramatically.

Organizations carrying out the attacks include the Taliban factions –Mullah Omar’s so-called Quetta Shura, Hezb-i-Islami and the Haqqani network – and al-Qaeda affiliates such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Suicide bombers have included Afghans, Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Arabs.

“Pakistan’s tribal areas, especially the North and South Waziristan Agencies, remain the crucial arena where recruitment and training for suicide attackers, as well as the furnishing of explosives and equipment, are concentrated,” Bhattacharya said.