The human bomb pipeline in Damascus
The flat where we met was rented by a handler in Damascus, the Syrian capital, who channels aspiring “martyrs” to insurgent groups such as Ahmed’s.
Our encounter was arranged as part of a four-week Sunday Times investigation into the world’s biggest suicide bombing campaign. More than 1,300 bombers are said to have struck on foot or in vehicles since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 – more than all the other suicide bombings of the past 20 years put together.
The number this year promises to be higher than ever. The bombers are estimated to have killed and injured more than 4,000 people in the first nine months. Their targets have ranged from lines of police recruits in and around Baghdad to an entire village near the Syrian border where up to 500 died.
So who are these bombers and why do they do it? How are they organised? And how much impact are they really making on a war that is sucking ever larger numbers of suicidal volunteers from across the Middle East into Iraq’s vortex of violence.
We tracked down three bombers in our search for answers. The first interviews of their kind with men passing through Syria on their way to die in Iraq, they confounded expectations.
These were no psychopathic loners from the ghetto, but articulate, middle-class men in their twenties and early thirties who had come from good homes and gone to university. One was a newly married accountant.
Yet all had reached the chilling conclusion that killing “sinners” would transport them to paradise. None had the slightest inkling that they might be exploited by Al-Qaeda and other battle-hardened groups which will probably use these fresh-faced idealists for no higher purpose than to sustain the most brutal sectarian conflict of our age.
SIPPING a Turkish coffee and smoking a hubble-bubble pipe, the middle-aged man waiting for us at a cafe in Damascus 13 days ago could have been any commercial supplier breaking his Ramadan fast after work.
But Abu Ziad’s is no ordinary business. He takes eager volunteers, inveigles them into Iraq for a fee and delivers them to insurgents who consign them to a bloody death with clinical efficiency.
His network includes the imams who drum up the volunteers and forgers who create new identities for their journey across the 390-mile border with Iraq.
Then there are the officials he bribes to turn a blind eye, and insurgent groups ranging from the pan-Arab, fundamentalist Al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Iraqi nationalist 1920 Revolution Brigade, started by former members of Saddam’s armed forces.
Abu Ziad appears to receive no help from the Syrian authorities, which have been accused by some in the West of aiding the flow of terrorists into Iraq. On the contrary, he seems to live in fear of discovery by Syria’s security apparatus.
We left the cafe in a taxi and alighted in a street crowded with late-night shoppers. There we switched to a second car. Only when Abu Ziad was satisfied that we were not being followed did he direct the driver to the flats where we met our first bomber.
We shook hands with Ahmed and sat on sofas, eyeing each other anxiously, while Abu Ziad turned up the sound of a soap opera on television to render our conversation inaudible through the thin walls.
The determination to kill Americans was common to the three bombers interviewed for this article, but is highly unlikely to be fulfilled by all of them.
Fewer than a quarter of suicide bombers succeed in blowing up coalition forces, who are relatively well shielded behind concrete barriers or the armour plating of their vehicles.
The bombers are much likelier to be deployed against Iraqi Shi’ites; soldiers, police, officials or even civilians. According to academics who have studied the Sunni insurgency, the main aim is not to avenge the destruction inflicted by US forces, but to broaden the sectarian divide, perpetuate the cycle of hatred and undermine confidence in the ability of the Shi’ite-led government to restore order.
The fact is they mainly kill non combatants who are mostly Shia. There is much more in the story if you want to know how the human ordinance of the wicked worms its way to Baghdad. These are despicable people who do not deserve understanding, but destruction, They are mass murders who think they will receive material rewards for their efforts and they are lured to their demise by some fraudulent words in a mosque.
The story seems to be out of date, in that al Qaeda is having more and more difficulty not only recruiting human ordinance but getting it into a position to explode. That is the good news that is not in this story. Like the Washington Post story on IEDs, it is old news.