04 February 2010

Crossroads: Al Qaeda & Biological Warfare, Literally

As has been linked on Challenge COIN and reported on The Long War Journal, a female suicide bomber killed 54 victims this past week in Baghdad during an annual pilgrimage to Shit'ite Islam's Holy Shrine in Karbala. The event was in celebration of the end of fourty days of mourning the death of Imam Hussein. (Read a fine historical description of Hussein and the tradition in the link provided). The female was wearing an abaya, covering herself from head-to-toe and thus successfully concealing the attached explosives.

The use of female suicide bombers is not new, but the question remains whether the tactic is a trend or a part of the terrorist toolbox. The Washington Post provides a listing of female suicide bombings in Iraq, five of which have been in Baghdad. In addition, see this report by ISI on activity throughout the Palestinian region. For further research, I suggest reading studies and papers from this academic guide, according to your particular interests.

This tactic is one of the many ways terrorists pierce US and ally national security methods, but [perhaps] one of the most dangerous aspects is its direct connection to socio-cultural traditions which are grounded by religious beliefs and practices. One of my advisors while a graduate student, Jocelyn Cesari, argues that tension continues to rise between Muslims and modernity. Currently, France is experiencing a struggle, once again: Shall the law permit Muslim women to wear a burka (usually interchanged with the term, niqab, meaning "veil") while in public space? The conflict is both internal, as Muslim women believe that wearing a burka is a religious testament to their behavior of modesty, and external, as politicians and citizens share their perspectives of national culture while security professionals argue that it presents a legitimate concern.

*It is an important aside from the discussion to present a brief understanding of the concept(s) inherent in the belief of Muslim women wearing such clothing. For your information, even though I studied such concepts, Muslim scholars [and believers] will, on many occasions, argue that my perspective and analysis is not legitimate simply because I am not Muslim; i.e. I cannot speak Arabic and thus cannot know true interpretation. I understand this perspective, respectively.

Muslims testify the origin mainly to one of three or all three sources recited in the Qur'an. As follows, shar'iah jurisprudence and/or theological interpretation extends this practice to devout Muslim women. Scholars, and the faithful Ummah, divide on what is necessary to be and remain devout.

(1) Verse 53 of Surah Al-Ahzaab, which states (abbreviated);
"O you who believe, do not enter the Prophet’s houses unless permission is granted you, to enter by invitation...But when you are invited, enter, and, when you have had your meal, disperse...And when you ask anything of [his] womenfolk, in other words, the wives of the Prophet(s), ask them from behind a screen, a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts, than [entertaining] sinful thoughts. And you should never cause the Messenger of God hurt, in any way; nor ever marry his wives after him. Assuredly that in God’s sight would be very grave, as a sin."

(a) Scholars argue that the verse offers restrictions as well as etiquette for Muslim men when having visited Prophet Mohammad's home. Further, it is taken to mean that the Prophet's wives shall not be coveted even after his death; for visitors needed to remain pure of heart. Lastly, the message sought to, at the time, dispel any false rumors about the Prophet and/or his wives that may ridicule him, his image, and/or message.

(2) Verse 59 of the same, Surah Al-Ahzaab, which reads;
"O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks closely over themselves (jalābīb is the plural of jilbāb, which is a wrap that covers a woman totally) — in other words, let them pull part of it [also] over their faces, leaving one eye [visible], when they need to leave [the house] for something. That makes it likelier that they will be known, to be free women, and not be molested, by being approached. In contrast, slavegirls did not use to cover their faces and so the disbelievers used to pester them. And God is Forgiving, of any occasion in the past when they may have neglected to cover themselves, Merciful, to them in His veiling them."

(a) Scholars hold that this serves as a command for men to prevent social abuse on behalf of their wives. As above, it is extended to all faithful men and women who believe such behavior is devout in the name of Allah and the Ummah.

(3) Verse 31 of Surah an-Nur, which reads;
"And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their headcoverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms, and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments. And turn in repentance to God together, O you the faithful, in order that you are successful."

(a) One additional point of meaning exposed here is that women could only shown themselves to close relatives, a practice believed to have originated with the Prophet.


Debate is on-going concerning the use of heightened security measures to prevent terrorist attacks on the US homeland vis-a-vis international and domestic flights; in particular focus is the topic of body-image scanning devices by TSA in airports. Just as professionals and analysts work hard every day to stay ahead of the morphing enemy, so too do AQ planners and operatives. Yet again, a new method uses biological implants of PETN. And yes, scientific experts believe that full-body devices will not be able to see tiny explosive packages hidden within muscle, tissue, cartilage, and/or organs.

It is a different tactic - and a step above - than that previously used by the "Butt Bomber," Ibrahim Assiri, who inserted explosives into his rectum; or the underpants bomber, Farouk Abdulmutallab. Now, Muslim doctors are returning to aid AQ after receiving top-notch medical training in Europe, this time to surgically implant PETN into women's breasts. It is probable, of course, that this tactic is not limited to women, as we should deduce that men may receive implants in, for example, their buttocks.

The connection of terrorist attack methods, then, however great it is to socio-cultural factors, is also related to criminal methods used in operations such as trafficking [which my colleague, Josh, also discussed here].

So, what to do?

As I discussed previously on countering AQ's Phase IV Strategy, "...the deterioration of all US/Western economic and legal structures lies at the heart of the long-term strategic plan of AQ. This method of deterioration that causes our confusion will increasingly be paired with direct attacks on the US homeland." I established here that the deterioration is also connected to socio-cultural traditions, that which is defined/shaped in many ways by the legal and economic frameworks practiced by our great nation.

For one, we can begin by coupling information warfare with civic engagement, as my colleague, JD, argues. Internationally, it requires military campaigns that build, as my colleague, Pat Ryan, names, sharia networks.

For example, an interesting blog entry posted on the U.S. Naval Institute webpage argues that a successful counter-method would circulate propaganda amongst jihadi men (via many sources I assume) highlighting the humorous aspect(s) of biological undertakings to manipulate their ego; sexual id (Frued). It would also create dirty psychological associations in the citizen mind, which would arguably dissipate social approval. Although I do not agree entirely that all male jihadi suicide bombers are, by default, "sexually-repressed beings," I do see the value in exploiting weaknesses, either cultural and/or psychological, but emphasize the need to evaluate exactly who we are targeting so we can accurately script the information for warfare.

Can it work for female suicide bombers? We can strenthen our understanding by identifying, once more, which AQ affiliates use female suicide bombers and why.

We need to continue to be aware of the forthcoming threats facing the US homeland, as women will even pretend to be pregnant in order to hide explosives. So, it does not only require military and intelligence agency operations in regions such as Yemen, as well as national security measures taken by, for example, the US Secret Service, to examine and predict modus operandi of bombers targeting US presidents and political VIP's, but also [perhaps above all] individual and collective integrity to remain firm to the ideals of who we are, what we do, and how we do it.

No one can ever blow that up.

1 comment:

  1. I check Challenge COIN's "Readbook" each morning, which posts current news stories for timely information. A follow-up story on Karbala suicide bombings here; http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/8500131.stm,
    and the implications for elections here; http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/05/AR2010020500688.html.