Suicide bombings have become a regular insurgent tactic in Afghanistan since 2005, with a special focus on Kabul in the last year. The number of such attacks have grown considerably during the recent years in Kabul, culminating in the February 12 suicide bombings that targeted public buildings in the Afghan capital, killing 26 people and injuring more than 50 (Afghan Daily [Kabul], February 12). Perhaps to the surprise of Afghanistan’s national security services, these devastating attacks came only days after security forces announced the roundup of a gang of suicide bombers in Kabul.
Since January 2008, Kabul has witnessed six deadly suicide attacks. In most cases, they were claimed by the Taliban. On February 3, Afghanistan’s government announced it had traced and broken up the terrorist group behind these attacks. The group is alleged to have drawn its members from two jihadi groups – the Haqqani network and the Kashmir-based Harakat-ul-Mujahideen. Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) announced the arrest of seventeen members of the Kabul suicide group in connection with six suicide bombings since March 2007. This terrorist group was headed by a 23-year-old Pakistani bomb-maker known as Yasir, with all six of the suicide bombers coming from Pakistan (PakTribune, February 3; Deutsche Welle, February 3). An NDS spokesman named two other Pakistani ringleaders as Ezatollah and Rahimollah. Other members of the group were responsible for laying mines, carrying explosives, guiding the suicide bombers and scouting locations for attacks (Pajhwok News, February 9).
Most recently, the group is believed to be responsible for the deadly January 17 suicide attack on a convoy travelling the road between an American base, Camp Eggers, and the German embassy in the central Kabul district of Wazir Akbar Khan. Five people, including a U.S. soldier, were killed in the bombing (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, [Kabul], January 20). The NDS claims the suicide bomber was a native of Pakistan’s Swat region named Abdullah. Located in Pakistan’s restive North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Swat has been the scene of intense fighting in recent months between Taliban militants and Pakistani security forces. Afghan officials claimed that it was the same gang of Kabul suicide bombers who entered the Ministry of Culture and Information – in the heavily fortified part of Kabul – and killed two people last October (AFP, October 31, 2008).
The group was also suspected of a November 27 suicide attack near the US embassy that killed four civilians and wounded up to 17 (Daily Annis [Kabul], February 6, 2009). In a single week, from November 27 to December 5, 2008, the gang conducted three suicide attacks. A November 30 suicide attack on a convoy of German embassy diplomats missed the target and resulted in the killing of two Afghan civilians. Only a few days later, on December 5, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into an Afghan army convoy, killing 13 people including six Afghan National Army soldiers. (Radio Television Afghanistan/ RTA, [Kabul], February 7).
The cross-border Haqqani network currently poses the most serious threat to Coalition forces, having expanded its suicide operations from east Afghanistan into Kabul and Afghanistan’s southern regions (see Terrorism Monitor, March 24, 2008; Terrorism Focus, July 1, 2008). The network is led by Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran jihadi leader in his late 70s believed to have close ties with Taliban supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. His son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, alias Khalifa ("the Successor"), is considered to be the mastermind of most suicide attacks inside Afghanistan for the last two years. The network is based in Danda Darpa Khel, a town near Miran Shah, the headquarters of the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan. Sirajuddin, who is in his early thirties, is highly influential on both sides of the border, especially among the new generation of young and aggressive Taliban fighters. The United States has placed a $200,000 bounty on his head.
Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) is a Pakistani militant group which was established in 1985, aiming to oppose the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. However, at the end of Soviet-Afghan war in 1989, the group entered Kashmir to fight Indian troops. It is suspected that during the past few years HuM has once again started exerting influence in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the NWFP. The United States has added HuM to its list of designated terrorist organizations (U.S. Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, April 30, 2007).
The continuing suicide attacks inside Kabul have gained momentum at a time when the new administration of President Barack Obama is planning a troop surge in Afghanistan and possibly a new counterterrorism strategy. A suicide bombing in Urozgan Province that killed 27 policemen at the same time the NDS was announcing the roundup of the Kabul cell demonstrates the difficulty authorities face in eliminating the threat of suicide attacks (Voice of Jihad, February 2; Afghan Islamic Press, February 2).