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50 J&K suicide attacks in 2001

Speaking on "Fighting the Suicide Bomber" at a meeting on "Militant Islam in Asia", organised by the Asia Pacific Foundation, an independent think tank, Eric Herren of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism said on Thursday that Kashmir presented a particularly difficult problem in stopping the suicide bomber.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2002 18:14 IST

Suicide attackers have killed 163 people in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir since 1999 but stopping them is not impossible, a leading expert on terrorism told a conference here.

Speaking on "Fighting the Suicide Bomber" at a meeting on "Militant Islam in Asia", organised by the Asia Pacific Foundation, an independent think tank, Eric Herren of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism said on Thursday that Kashmir presented a particularly difficult problem in stopping the suicide bomber.

Herren said there had been 50 suicide attacks in Jammu and Kashmir last year. "It is becoming something of a mass movement among terrorists," he said. "Almost every mission is a success."

Stopping the suicide bomber presents a difficult problem for law enforcement officers, Herren said. The best chances of success are "working backstage with the organisation aiming the human bomb".

But while every law agency would want such intelligence, it is not always available, he said. As a preventive step, it is vital to take incisive steps "against the circle of activists who are around the suicide bomber".

Herren pointed to several players usually involved in a suicide bombing: the initiator who is the mastermind of the operation (not necessarily the organisation)— effectively the trigger; a bomb factory; the spiritual leader — effectively the brainwasher; a ring of collaborators whose job it is to arrange the logistics for the bomber such as finding rooms and transport and to hide his footprints; and finally, as the outer circle, a ring of sympathisers.

Herren, who is based in Switzerland and is considered a leading authority on suicide bombings, said such killings are not new.

"But the kind of weapons they use, their choice of target, is new."

The suicide bomber often uses a truck or some vehicle but also often operates on foot. "A suicide attack by foot is the most difficult to counter," Herren said.

Tackling a suicide bomber is a three-stage process, he said — to identify, isolate and then dismantle the bomber.

"It is important to remember that it is difficult, but a suicide bomber can be stopped," Herren said. "A suicide bomber is not some cold-blooded thing.

"He is a person working to an operation plan under great stress. If that mental plan is disturbed, he can get very nervous." The suicide bomber knows that if he is caught, interrogation can lead to the mastermind, Herren said.

The suicide bomber in Kashmir has a certain profile, Herren said. "He is between 15 and 25 years of age, male, and may be Kashmiri but is most likely to be Pakistani, Afghan, Arab or a European-born Muslim."

If intelligence has not stopped the operation, much will depend on "a split-second decision by a law enforcement officer," he said. The manner of a youth with a purpose and a bomb wrapped around him can often give him away.

"Finally it comes down to that feeling in the stomach that something is not right here," Herren said. This kind of surveillance is best done outside likely target areas by officers in plain clothes.

Closer to likely targets, the security can make use of dogs and electronic devices that can point to explosives. "Check points need to be set up with fragmentation protection for law enforcement officers," he said.

Once suspicion is aroused, a policeman has a "passive" or an "active" option, Herren said. "The passive option is to shoot him," but that may risk triggering the bomb. The active option would be to overpower him.

He pointed to a simple way of deciding which option to take. "As a law enforcement officer, if I can see his hands, I can do something, otherwise I am helpless."

According to Herren, trained dogs can be a particularly useful tool in isolating the suicide bomber in a crowd.

First Published: Nov 22, 2002 13:26 IST