August 9, 2016
TSG IntelBrief: Terror Attacks on Mourners
On August 8, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 70 people and injured 120 more in Quetta, Pakistan. The bombing—which was also claimed by the so-called Islamic State—targeted people who had gathered at a Quetta hospital where the body of a prominent lawyer had been taken. Bilal Kasi, the head of the Balochistan Bar Association, had been assassinated earlier the same day. The Balochistan province, which has struggled for decades with a simmering insurgency and violence, has seen an increase in targeted attacks against lawyers and journalists in recent weeks.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which also claimed credit for the March 2016 Lahore park bombing that targeted Christians celebrating Easter, used the collective grief for Bilal Kasi to create a gathering of people the terror group wished to target. Many of those killed in the follow up hospital attack were lawyers and journalists—individuals who would not normally gather in the same public place had it not been for the death of Kasi. Terror attacks often involve primary and secondary attacks—an initial attack with a follow-up attack against first responders. The attack in Quetta was a more nuanced version of this tactic; it involved an isolated assassination of an influential figure that was designed to create a follow-up attack on a specific target population at a known time and location.
This tactic is all-too familiar in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. In August 2013, the Pakistani Taliban assassinated a Quetta police officer, followed by a subsequent suicide bombing at his funeral, killing 30 people, including 12 more police officers. By killing one officer, the Taliban created a rare, unguarded mass gathering of police officers and their families, which it then exploited with deadly results. In December 2014, a suicide bomber killed nine people gathered at the funeral of a local pro-government leader, Hakim Bay, in Baghlan province, Afghanistan.
The first known suicide bombing at an Afghan mosque was also a targeted attack on a funeral brought about by an assassination. On May 29, 2005, the Taliban killed Mullah Abdul Fayaz, a cleric in Kandahar who spoke out against the group in its heartland. The murder of Fayaz—one of the most respected religious leaders in southern Afghanistan—naturally drew a large crowd of supporters to the funeral. On June 1, 2005, a suicide bomber detonated his vest where mourners were taking their shoes off to enter the mosque, killing at least 20 people.
In July 2011, Ahmad Wali Karzai, the half-brother of then-president Hamid Karzai, was assassinated in Kandahar by one of his guards who was also a member of the Taliban. Ahmad Wali Karzai was the most powerful figure in southern Afghanistan and was head of the Kandahar Provincial Council at the time of his death. At a memorial service two days later, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up inside the Red Mosque, killing four people and injuring 15. Among the dead was Hekmatullah Hekmat, the head of the Kandahar Cleric Council and a supporter of the Kabul government.
As the Taliban have repeatedly demonstrated in Pakistan and Afghanistan, by murdering a single, yet symbolic individual, terror groups can generate gatherings of high profile targets, allowing terrorists to exploit the grief of those mourning the initial victim to launch far deadlier attacks. Such tactics highlight the nimbleness of terror groups, and demonstrate yet another important counterterrorism consideration for the international community as the threat of terror attacks increases throughout the world.
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