Female Suicide Bombers Are Latest War Tactic

Iraqi police detain a young woman wearing an explosives belt and interrogate her about her intentions.Video courtesy: Iraqi Police DepartmentEditor: Heather Farrell/washingtonpost.com
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

BAQUBAH, Iraq -- Shortly after the Muslim sunset prayer, the beggar approached Naeem Jabbar as he stepped out of his car. She was no more than 19 years old. He was a leader of the Awakening, a U.S.-backed force that has helped improve security in Iraq. For the past four months, Jabbar had given the young woman food and money, enabling her to survive until the next day.

"He trusted her," said Jabbar's brother, Muntasar. "We never searched her."

On this evening in July, hidden under her black garments, she wore a vest filled with explosives, nails and ball bearings. As her benefactor greeted her, she triggered the bomb, killing him, four others and herself.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say Sunni insurgent groups, especially al-Qaeda in Iraq, are using religion, money and empty promises to persuade sometimes vulnerable women to conduct suicide attacks, highlighting the movement's desperation at a time when its influence and ranks have declined. Efforts by the U.S. military and Iraq's neighbors have limited the number of Arab fighters reaching Iraq, a flow that was once the major source of recruits willing to commit suicide.

But extremists say the women are acting on their own motives, including ideology and revenge, and describe the female bombers as the latest tactic in a slow-burning war.

Since the 2003 invasion, 53 Iraqi women have either carried out suicide attacks or were apprehended before they could do so, according to the U.S. military. The attacks have killed more than 370 people and injured 650. This year, there have been 31 female bombers, including 17 in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. The youngest bomber was 13, according to U.S. military statistics.

Two weeks ago, police in Baqubah, Diyala's capital, captured a woman with reddish-brown hair wearing what appeared to be an explosives-laden vest. She said that her name was Rania and that she was born in 1993. In an interrogation captured on a police video obtained by The Washington Post, she said a woman had wrapped the vest on her body and told her to take it off at home.

"Why did you come to blow yourself up?" asked Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the chief spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry, who was in Baqubah to help oversee an offensive against insurgents.

"I swear to Allah, they did not tell me to explode myself," Rania replied.

Another police officer demanded to know why she threw down the bomb's triggering device when police caught her.

"I did not," she said. "It may have fallen from me. I have no idea about these things."

The police pressed Rania for the name and location of the woman who had given her the vest. Rania said she didn't know the woman's exact address.

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