Last week’s horrific bombings at two pet bazaars in Baghdad reacquainted us with the most disturbing type of suicide bomber: the unwitting martyr.
Had the perpetrators of the attacks that killed at least 99 people been young men who believed self-immolation was their one-way ticket to paradise, the story would have never made headlines. While voluntary martyrdom operations in Western countries still occur infrequently enough to shock the public into recognizing (however belatedly or temporarily) the brutality of radical Islamists, they have become old news in Iraq. One can’t help but wonder if there will come a time when the headline “Mentally Retarded Women Used in Bombings” no longer appalls us.
Because that moment has fortunately not yet arrived, Friday’s terrorist attacks were effective reminders of the utter depravity of jihadists. According to U.S. and Iraqi officials, pictures of the two female bombers showed they had Down syndrome. Their remote detonated bombs went off in locations thronged with families and children. “It appears the suicide bombers were not willing martyrs, they were used by al-Qaeda for these horrific attacks,” Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, the top U.S. commander in Baghdad, told the AP.
Hammond pointed out the obvious when he stated that the “two suicide vest attacks represent the worst of human nature.” (For those who question the accuracy of the term “Islamo-fascist,” it should be remembered that the Nazis systematically murdered the mentally handicapped.) More surprising responses came from those less determined to see American forces prevail in Iraq. For example, in a post arguing that the U.S. surge in Iraq has failed, Libby of Newshoggers described the bombings as a “sign of adaptation and a brilliant one at that.”
There’s no doubt that the use of the mentally disabled for terrorist operations serves a tactical purpose. Bob Owens of Confederate Yankee explains that this tactic “tells us that al-Qaeda in Iraq recognizes that attempts to use male suicide bombers and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), their preferred method of suicide attacks for those seeking martyrdom, are no longer effective.” What it also tells us, however, is that radical Islamists have no respect for human life and will not hesitate to employ the most barbaric methods to achieve their goals.
In fact, this was only the latest — not the first — instance of mentally disabled individuals being used unwittingly as human bombs. Last year, Brian Glyn Williams noted that the employment of suicide bombers who are mentally unsound has become a disturbing trend in Afghanistan. “Coalition troops who have spoken of seeing bombers blow themselves up far from their convoys have characterized it as the act of drugged or mentally unstable bombers,” he wrote on the website of The Jamestown Foundation. Williams told Time magazine that the Taliban regularly recruits young men who are “deranged, retarded, mentally unstable or on drugs.” A 2007 NPR report also found that a substantial number of suicide bombers in Afghanistan suffer from mental illnesses.
Israeli soldiers recently disarmed a retarded young man wearing an explosive vest. He had been sent to an Israeli checkpoint by Palestinian terrorists. Meanwhile, IRIN has reported that dozens of mentally handicapped children are being used to fight in Iraq. In January 2005, Iraq’s interior minister said that terrorists used a disabled child (police reported that the child appeared to have Down syndrome) as one of the suicide bombers behind attacks on election day. Last year, two children with mental problems were put in the back seat of a car that was subsequently blown up in a suicide attack in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood.
A local NGO spokesperson explained how these children are “recruited”:
Some children were given by their families but many others were kidnapped by insurgents when they knew that those children had mental problems. Some of them were even taken from the doors of their houses or schools.
Abu Ahmed is a spokesman for al-Qaeda in Iraq and was quoted by IRIN. He spoke about 13-year-old Barak Muhammad, a mentally handicapped boy who was sold to the terrorist group by his father.
We’re doing a favour to Barak. We’re giving him the chance to be useful and not suffer daily beatings from his father. Here, with us, he gets Islamic lessons and is soon going to be a good fighter and maybe one day even become a suicide bomber in the name of God.
Ahmed’s celebration of death could not be more at odds with Western values. To highlight this difference, contrast the life of Barak with that of Lior Lieblings, a 13-year-old boy with Down syndrome who is the subject of the new documentary Praying with Lior (the film opened in New York on the same day as the bombings in Iraq). That Lior is an inspiration to those around him is evident from the trailer, which shows him eagerly preparing for his approaching Bar Mitzvah.
But it is Lior’s brother who delivers the most stinging rebuke to al-Qaeda and its perverted sense of what it means to act in the name of God: “If there is a God, then Lior is definitely closer to God than anybody else I know.”
Aaron Hanscom is a Los Angeles-based editor for Pajamas Media.