On the Erbil attacks

Amjed Rasheed

By Amjed Rasheed:

The Erbil attacks on September 29th were shocking. According to witnesses on the ground, the attacks consisted of five separate operations, carried out by six terrorist members. It has left six fatalities and more than 66 injured security personal and civilians. The Kurdistan region was safe from such acts for six years. The last terrorist attack was in 2007. The Islamic State of Iraq and Lavent (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks through one of its Twitter accounts. The attacks were aimed to spread fear among the civilians in Kurdistan because of the psychological fear that these type of operations produce.  The “suicide attacks are considered to be a form of psychological warfare that leaves the target population feeling helpless, vulnerable, and painfully aware that they cannot identify and stop the attacker before the killing begins.”(1)

This article discusses the tactics that were used in the Erbil terrorist attacks. It also sheds light on the ideology of suicide attacks. However, it does not give concrete evidence as to who might be behind such an act and for what purpose. Instead it discusses the ideology of suicide attacks from an area that currently produces by far the largest number of suicide attackers in the world: some of the religious madrassas in Pakistan.

The timing and tactics were smartly planned. These attacks included two tactics, a suicide attack tactic, which is considered to be their version of “smart bombs.”(2), and the use of the ambulance tactic to mislead and cross any security barriers that could face the terrorist group.  Further, the first attack was accomplished by a suicide attacker disguised in a military uniform. He dismounted from a small civilian van, in front of the headquarters of the security agency and blew up himself immediately, using a dynamite belt, after he failed to enter the building. Following this, a bomb-laden ambulance was used by the group: it reached the theater of the suicide attack and was detonated.  The third and fourth operations were confrontations between the security forces and this terrorist group which had successfully reached the scene in the ambulance and used hand grenades. The fifth operation involved another bomb-laden ambulance.

The attacks were carried out in the middle of the day, when the city is busy and traffic congestion is high, to try and inflict the maximum number of casualties This reveals that the group had full accessibility and the confidence of mobility.  Therefore, this suggests that those six terrorists had access inside the city for a while to carry out such a complex attack, and perhaps had other collaborators who facilitated their stay in a safe house to plan the operation,  conduct surveillance, and bring in the large amounts of explosives that were used.  Such complex operations require facilitators and otherwise they probably would not have attacked in the middle of the day.

An Afghan former security official told me that they were able to identify the terrorists in Afghanistan according to the time they carried out their operations. For example, if an operation was carried out in the morning, it was very likely to involve foreigners, not Afghans, as the foreigner was not that familiar with the city and would be uncomfortable driving around in his vehicle. Therefore it was important to take account of the timing in order to track the network and arrest them, he said. He also mentioned that it is relatively common for international terrorist attackers to blow themselves up as soon as possible after entering the city and receiving their explosives, due to the psychology factor. The unknown context of the city produces tension and fear, and the foreign terrorists often fear that, the longer they wait in the day, the greater the chance they will be caught before they can carry out their attack. As a result, international bombers operate in morning time, apart for those who have some level of local support network, and therefore the means to carry out their operations later in the day and evening.

Although ISIL claims responsibility for these attacks, this does not necessarily mean that they are behind it. Moreover, the suicide bomb is becoming a commercial brand. One could easily buy a suicide bomber from Pakistan, and employ him to carry out an attack anywhere he is asked to go, the former Afghan security official said.

In 2007 the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) published a long report about the ideology of suicide attacks in Afghanistan. The report elucidated the way the uneducated youth are exploited in the madrassas in Pakistan. These madrassas work to recruit uneducated youth, and create the notion of holy war against “Infidels” as a narrative and images in their minds. This builds up anger inside those youths. As a result, it creates incentives to carry out suicide attacks. Other motives could be linked to the perception of the Jihad and suicide attack as an Islamic duty. Further, most of the terrorists who carried out suicide attacks across the world before and after September 11th were educated.

But who benefits from these attacks? There is a possibility that the ISIL is indirectly used by other regional powers to destabilize Kurdistan region. Moreover, the results of the recent elections on September 21st could possibly be the incentive for the attacks. The result might have exasperated some of the regional powers and led them to send a message to the region, by buying some suicide attackers from Pakistan. In any case, one has to determine whether the attackers have any local ties or have any regional links, or any links to those that are fighting against Assad along with ISIL and The Nusra front, or are foreigners who are backed by the ISIL.  A photo of one of the killed terrorists published by Rudaw TV revealed facial features which suggested that he was from Ferghana valley.

What has to be done?

The tactics used in the Erbil attacks were not that different from other terrorist attacks in Afghanistan or elsewhere, the former Afghan official told me. The terrorists copy successful attacks, and adapt them to other contexts, he adds.  Therefore, it is possible to avoid future attacks through studying previous attacks. The other issue is that the security institutions in Kurdistan need to identify and track those Kurds who have crossed the borders and fought the Assad regime. In addition, these institutions need to check on those who might have recently traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan territories, and track them.  The third issue is that the Kurdish government, in coordination with the ministry of religious affairs, has to work on changing the religious rhetoric inside the country, so that these groups do not exploit religion for harmful purposes.


(1). UNAMA, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Afgh%202007SuicideAttacks.pdfp. 24

(2). Ibid

Amjed Rasheed is currently a research scholar at Durham University, UK. His research is on IR theory and the role of personality in shaping states’ behavior in World Politics. The contexts he works on are Iraq and Iran. He has previously been educated at Glasgow University in the UK and the University for Peace in Costa Rica. He has experiences in curriculum development and teaching.

Copyright © 2013 Kurdistantribune.com

2 Responses to On the Erbil attacks
  1. Kuvan Bamarny
    October 8, 2013 | 13:54

    People who carry out suicide mission are usually the one who suffer from hardships and grievance of life, such as the poor ,the sick, the illiterate and the socially isolated one.They are vulnerable to brainwashing and easily manipulated by terrorist organization leaders.
    The government itself can help to avoid terrorist attacks by reaching them everywhere ,taking care of them, providing them with basic needs, shelter ,food ,clothing ,jobs and educational programs so that to avoid those kind of desperate people fall in the hand of terrorist leaders who turn them to suicide bombers..

  2. Amjed
    October 17, 2013 | 10:48

    Agreement, Kuvan

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