Devout and Utterly Convinced of His Place in Paradise
As the Tube doors closed and the Circle line train headed from Aldgate towards Liverpool Street, the bomber knew his next destination was Paradise.
Around him stood innocent London commuters but their lives, and their imminent deaths, meant nothing to him.
Brainwashed by his recruiters, he would have held tightly onto the bag containing the explosives, convinced that ‘jannah’ (the gardens of paradise) lay waiting on the other side of the switch.
In these fabled gardens, 72 dark-eyed women would attend to his every need.
Luscious fruit would fall from the trees and there would be drink and sweet things to eat.
He would live for ever, close to the Prophet, as a living saint and his murderous deed, carried out in the soul of London, would be glorified as the work of a ‘blessed martyr’.
Suicide bombers are told they will suffer no pain because the explosives will rip their bodies apart and disintegrate all the flesh closest to the bomb. In a split second, they will transcend straight from this earthly life to paradise.
But in truth, as the forensic experts working deep inside the bombed-out Tube tunnel will have discovered, the explosives will have left a sickening mess of burnt human flesh.
The explosive gases, expanding at 20,000 metres a second, will atomise flesh and bone and the bomber’s torso simply disappears. The head is blown off. The effect is like a grenade being set inside a foxhole.
But if last Thursday’s bombers were similar to those who have been operating for some time in both Israel and Iraq, these heartless slayers would have stepped willingly towards death devoid of either pity or remorse, and filled instead with hateful self- righteousness.
For the past year, as part of the forthcoming Channel 4 history series on the cult of suicide bombing, I have interviewed dozens of suicide bombers’ families, failed bombers, recruiters, intelligence agents and Islamic clerics to try to understand the origins of this deathly cult.
In an Israeli jail I visited a suicide bomber called Hassan Kahlut who had been captured before he was able to carry out an attack on a bus.
I asked what would have happened to all the passengers and he replied matteroffactly: ‘They would all have gone straight to hell.’ The message of hate would be exactly the same from the London bombers.
Suicide bombing is a modern plague. Like a pathological virus, it has spread across the Islamic world from Iran, Lebanon, Israel, Chechnya and the U.S.
Now it stalks the streets and trains of London.
BUT even at the height of the terror attacks on Israel, there have never been as many as four suicide bombs in one day. As the cult has spread, so has its accompanying propaganda.
Often, each ‘martyr’ is filmed before going to his or her death espousing the justness of the coming massacre.
There are also posters, internet sites and charities that gather money for the bombers’ relatives.
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein regularly sent $20,000 cheques to the families of each Palestinian ‘bombing martyr’.
Once, in Gaza, I attended a celebration in a mosque where official ‘ certificates of martyrdom’ where handed out like school prizes to suicide bombers’ families.
The ideology which inspires such bombers doesn’t need Middle East refugee camps or military oppression to flourish.
For some, the poison can simply be downloaded from the Internet or picked up from hate-filled speeches at mosques such as the one in London’s Finsbury Park.
In April 2003, two Britons (Asif Hanif, 19, and Omar Sharif, 27, from Derby) travelled to Israel to kill themselves. Sharif’s suicide bomb belt failed, but Hanif murdered two innocent customers in a Tel Aviv bar.
Both men had lived all their lives in Britain, but they were still willing to travel across the globe to die for their warped version of Islam.
Chillingly, the moral of their stories is that hatred can transfer itself into the minds of young Muslims anywhere at the click of a computer mouse.
Suicide bombing is the ultimate weapon of sheer terror. The self- sacrifice of the bomber is part of the message. What more forceful way can anyone say: ‘We hate you and your way of life so much that our young men, our martyrs, willingly give their lives just so long as they can take yours.’ In the misery of the Gaza Strip, a pro- Hamas cleric, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Shami, explained to me the simple philosophy behind these acts of mass murder.
‘Suicide bombing is designed to strike fear into the heart of the enemy. It shows the strength of Muslims in that we are prepared to die.
We are not afraid of death and the enemy is. We will always have that advantage.’ In crude terms, he is absolutely right. Suicide bombing reverses the normal logic of power. In normal circumstances, we expect to deter an enemy by superior force. But how can you deter an enemy who deliberately kills himself?
Nor, as Israel has painfully learned, can the threat easily be countered.
In the past five years, more than 700 Israeli civilians have been killed by suicide bombers mostly on buses and trains.
To protect their population, the Israeli government has turned the whole country into an armed camp.
Every bus stop in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is guarded by an armed policeman.
Every bar and restaurant has its own security guard and every person is searched before entry. But even these measures are not enough.
Ultimately, the only solution has been the ten-metre high wall built on the West Bank, designed to lock out the entire Palestinian population.
But such walls, bus stop guards and a ring of checkpoints on the motorways around London are simply inconceivable in an open, democratic society such as modern Britain.
To tackle the hideous threat, we have to understand the history of suicide bombing.
Its origins lie in the forgotten battlefields of the 1980-88 Iran/ Iraq war, when Iranian child soldiers strapped bombs to their chests and blew up Iraqi tanks. As the fundamentalist regime of Ayatollah Khomeini praised these acts as blessed martyrdom, the cult of suicide bombing was born.
The technique goes back to the key battle of Kerbala in 670AD when the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hussein, was killed with all his followers.
Khomeini told his people that being ‘martyred’ in the war against Iraq was just like dying at Kerbala. Hundreds of thousands of ‘baseej’ (volunteers) heeded his call. In the early 1980s, the technique spread to the Lebanon a country convulsed by the Israeli invasion and civil war.
As part of the resistance, the Iranian-backed Hizbollah movement recruited the world’s first suicide car bomber, and that attack destroyed the Israeli military headquarters in the ancient southern city of Tyre and killed 76 Israeli soldiers.
The transition from battlefield weapon to civilian terror bomb only happened in 1994 when one was used in a revenge attack for the massacre of Muslims in a Hebron mosque.
Hundreds of other attacks soon followed. In time, the ancient Islamic prohibition against suicide was rewritten and suicide bombing reinterpreted as the ideal act of martyrdom.
The most terrible aspect of Thursday’s atrocities is that the last thing the bomber would have seen travelling across London would not have been the faces of the innocents he was about to destroy but his own glory.
Kevin Toolis is a terrorism expert with Many Rivers Films, which is making a series on suicide bombing for Channel 4. Many Rivers Films 2005