ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A teenager arrested as an accomplice to Pakistan's deadliest suicide bombing of the year has said that up to 400 suicide bombers are being groomed to wage carnage in the nuclear-armed nation.
The news comes as the country’s Senate was informed on Friday that some 3,169 people had been killed in terrorism-related incidents, including a large number of suicide bombings, in the last two years.
Umar Fidayee, 14, said the would-be bombers were being trained in North Waziristan, the premier al-Qaeda and Taliban fortress in Pakistan's tribal belt where US officials want Pakistan to flush out militant strongholds. However, Pakistan has been resisting the pressure saying it does not have the resources to open another front.
He made the remarks in an interview aired Friday from his hospital bedside, where he is being treated after detonating a hand grenade in an April 4 attack that killed 50 people at the shrine of 13th-century Muslim Sufi saint Sakhi Sarwar in Dera Ghazi Khan. It was Pakistan's deadliest bomb attack since November.
Police arrested Fidayee as an alleged accomplice and said they removed his own suicide vest, which he failed to detonate in a crowd of hundreds in Dera Ghazi Khan just minutes after two other bombers blew themselves up.
Shown covered in tubes and bandages, the teen appeared to express remorse and lifted the lid on harrowing details of his training at the camp in the Mir Ali district of North Waziristan, which lies on the border with Afghanistan.
"Three hundred and fifty to 400 would-be suicide bombers are getting training in Mir Ali in North Waziristan," he said in the interview broadcast by Pakistani television channels. "I was trained for two months and saw many boys being trained there," he said, going on to appeal on Pakistanis to "please forgive me."
"God has given me a new life but I am sad that we killed innocent people, innocent children," he said.
Fidayee said he was initially recruited on the understanding that he would be smuggled into Afghanistan to kill non-Muslims [referring to US-led coalition troops fighting the Taliban there].
"But they brought me here to Dera Ghazi Khan. I told them 'there is no kafir (non-believer) here'," he said. "They told me these people are worse than kafirs," Fidayee said.
Exposing an apparently disturbing recruitment at the gates of an ordinary school in North Waziristan, the teenager claimed a man he identified as Qari Muhammad Zafar convinced him to begin a life of militancy.
"He told me that all this education is useless and said 'become a fighter and you will go to heaven,’" Fidayee told the reporters. He said he was told to attack the shrine 30 minutes after the other two detonated their bombs in order to cause maximum carnage among those rushing to aid casualties of the first two blasts.
In a message to other potential suicide bombers he said: "Please refuse to carry suicide attacks. Such attacks are forbidden in Islam."
Taliban militants, who follow an austere interpretation of Sunni Islam, condemn other interpretations of Islam as heretical and have also launched repeated attacks on the country's Shia and Christian minorities.
Dera Ghazi Khan is close to Pakistan's tribal belt which is described by Washington as the most dangerous place on Earth and an al Qaeda headquarters.
More than 4,200 people have been killed across Pakistan in attacks blamed on homegrown Taliban and other Islamist extremist networks since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.
Originally coming from Karachi in Pakistan’s Sindh province, Qari Muhammad Zafar is a trusted member of al Qaeda’s hardline inner circle and is not only the suspected mastermind of the September 20, 2008, Marriot Hotel suicide attack in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, but the most sought after al Qaeda-linked terrorist who has been trying to target important strategic installations belonging to Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in the Punjab and Sindh provinces.
According to intelligence sources, Qari Muhammad Zafar is the chief operational commander of the sectarian terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which joined hands with the Taliban and al Qaeda to target foreigners and law enforcement personnel besides the minority communities in Pakistan, including Christians.
Besides Zafar, al Qaeda-linked Qari Hussain, who is also known as “Ustad-e-Fidayeen” or the teacher of suicide bombers, was considered to be a specialist in indoctrinating teenagers to carry out suicide attacks in the name of Islam. He is believed to have become the main ideologue of the Taliban working under the command of Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike in Waziristan on August 7, 2009.
Qari Hussain was well-known in the Taliban and al Qaeda ranks for his strong anti-Shia views and his close ties with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies claim that Qari Hussain may have recruited and indoctrinated the largest number of people to carry out suicide attacks in the country.
He was killed in a US drone strike in the Machi Khel village in North Waziristan Agency on October 16, 2010. A month before his killing, on September 3, Qari Hussain had threatened to launch attacks in the United States and Europe “very soon.”
On January 17, 2009, Qari Hussain had released an unusual video of statements from purported suicide bombers and footage of deadly attacks they claimed to have perpetrated in Pakistan.
The 40-minute tape had shown youths, some apparently in their teens, addressing the camera about their intention to carry out suicide attacks to background music of Urdu militant anthems.
The video was reportedly handed over to journalists in Pakistan’s northwestern city Peshawar by none other than Qari Hussain. All those featured in the video spoke Pashto. The two major suicide attacks claimed on the Taliban video were the March 11, 2008 deadly suicide attack on the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) building in Lahore and the November 24, 2007 twin suicide attacks in Faizabad area of Rawalpindi in front of the ISI headquarters when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a bus carrying 35 ISI officers, killing 15 of them on the spot.
Meanwhile, the country interior minister, Rehman Malik informed the Senate on Friday that around 2,488 incidents of terrorism including a large number of suicide attacks were recorded in Pakistan in the last two years, which claimed the lives of 3,169 people.