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Old July 25th, 2002, 08:25 PM
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'Belt-Bombers' Moving West?

'Belt-Bombers' Moving West?
Dave Eberhart, NewsMax
A suicide bomber once was profiled as male, 17 to 22 years of age, unmarried, unemployed and a religious fanatic. According to the experts, however, these monsters are evolving. The killers can now be from upper-middle-class families, from businesses and schools of higher education, from the fairer sex – and may be moving west.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the U.S. Congress that suicide terrorists may next target the United States. Homeland Security director Tom Ridge readily admits to an "enduring vulnerability” to attack by suicide bombers. Recently the FBI alerted banks on the East Coast that belt-bomb laden terrorists, copying the Palestinian militants’ attacks on civilians in Israel, could be targeting them.

However, perhaps the most unsettling news about the belt-bomber phenomenon comes from a trusted source of military intelligence – Jane’s, which now prominently features suicide bombers in its catalogue of the world’s vast inventory of killing instruments.

Jane’s reports the unsettling intelligence that militant groups are likely in the foreseeable future to use suicide bombers to infiltrate target countries and conduct suicide attacks against Western VIPs and critical infrastructure.

Jane’s lists 10 terrorist groups that are capable of suicide attacks: Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the occupied territories; Lebanon’s Hezbollah; Egypt’s Islamic Jihad and Gamaya Islamiya; India’s Barbar Khalsa International; Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group; Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil; Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party; and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

Open Borders

Moreover, the potential belt-bomber can easily enter the United States from Canada, where the immigration laws are so weak that travelers from the Middle East have no difficulty remaining without visas. For its part, the U.S. still allows tourists from the Middle East to enter on travel visas. And the bombs, costing about $150 each, can for the most part be jerry-rigged from materials purchased locally.

Some hopeful news comes from Time magazine that has reported that Hamas leaders feel suicide bombings in America would be "counterproductive to the Palestinian effort to fight Israel.”

"My own impression is that this particular tactic of blowing yourself up isn’t likely to spread,” advises Michael Scardaville, a security expert at Washington’s Heritage Foundation. "It takes a certain type of fanatical person to go ahead and do that.”

But other experts and sources are not so skeptical, professing that the very horrifying and stealthy nature of the suicide bomber makes it the method of choice and that just one successful attack at a U.S. mall could paralyze the populace and perhaps stall the economy worse than the aftermath of 9-11.

Recently the London Times featured the story of a man dressed as a suicide bomber at a demonstration. Surrounded by hooded supporters waving the Lebanese flag and the flag of the Prophet, the man was outfitted in military fatigues and had three cylinders fastened under a belt around his waist. He shouted "martyr, martyr” while wildly waving a burning American flag.

Suicide Body Suit Evolving

Jane’s notes that the suicide body suit has also evolved -- becoming increasingly small and harder to detect. Initially featuring a block of explosives worn in the chest and belly area, the device now is more likely to be a heart shaped block of explosives placed just above the navel. "Breast bombs” are also suspected to be under development, says Jane’s.

With the exception of the malleable plastic explosives and detonator, all the other components, advises Jane’s, can be purchased economically: stretch denim, steel ball bearings, wires, batteries and switches.

What most confounds the experts about the preparedness of the U.S. for any onslaught of belt-bombers is the way security is currently handled at the nation’s airports.

At U.S. airports the screeners currently stand fixed at screening stations waiting for terrorists to come to them. Charles Slepian, CEO of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center says additional well-trained-in-profiling-skills security personnel should be looking for terrorists at curbside and in parking lots -- as they do in Israel.

Slepian also advocates minimizing the crowding of passengers waiting for screening in order to limit the casualties that could be caused by a suicide bomber.

Downing the Belt-Bomber

And then there’s the issue of what to do once a belt-bomber is identified. One suggested tactic is to have sharp shooters deliver a slug to the head, aiming to sever the brain stem, causing an instant relaxing of the terrorist’s muscles and rendering him or her incapable of triggering the bomb.

Israel uses bomb-sniffing and bomb-disabling robots to strip a floored suicide bomber and uncover his explosives.

The non-high-tech alternative of sniffer dogs, say the experts, is limited by the animal's maximum effective attention span of just 30 minutes. Furthermore, intelligence suggests that terror groups will or have already developed a suicide body suit with a repellent to evade the attention of sniffer dogs.

Between 1980 and mid-2001, it is estimated that there were more than 300 suicide attacks in 14 countries by 17 different terrorist organizations. In 1997, two men in Brooklyn, N.Y., one Palestinian and one Lebanese, were arrested as they finalized a belt-bomb plot against the New York City subway system.
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