The Islamic State has been reluctant to use humans to carry bombs because of the group’s reduced numbers, so it has tried out a new tactic: Bovine suicide bombers.
Residents of Al Islah, Iraq, on Saturday said they had witnessed “a strange” sight: two cows harnessed to explosive vests roving the northern side of the village, according to Col. Ghalib Al-Atyia, the spokesman for the police commander in Diyala Province.
The animals wandered into the outskirts of the community, and when they seemed close to houses, the bombs were detonated remotely, killing the cows, and damaging nearby houses, but not harming any people, Colonel Al-Atyia said.
In the colonel’s assessment, the attack signaled that the Islamic State, whose ranks were sharply reduced by the group’s four-year fight against Iraqi security forces backed by American special forces, was resorting to unconventional methods since they lacked manpower.
Still, using cows to deliver bombs is an odd strategy in Iraq, where the animals are prized both for meat and milk. A cow can easily cost $1,200 or more, and no one in the area could remember ever seeing a cow sent to its death in such a way, said several witnesses.
The cows were contributed to the Islamic State by villages in the area thought to be friendly to their cause, said security officials in the Diyala Police Command.
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The use of animals as booby traps is not new. During the civil war in Iraq from 2003 to 2009, the insurgents who called themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq placed bombs both inside and under dead livestock, counting on families to try to clear away the corpses.
In Afghanistan, donkeys were occasionally pressed into service to carry bombs targeting NATO forces.
Colonel Al-Atyia described the attack as serving several purposes for the Islamic State, the main one to signal the group’s continued presence in the area. Attaching the bombs to the cows and sending them into the village meant the Islamic State operatives got close enough to release the cows near its entrance without being caught and were able to stay close enough to detonate the bombs, he said.
It also shows the groups’s interest in intimidating areas they may want to access in the future, he said. This area is close to main roads leading to neighboring provinces.
“The Islamic State will keep trying to breach those areas that they consider strategic for movement,” Colonel Al-Atyia said.
Northeastern Diyala has seen almost weekly Islamic State attacks in the last year, including ones using mortars and roadside bombs, as well as small arms attacks and kidnappings.
Some of those have targeted Al Islah, even though it is one of the areas that the Iraqi army claimed recently to have cleared of all Islamic State presence, said security experts.