"Daddy, I want to be a martyr. Can you get me an explosive belt?"
When Abu Qaqa al-Tamimi's 9-year-old son asked for his help in becoming a suicide bomber, he was, to say the least, taken aback. "This is not what you expect to hear from a little boy," says al-Tamimi, an Iraqi man in his late 40s with close-cropped hair and a thin beard lining a round face. "I didn't know what to say." The son had even come up with a proposed target. "There was an American checkpoint near his school, and he said, 'They won't suspect me because I'm a kid, so I can walk right up to them and explode the belt.'"
Like other Iraqi parents, al-Tamimi frets about the emotional toll on his child caused by the daily onslaught of suicide bombings. But al-Tamimi bears a personal responsibility for his son's bizarre ambitions. For the past 13 months, al-Tamimi has played a crucial, and murderous, role in the Iraqi insurgency: he is one of a small number of operatives who provide would-be suicide bombers with everything from safe houses to target information and explosives. Al-Tamimi says he also acts as a guardian, religious guide and all-around father figure in the final days of a bomber's life. "Once a volunteer is placed in my care," he says, "I am responsible for everything in his life until the time comes for him to end it." Al-Tamimi is often the last person bombers talk to before their deadly mission. He is so proficient at facilitating suicide bombings that he says his own brother and sister have asked to be considered for "martyrdom operations." He gave them some basic training but advised them to find other, less drastic ways of serving the insurgency. "A suicide bombing should be the last resort," he says. "It should not be a shortcut to paradise."
Handlers like al-Tamimi are usually anonymous and almost never claim responsibility for their part in suicide operations. But the terrorism that has plagued Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein would not have been possible without men like al-Tamimi, who says he organizes attacks for several insurgent organizations, ranging from hard-core jihadis like Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda operation in Iraq to more obscure Iraqi nationalist groups. "These are the guys who supply the intel and networks," says the Rand Corp.'s counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman. "They are the terrorists' trump card--and our Achilles' heel."