Shared from the 9/5/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Weakened ISIS tries new tactic: cows wearing explosive vests

Islamic State has been reluctant to use humans to carry bombs because of the group’s reduced numbers, so it has tried a new tactic: bovine suicide bombers.

Residents of Al Islah, Iraq, said Saturday that they’d witnessed “a strange” sight: two cows harnessed to explosive vests roving the northern side of the village, according to Col. Ghalib Al-Atyia, 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 structures, but not harming any people, Al-Atyia said.

In the colonel’s assessment, the attack signaled that ISIS, whose ranks were sharply reduced by the group’s four-year fight against Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. special forces, was resorting to unconventional methods since it 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, several witnesses said.

The cows were contributed to ISIS group by villages in the area thought to be friendly to its cause, security officials in the Diyala Police Command said.

The use of animals as booby traps isn’t new. During the civil war in Iraq from 2003 to 2009, insurgents who called themselves Al-Qaida in Iraq placed bombs both inside and under dead livestock, counting on families to try to clear away the corpses.

In Afghanistan, donkeys occasionally were pressed into service to carry bombs targeting NATO forces.

Al-Atyia described the attack as serving several purposes for ISIS, 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 ISIS operatives got close enough to release the cows near its entrance without being caught and were able to stay close enough to detonate the explosives, he said.

It also shows the group’s interest in intimidating areas it 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,” Al-Atyia said.

Northeastern Diyala has seen almost weekly ISIS attacks in the past 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 ISIS presence, security experts said.

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