In the shadow
of terror

New film reveals how people of Islamabad face up to suicide bomb threat

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“People in the west have absolutely no idea what terrorism is. We have a 9/11 or 7/7 if not every day then every second day in Pakistan,” says Tahir Malik, a retired army major whose wife was killed in a suicide bomb attack.

Malik is speaking in a Dispatches film that follows the police and people of Islamabad for one year as Pakistan’s capital battles to overcome an unprecedented wave of terrorist attacks.

More than 3,500 people have been killed in suicide blasts in Pakistan in the past three years. Only a few years ago, attacks in the capital were rare, but disparate terrorist groups are increasingly working together and Islamabad has become their ultimate target.

Deadly attack

Filming began in October 2009 when the city was reeling from a wave of bloody suicide attacks. The Islamabad offices of the UN World Food Programme were the first to be hit.

Malik says: “Nothing can prepare you for an act like this. You drop your wife off in the morning and at 2pm you bring a dead body home. Gone, just like that.”

Two weeks later the campus of the Islamic University was targeted. Eighteen-year old Amber was badly injured in the double suicide attack in freshers week. The deadliest bomb targeted the girls’ cafeteria, and Amber’s best friend, 17-year-old Aqsa, did not survive.

Amber, who spent several months in hospital, describes seeing her friend slumped on the chair beside her, the smoke and the smell of flesh and blood. But Amber and her other friends who survived the blast remain determined to finish their education.

In the film, City of Fear, Aqsa’s father tells Amber: “What happened to you, this war, whoever did it, is not a Muslim. Their purpose is to stop you from studying because you are our future. If you get scared by these people and give up education, they will win.”

Short of resources

Kaleem Imam, police inspector-general, has the job of hunting down those responsible for the increasingly bold attacks.

“We are short of human resources and we are short of materials, but that doesn’t stop us from doing what we’re doing,” he vows.

City of Fear is directed by BAFTA winner Chris Eley.

Even now nowhere feels safe, schools remain shut and Western companies are closing their offices as persistent bombing threatens to destabilise Pakistan’s fragile civilian government.

City of Fear is on Channel 4 on 22 November

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