LAHORE, Pakistan | Abdul Baseer sent the grenades and explosive vest ahead then, accompanied by the 14-year-old boy he had groomed as his suicide bomber, boarded a bus that would take him to his target.
But before they could blow up their target, a luxury hotel in Lahore where they thought Americans would be staying, the two were arrested and are now in jail — Baseer unrepentant about having plotted to send a boy to his death, and the boy saying he never knew what was in store for him.
The story that unfolded in an interview with the Associated Press offers a rare insight into the world of a Pakistani militant, from his education at hard-line Islamic schools, through his professed participation in an attack on a U.S. patrol in Afghanistan, up to his arrest by Pakistani police along with the boy, Mohi-ud-Din.
His tale shares much with those of the thousands of other foot soldiers who make up the Taliban-led insurgency that is ravaging Pakistan, analysts say. It also shows how the wars here and in neighboring Afghanistan bleed into each other.
The Associated Press, after several requests, was allowed to interview the two detainees, with police present for most of the meeting at a police interrogation center in Lahore, a political and military power center in eastern Pakistan.
Baseer was born in 1985 close to the Swat Valley, which last year was overrun by Taliban and recaptured by the Pakistanis. His father was a wheat farmer and earned barely enough to feed the family. Meat was reserved for guests, he recalled.
Like many who cannot afford a regular education, Baseer attended three Islamic boarding schools where children learn the Koran by heart and spend little time on secular subjects. The religious schools provide free board and lodging but are widely criticized for indoctrinating students with an extreme version of Islam.
At least one of the schools Baseer attended, Jamia Faridia in the capital, Islamabad, has been linked to terrorism.
“Through my studies, I became aware that this is the time for jihad and fighting the infidels, and I saw that a jihad was going on in Afghanistan,” said Baseer, a rail-thin man speaking just louder than whisper. “I looked for a way to get there.”
“A trip to Afghanistan is considered part of the profession for a militant,” said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. “It is almost like you need to do it for graduation.
“The American troops are there, and it’s a cause of resentment.”
Baseer said he spent three summer vacation periods in Kunar, an Afghan province just across the border from northwestern Pakistan, which he reached through a network of sympathetic clerics.
On his first trip, in his midteens, he cooked for about 30 or 40 other militants, most of them Afghans, who were living in a large cave complex.
On his second stay, he had military training and learned to make suicide jackets.
On the final trip, he took part in the ambush of a U.S. patrol after he and other fighters had lain in wait in the snow for two days.
“I was happy to be in place where I could kill unbelievers,” he said. “I thank God that we all returned safely and had a successful mission.”
He said he was in the rear of the attack, in which automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were fired. He said the vehicles were left smoldering and that the assailants were told later that two U.S. soldiers were killed, but there was no way of confirming that.
Back in Pakistan, Baseer worked as a mosque preacher in the Khyber region, not far from the northwestern capital, Peshawar. He said it was there that he hooked up with a man named Nazir, a commander in the Pakistani Taliban, who was plotting the attack in Lahore. Baseer said he made 10 suicide vests for Nazir.
Lahore, a city of about 9 million, has suffered scores of attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers over the past 1½ years. Last month, two suicide bombers killed 43 people in near-simultaneous blasts.
Baseer boarded a passenger bus along with the boy, Mohi-ud-Din, heading down the smooth highway to Lahore, where they were supposed to pick up the bomb and grenades.
Police officer Waris Bharawan, as well as Baseer, said the plan was to hook up with other militants and storm the PC International, one of Lahore’s grandest hotels. They said the suicide vest for the attack was sent to the city before the strike.
Baseer gave only a rough outline of the plan: He and others were to hurl the grenades around the lobby or entrance gate of the hotel, and then Mohi-ud-Din was to run in and detonate his explosive belt.
Did he feel any guilt about what lay in store for his traveling companion? No, he said. “I was feeling good because he was going to be used against Americans.”
Police said Baseer and the boy would be tried for terrorist offenses behind closed doors and without a jury, as is customary in Pakistan.