What’s in a tattoo?

Published: December 17, 2012

The tattoo shows a demonic image inspired by a Peruvian painter. PHOTO: REUTERS

I hate to burst people’s bubbles but all this tattoos-are-“un-Islamic”-and-would-never-be-worn-by-an-Islamist-radical nonsense is a major distraction.

Plenty of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan have been found with tattoos. In fact a several years ago so many dead Taliban fighters were found with maple leaf tattoos that senior American counter-terrorism adviser David Kilcullen actually led an investigation into what they represented (short answer: Quality Toyota Hiluxes originally imported from Canada).

It’s also common to find Taliban fighters with tattooed inscriptions and text. Here is a photo of a captured Taliban fighter with a tattoo saying ‘I bear witness’.

Foreign Jihadi fighters who have travelled from other parts of the world to fight alongside the Taliban due to their Jihadist beliefs occasionally bring tattoos with them as well. For example several British extremists, (some inspired by the same group that was invited recently to speak at the Lal Masjid in Islamabad often travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. This has been well-reported in the western media.

Some of these fighters bear tattoos. Some with Jihadist themes but also some that they had from before they became radicalised and decided to wage holy war. For example there was the very well publicised (at least in the UK) case of British soldiers being surprised to find a Taliban fighter they killed a couple of years ago had an tattoo of English Premeier League Football team Aston Villa.

And the famous Australian Taliban David Hicks who fought against the American invasion and was captured and spent several years in Guantanamo Bay before being released had satanic tattoos from the days he dabbled in Satanism before he embraced Islam. He also used to drink heavily and do drugs before he started attending a mosque and changed his ways. Obviously tattoos are ingrained for life and can’t be removed without extensive plastic surgery which one is unlikely to find in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

But once again its worth emphasising that while the elaborate tattoo of the kind found on the back of the Taliban fighter in Peshawar would suggest that he was probably a foreign fighter, tattoos are not unusual in parts of Afghanistan and often have symbolic value. Nor is it necessarily deemed ‘unIslamic’, as one can guess by the description of a pro-Taliban mullah in the following article:

“the religious leader engagement team was approached by a mullah who wore the mark of the Taliban—a crescent moon and star tattooed on the right hand—who was deeply moved by the presence of Afghans and Americans praying together:”

Or this description of American soldiers questioning a possible Taliban spotter:

“The soldiers questioned a man who had seemed to signal their movements by repeatedly honking a minivan horn. His right hand bore a tattoo of crossed swords.

“Asked by the American platoon commander, First Lt. Philip Divinski, what the tattoo signified, the man said he didn’t know. “My mother put it there,” he said. He added, “When I was 2.”

All of this information has been widely discussed and examined by those interested in learning about the Taliban and the war raging in this part of the world so I think those “officials” and “experts” who are claiming that this tattoo is extremely unusual or proof some kind of bizarre plot are either extremely incompetent or deliberately misdirecting the public.

Both possibilities are equally disturbing since, in the first case, severely incompetent people tasked with combating militancy are never going to successfully accomplish the job and in the second, misdirecting the public might well imply complicity with the militants and their agenda.

Is the presence of a tattoo on a member of the TTP newsworthy?

     View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


Iftikhar Zaidi

A graduate from King's College, has an MA in Imperial and Commonwealth History and is currently teaching History and Sociology in Karachi.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nandita.

    and can’t be removed without extensive plastic surgery which one is unlikely to find in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

    It’s 2012. Tattoo’s are removed by laser. Skin grafts and methods like dermabrasion etc were used previously but in the past decade or two tattoo removal is performed by using lasers.Recommend

  • I read it too…

    This is not just any tattoo. The one being worn here is a demonic skull one,not one of Aston Villa, Crsecent, or some inscriptions. And usually, muslims, especially a zealot, would refrain from wearing one…Recommend

  • Muzaffar

    sorry to break your bubble as well but the article is not at all convincingRecommend

  • Pessimist

    ”All the things she said,
    all the things she said,
    running through my head,
    running through my head,
    all the things she said”

    I thought you meant T.A.T.U and not tatoo :)

    On a more serious note, I find it funny & somewhat depressing that it took a tatoo (a nice one) to force the people of Pakistan to realise that these Tellybums are NOT muslims. I mean, what were they earlier? Semi-muslims?

    It’s common knowledge that many foreign militants attend training camps along the Af-Pak border. This man was simply one of them. Of course, the Pakistani conspiracy theory bandwagon believe he is Blackwater and Amreeki agent.

    I also predict a PTI bashing in this blog. Hmmm.. I will address that later.Recommend

  • http://India vasan

    All this nonsese about Tattoo being unislamic etc is just typical of Pakistanis who will clutch to the last straw in denying any terrorism crime associated with any pakistanis/muslims. That is precisely why their eyes are blinkered and unable to curtail terrorism within pakistan. Kasab’s identity of being a pakistani was denied vehemently at the beginning to quote another example. Recommend

  • haroon

    a more than capable cartoonist also resides in Northern Waziristan with all his latest technology I guess:pRecommend

  • http://707monty.blogspot.com Pakistan Politics

    They are highly trained mercenaries working under the umbrella of TTP funded, supported and dispatched by foreign intelligence agencies who want to destabilize and disintegrate PakistanRecommend

  • Tahir

    We know that they were foreign nationals, but who funds them? Who trains them? Why are foreign nationals targeting Pakistani civilians? I think these questions need to be answered rather than trying to prove terrorists wear tattoos.Recommend

  • Adeel Ahmad

    Well who needs enemies when ET has its own liberal libidos to shoot its credibility in the foot . The Tattoo in question is not some innocent rose or a name of your lover carved to show affection ……it’s the “Sabbatic Goat” a fairly accepted Satanic Symbol .if i may even dare say at the risk of sounding a stereotype it’s a Illuminati symbol to be specific …I am sure liberal libido sausage fingers can manage a bit of googling to verify this fact , A #FacePalm of Epic proportions is in order for trying to cover up for a satanic cult symbol .
    Consider your Liberal libido of a Bubble bursted and come to terms with the fact that being a House Liberal libido clouds your judgement foreign elements from at least two borders of Pakistan i.e. India and Afghanistan are infiltrating into Pakistan to destabilize , Google “Raw” “CIA” & “Mosad” .
    Here it might also be use full to Mention Afghans Mercenaries under the payroll of NATO have been found fighting for imperialist agendas of Zion as far as Mali (http://opinion.myjoyonline.com/pages/feature/201208/92771.php) & Syria ,In the Age of Information Your liberal libido just serves to humiliate your own credibility if you have any that is …..
    PS : Apply hot water on the burnt areas .Recommend

  • Ammar Javed

    Sorry to say but the article is pointless what you are trying to prove?Recommend

  • Ahmad Mirza


    Very Mature of you Vasan by bringing kasab into the matter !Recommend

  • Ahmad Mirza

    Utterly Ridiculous …. these are all the words i have for your piece .. i will go with muzaffar on this.Recommend

  • http://vimeo.com/55757839 Yiddish

    Nice rebuttal by “TTP are Taliban” enthusiasts.

    I would suggest read Hadees on tattoos instead of showing foreign fighters tattoos as evidence. Recommend

  • O2

    The significance of this tattoo is only limited in a sense that it may help in investigation of this dead terrorist’s identity, apart from this there is nothing special about it. These terrorists are not deemed to be Muslims by the majority of Pakistanis since they kill people indiscriminately & they have been targeting military assets which are not even used for operations in FATA but are used for other purposes eg the Orion air crafts which are used to protect our sea waters were destroyed by the same terrorist outfit, why?. Afghan Talibans & these Pakistani Talibans are two entirely different entity with different objectives, the former is fighting invaders & the latter is trying to dismantle Pakistan, I wonder who will benefit from all the mayhem in Pakistan? Not that hard to figure it out, its not a rocket science.Recommend

  • Philosiraptor

    So based on these pictures and deeds of others, tattoos are legal in the Shariah?Recommend

  • O2

    You need to deal with your own set of problems in your land, you can’t even take car of us Pakistanis in India! remember “Samjhota express” killings??? you have your own set of Hinduvata extremists! better not poke your nose in here, its none of your business, save your energy for your India.Recommend

  • Ahsan

    wow Tribune, rubbish journalism given a new definition, a published article that has sentences like ” This has been well-reported in the western media.” … keep it up … at least the poll does some justice to highlight the acute stupidity of this pieceRecommend

  • Ashar

    What a wonderful attempt to distract attention :) Pray do tell us how many Talibans have devil ingrained on their backs? As for tattoo removal, it is not as expensive as you are making it to be.

    It is one thing to have kalma written on one thing and a completely different to have the devil’s face.

    I am surprised that you can’t distinguish between the two. Besides the real issue as always is who is supporting TTP?Recommend

  • umar

    tribune zionist agents :@Recommend

  • MZR

    @Ahsan: You know you can click on the link to read the report, right? Cutting and pasting would had been said in other media would simply be plagiarism, hence the link.Recommend

  • Pessimist

    For Adeel Ahmed:

    I think you & Faiza Rehman should co-write an article and call it ‘Liberal Libidos & La La Malalas’, where you can repeadtly use one word (or term) many times in order to sound smart and well educated. The newest threat to Pakistan are now ‘liberals’. They join CIA, RAW, Mosad, iPad and Ronald McDonald as public enemy number one.

    Secondly, it seems you get your information on liberals from the ‘House of Zaid Hamid’. I sometimes wonder what the average Pakistani thinks a liberal is. I suppose to you lot a liberal is pure evil. Perhaps someone who drinks, goes to discos, and does other non-religious things. Yes, that is what liberals are. Evil little creatures out to destory Islam.

    Moving on, most SANE people know that the TTP has foreign funding on some level. Who is responsible for this funding is a seperate thing. I don’t care who funds them, I want them out. Once you reply, please leave my libido out of it. Recommend

  • Imran Ul Haq Usmani

    Last terrorist attack on Peshawar airport, just as we had previous attacks on Kamra and on mehran. Now here is another irrefutable proof.

    These are trained Blackwaters, devil worshipers, CIA assassins doing a demolition job inside Pakistan.This Blackwater handler of the TTP’s suicide squad was not supposed to die in the attack. He was directing the terrorists from a safe house near Peshawar airport. Last night, the TTP attacked the airport but were all killed. Because of the heavy policy and army presence, these terrorists handlers from CIA could not escape and were still holed up till this morning but their communication was intercepted by ISI and their location was targeted this morning in a special raid. All five were killed and amongst them was this group leader from the CIA/Blackwaters — the Devil worshipers. Recommend

  • http://Peshawar Khan Gul

    There are Tattoo parlours in Rawalpindi/Islamabad/Lahore/Karachi !! You should see the tattoo’s placed by musalman parhezgar pakistani boys mashallah.Recommend

  • Waqas Yousaf

    Amazing piece. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had tattoos all over his torso. Those tattoos would be among the distinguishing marks that American soldiers initially used to identify Zarqawi after he was killed. He had so many tattoos that friends called him “The Green Man.” Recommend

  • junaid

    just google boris-vallejo skull with horn and you will find the perfect match and boris vallejo is American artist who paint fantasy art work ..skull with head is satanic symbol … may be black water or black ops is working in Pakistan Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/896/ayesha-pervez/ Ayesha Pervez

    Interesting stuff …. but I really dislike tatoos!Recommend

  • Ahsan

    @MZR: Western Media is a party to the author’s argument and you don’t quote a party to the argument as means of a reliable verdict, especially, when that link is a mere point of view with zero credibility in itself. I hope you know that :)Recommend

  • Ali T.

    Yes there is nothing newsworthy about Tehreek-e-Tatoo Pakistan :)Recommend

  • silent

    i have a question for author … Are you trying to convince people that CIA Network and Raymond Davisez do not operate in Pakistan ?Recommend

  • ProjectPigeon

    Are the TTP really an example to be followed?
    Not against tattoos, but I think the argument is pretty weak.Recommend

  • itsme

    dude your bubble just got busted! Get a life and explode your before you get exploded for being in a bubble for too long .. sorry for you!Recommend

  • Philby

    The tattoo on this TTP terrorist is EXACTLY the same as the one on this SATANIC SYMBOL found on this Freemasonry website:


    I’m having a hard time being convinced by the auther that this is no big deal. Yes, it IS A BIG DEAL! A Satanic Freemason/Illuminati Tattoo on a Muslim Religious Extremist? You think nothing is wrong here?!

    And I don’t buy this argument that it could have been there before he joined the Taliban. Would they let him in? Recommend

  • ishaq

    by the way the tattoo is looking good,where i can get it.Recommend

  • Zainab

    So according to the Author:-

    Tattoo Terrorist was a satan worshipper in the West and got this tattoo at that time.
    He then converted to Islam but didn’t have the money to laser-remove the tattoo (which only costs a couple of hundred bucks).
    He then decides to become a Jihadist and travel to Pakistan’s tribal areas (suddenly he has money for the plane ticket but not for the tattoo removal, which is against his new Islamic beliefs).
    He walks into North Waziristan in the heart of TTP country and goes, “Hey fellas, how do you like my tattoo? Can I keep it it?”
    Hakimullah Mehsud goes: “Hey no problem dude, that tattoo is ok with us. Fit right in. Just don’t show it to the any of the tribals cause they’re messed up and might kill you if they see it.”
    TTP sends him on a mission to blow up Pakistani JF-17s in Peshawar.
    Before leaving, Tattoo Terrorist asks Hakimullah Mehsud, “What if I get caught or get killed and they see my tattoo. What will they think then?”


  • Malik

    The author teaches history to students in Karachi. With this kind of historical understanding and perspective, I feel sorry for this students.Recommend

  • Anoushay

    ok so smallpack of milk pak from ajmal kasab was big news but this isnt! lol damn u traitor!Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    “This is not enough! AH! AH!
    This is not enough!”

    I cannot help it man. Simply epic!

    Pakistanis are quite gullible I must say. This tattoo can be so many things. You see this is a full-blown war, and in war, depiction tactics are used. According to official sources, these men were Uzbeks. Uzbekistan was once a part of Soviet Union. You never know the guy would have gotten a rebellious tattoo in that era.

    Now I must end it with:
    “Love one another
    Live for each other
    So, are you friend or foe
    Cause I used to know”Recommend

  • Mazhar Ali

    These people (media personel) have to defend the point of view for which they get dollars. Writer must have seen some tattoo writers in waziristan or afghanistan. and coincidentlly the tatoo got the shape that was related to suspected groups. YOu know this “coincident” is the very funny concept in this war. every thing happens with coincidence. you can check coincidences every where. for example check the malala dramaRecommend

  • Zeux

    typical liberal rejections. its not just any tattoo. its satanic tattoo go search on google “satanic group” and compare the tattoo on back of terrorist and the ones on internet. you will be surprisedRecommend

  • Philosiraptor

    @Waqas Yousaf:
    He also published magazine in Switzerland.Recommend

  • Human

    Heys I just wait for your Comments they are amazing you made my day :)
    even the coffee dint wake me up your comments did
    Have a nice day

  • some one

    Whether getting a tatoo is legal or not even Muslims get them done.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    CIA Agent!! All is fine, No muslim can kill another muslim, now let us all go back to our Ostrich mentalityRecommend

  • Hardliner

    and whats in ur article?? what a waste of time……….. all that he has written in his article is based on only one concept .===> “This and that was well “publicized” in XYZ newspapers”……….. buddy, whatever gets publicized (or as u said “WELL PUBLICIZED”) is NOT NECESSARILY THE TRUTH!!!!!!!! Get ur facts right!!! i don’t know if its in ET bloggers’ blood or something that they tend to deviate from the truth every now and then……….Recommend

  • Sher Ghazi

    Such Tatoos shows that all attackers belongs from our enemies, Like America and Isreal. Recommend

  • ahmed

    This tattoo is good for convincing pro-taliban ppl that, after all these guys are not here to enforce shariah but to create more chaos. Recommend

  • Dani

    The point here is that whether the persons doing all that really are muslims or they just are abusing the Muslim name and getting their goals achieved!!

    And for those who are linking the attacks to TTP……..do you have any real and strong evidence that the one accepting the responsibility of attacks were from one of them……..have anyone ever traced them??? It’s like anyone make a phone call to any journalist and say that “he is from TTP and we are accepting the responsibility of attacks” who will bother verifying??Recommend

  • Mazhar Ali


    Superb gal. U have got the real and true story. why did not u get it publish instead of wat author has written. U r imagination is much more beleivable :)Recommend

  • sars


  • Mukarram Khan

    This is not taliban (Mujaheedeen) they are american black water spies. We love MujaheedenRecommend

  • abhi

    Lets have an alternate version.
    CIA, RAW and MOSAD wanted to attack JF-17 because they were scared of its capabilities. They planned an terroris attack on the airbase, they wanted to show that these are carried out by islamic millitant so they hired some central asian looking men to carry out the attack. Now after spending all the money on their training, they didnot have money left to lesser remove the tatoo so they said lets leave it that way, hopefully pakistani will never uncover there dead body and find out if they were non-muslim.Recommend

  • http://altitudepakistan.blogspot.com/ Raheel Adnan

    Couple of years ago there were some uncircumcised ‘mujahidin’ and now a ‘mujahid’ with satanic tattoo – and they are called Islamic Extremists. Plus author says, this “nonsense is a major distraction”.

    Iftikhar, having a satanic tattoos is not unIslamic? What Islam are you talking about?

    I won’t say Taliban are XYZ’s agents but they, for sure, don’t know the core of Islam.Recommend

  • irtaza

    well after going through the article it seems like ET is trying best at their level to deviate commoners from the truth. I’ve a very simple question to the author and his followers that thousands of talibans were killed and are being killed on daily basis, how many out of them were having tatoos ingrained on their backs? That attack was deliberately carried out on PAF assets. Their intentions were very much clear that they wanted to engage air-force. Recommend

  • Zubair

    A student in his query had asked that is tattoo valid in Islam?. He said that one of his friends who has a tattoo on his arm and it would cost him a huge sum if he goes for a surgery to remove it. In such a condition what should be done, he said in his query.

    The seminary, in its reply, said that prayers of those, who have tattoo on their bodies or have is not valid. Another Islamic seminary, the tattoo on body is against the tenets of Islam.

    Taliban are known as Islamic fundamentalists … how can they make tattoos on their bodies when “” its against the tenets of islam”” and when “” prayers of those, who have tattoo on their bodies or have is not valid “” …… Recommend

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    No matter how many facts the author may suggest on evidenced trends of tattoos in the East, even among Muslims, including criminal religious extremists and terrorists, those who want to be in denial and remain delusional for stupid unfounded and twisted conspiracies will always continue to do so.

    Its continuing the same stupidity displayed earlier by Pak authorities who found some uncircumcised militants and ludicrously proclaimed that as ‘proof’ of foreign Indian fighters rather than considering there were local citizens’ that aren’t circumcised out of ignorance or poverty. Such uncredible and backward thinking continues Pak’s suffering and image as a global laughingstock. Recommend

  • abhi

    You should not be surprised, becuase most of the thekedar of islam in contnent have been that way. Mahmood Gaznavi the great idol destroyer and ghazi (killer of kafirs) was gay. Now tell if homosexuality is allowed in islam.Recommend

  • shuja ul islam

    these days u can just not believe anything reported…tattoo is news worthy..but it will ot help in any matter..including terrorism..and people’s belief in satanic cults..!!Recommend

  • Tayyab

    Well, it just seems funny to me… Miami Ink opens its outlet in N.Waziristan..Recommend

  • Kashif Zia

    @Philby: dear, thanks for incomplete information. Fortunately, I spent few minutes to explore what the site says about the satanic symbols (instead of abruptly reaching to a “preferred” conclusion). What do you think the official (I do not know yet) site of Freemasons would be saying, “hey, we are satans and these are our symbols”. In fact, they say that we have no connection with these symbols and the people using these symbols. In fact these are thousands of satanic symbols created by Artists. A man can make a tattoo of whatever he likes, knowingly or unknowingly. Young people like freaky stuff. I have seen many boys having skulls on their bodies. Should we consider them non-Muslims? If one of these skull imagery was named as some satanic blabla by its creator (artist), should we always draw some meaning out of it?

    Tattoos are mostly for freaks. Freaks like demons, horror etc… Recommend

  • Kashif Zia

    thanks author for an excellent post. Recommend

  • logic lol

    its simple when media , law enforcement , govt officials say * foreign hand is involved* the typical paki mind set cannot think beyond the usual india , israel and us. These idiots cant comprehend that uzbek , chechen , afghan , saudi , irani , chinese are also foreigners .. years of wrong fed paranoia does this to people , majority is this nation has turned into psychiatric cases. Recommend

  • Evan Friend

    None of this is news. I was never in Afghanistan, but in Iraq, lots of old people had tribal tattoos on their arms and hands. It’s Jews who aren’t allowed to get tattoos, not Muslims. And Taliban is a plural word. The word for an individual member of the Taliban is Talib. Substituting “Taliban” for “Talib” makes the whole tone of this article sound incredibly ignorant.Recommend

  • http://Peshawar Khan Gul

    well this was a field day for the police. not only did they have victory over the terrorists, but they also had a bateesi as jackpot.

    I just saw a video in which this mard-e-mujahid’s teeth are shown … laced with gold. the video makers candidly discuss ways of taking his teeth out before handing the body to the police. but then the police arrive and load the bodies in a van. Recommend

  • Wajahat
  • Philosiraptor

    @some one:
    Which muslims get tattoo of Baphomet?Recommend

  • Ameer


    LOL.. well said! This sums up the argument quite well.Recommend

  • http://www.khorasaan.net Khorasaan


    This is the fighter from a US Military Contractor called BlackWater before but they changed the name to XE later on. The symbol on the back of that dead dude is a symbol for the Luciferians who basically WORSHIP JINN as in the SHAYTAN/SATAN if you go to their gatherings you will find that symbol in there gatherings.

    Secondly, Taliban in Afghanistan and in Pakistan the one that are fighting NOW I am not referring to the Taliban who came into existence in 1992, I am talking about Taliban of NOW who are fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan are CIA/MOSSAD/MI6 Payroll Agents who will do anything for money.

    Hence the Ahadith which states that the word KA FA RA will be written ont on the forehead of Masseh Ad Dajjal as in these people will do anything in order to disrupt the system.


  • Salman

    “It is essential that we strike and crush Pakistanis, enemies of Jews and Zionism, by all disguised and secret plans,” – David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of the Zionist entity.

    Pakistan is supposed to be West’s foremost ally to fight against Islamic militancy, so Israel cannot attack Pakistan directly, and, if Israel did, she certainly would be defeated. So what to do? Well, two stages come to mind; one use America to attack Pakistan for you; and two, train and send into the border regions of Pakistan gangs of thugs willing to commit atrocities that then will be blamed on ‘barbaric Muslim militants’ – suggesting that Pakistan has lost control of its territory to dangerous extremists and so may lose control of its nuclear weapons.” Recommend

  • Waqas

    Your whole point of view went down the drain by the fact you have referenced a propogated quote not a actual one. Enjoy your ignorance.Recommend