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Pakistani Militant's 'Demonic' Tattoo Proves...Nothing

A Taliban militant who was killed during a gun battle in Peshawar was found to have an elaborate tattoo on his back.
A Taliban militant who was killed during a gun battle in Peshawar was found to have an elaborate tattoo on his back.
Boris Vallejo's fantasy artwork has appeared in -- and on -- almost every medium possible. He has illustrated countless book covers and comic books, as well as ad campaigns for Old Spice, Carlsberg beer, and others. And, as a simple Google search shows, Vallejo's work has also inspired tattoo enthusiasts the world over.

In Pakistan, however, one apparent Vallejo fan was revealed who would likely make the artist cringe. A photo by Reuters shows a dead militant involved in a brazen attack on the Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar with an unfinished Vallejo tribute tattooed on his back.

"The Express Tribune" ran the story with the headline, "Attacker’s Demonic Tattoo Draws Fresh TTP Conclusions," which doesn't leave the reader with much room for interpretation.

Read for yourself:

Tattoo experts say the image on the militant’s body symbolizes evil. “Skulls, in my opinion, are demonic representations, but only in visualization. They represent strength, rebelliousness, and serious drawbacks,” said a Lahore-based tattoo artist.

“Mostly people who get such tattoos want to give out a message that they defy death, those who have seen death very closely, including criminals, gangsters and even rock stars,” he said on condition of anonymity.

About the tattoo on the militant’s body, he said, “It looks 10 to 12 years old. The outlines, curves and shading clearly tell that it has not been made by an expert.”

A Karachi-based tattoo artist concurred. “Mostly, criminals and gangsters get such tattoos made on their bodies,” said the artist who works at a tattoo parlor. He also spoke on condition of anonymity.

The article -- and a lot of comments on Twitter and Pakistani blogs -- paints a picture of tattooed people as miscreants and worse. The piece notes security forces' claims that the attackers were "foreign fighters" and that the tattoo shows how the fighters are actually un-Islamic.

But, as blogger Iftikhar Zaidi notes -- also at "The Express Tribune" -- tattoos are hardly uncommon among fighters in the region and, perhaps more importantly, tattoos are permanent and the inked-up militant's unfinished tribute could thus be a "mistake" of the distant past.

As for the specific piece, it may be a picture of a demon, but to label it as "demonic" may be a bit much. Vallejo's work in fantasy -- and the genre generally -- may depict demons and gods of all shapes and sizes, but as interviews with the artist reveal, he is hardly a raging satanist.

-- Zach Peterson

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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