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Suicide attack

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"Military suicide" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Suicide in the military.
USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), after Kamikaze attack by Kiyoshi Ogawa's on May 1945

A suicide attack is a violent attack in which the attacker intends to kill other people and destroy property and expects to (or is certain to) die in the process. Suicide attacks have occurred throughout history, often as part of a military campaign such as the Japanese Kamikaze pilots of World War II, and more recently as part of terrorist campaigns often targeting civilians, such as September 11 airliner hijackings of 2001.

While there were few if any successful suicide attacks anywhere in the world from the end of World War II until 1980,[1] between 1981 and June 2015, a total of 4,620 suicide attacks occurred in over 40 countries, killing over 45,000 people.[2] During this time the global rate of such attacks grew from an average of three a year in the 1980s to about one a month in the 1990s to almost one a week from 2001 to 2003.[3] Giving perpetrators the ability to conceal weapons, make last-minute adjustments, and dispensing with the need for remote or delayed detonation, escape plans or rescue teams, Suicide attacks tend to be more deadly and destructive than other terror attacks.[4] They constitute 4% of all terrorist attacks around the world over one period (between 1981 and 2006), but caused 32% (14,599 killed) of all terrorism-related deaths. Ninety per cent of those attacks occurred in Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Sri Lanka.[5] Its primary use is as a weapon of psychological warfare intended to affect a larger public audience.[6]

The motivation of suicide attackers varies. Kamikaze acted under military orders. Analyst Robert Pape states that 90% of attacks in Iraq prior to the Civil War (starting in 2003) were aimed at forcing out occupying forces.[7] Anthropologist Scott Atran states that since 2004 the overwhelming majority of bombers have been motivated by the ideology of Islamist martyrdom.[8]



Suicide attacks include both Suicide terrorism—terrorism often defined as any action "intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants" for the purpose of intimidation[9]—and suicide attacks not targeting non-combatants. An alternative definition is provided by Jason Burke, a journalist who has lived among Islamic militants, and suggests that most define terrorism as 'the use or threat of serious violence' to advance some kind of 'cause', stressing that terrorism is a tactic.[10] Academic Fred Halliday, has written that assigning the descriptor of 'terrorist' or 'terrorism' to the actions of a group is a tactic used by states to deny 'legitimacy' and 'rights to protest and rebel'.[11]

Suicide terrorism[edit]

The number of suicide attacks grew enormously after 2000.[12]

The definition of "suicide" is another issue. Suicide terrorism itself has been defined by one source (Ami Pedahzur) as "violent actions perpetrated by people who are aware that the odds they will return alive are close to zero."[13] Other sources[14][15] exclude "suicidal" or high risk attacks, such as "reckless charge in battle",[14] from their work, focusing only on true "suicide attacks", where the odds of survival are not "close to zero" but required to be zero, because "the perpetrator’s ensured death is a precondition for the success of his mission".[15]

Also excluded from the definition are "proxy bombings", which may have political goals and may be designed to look like suicide bombing, but where the "proxy" is forced to carry a bomb under threat (such as having his/her children killed) and may be unaware they (the proxy) will be killed;[14][16][17] and "suicidal rampage shootings" (such as the Columbine High School massacre, the Virginia Tech shooting or Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in the U.S.) which are usually thought of as being driven by personal/psychological, not political, social or religious motives.[18]

Which type of killing is which may not always be clear to investigators, with suicide attack campaigns sometimes also using proxy bombers (such as alleged in Iraq)[19] or manipulating the vulnerable to be bombers,[14][20] and at least one researcher (Adam Lankford) arguing that the motivation to kill and be killed connects some suicide attackers more closely to "suicidal rampage" murderers than is commonly thought.[18]


The usage of the term "suicide bombing" dates back to at least 1940 when a New York Times article mentions the term in relation to German tactics.[21] less than two years later that newspaper referred to a Japanese kamikaze attempt on an American carrier as a "suicide bombing".[22] In 1945 The Times of London, referred to a kamikaze plane as a "suicide-bomb",[23] and two years later an article there referred to a new British pilot-less, radio-controlled rocket missile as originally designed "as a counter-measure to the Japanese 'suicide-bomber'".[24] (The quotes are in the original and suggest that the phrase was an existing one.) [25]

Alternative terms[edit]

To assign either a more positive or negative connotation to the act, suicide bombing is sometimes referred to by different terms.

Main article: Istishhad

Islamists often call the act a Istishhad (often translated as "martyrdom operation"), and the suicide bomber a shahid (pl. shuhada, literally 'witness' and usually translated as 'martyr'). The term denotes one who died in order to testify his faith in God, for example those who die while waging jihad bis saif; it is applied to suicide bombers, by the Palestinian Authority among others, in part to overcome Islamic strictures against suicide. This term has been embraced by Hamas, Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Fatah and other Palestinian factions engaging in suicide bombings.[26]

homicide bombing

Some efforts have been made to replace the term "suicide bombing" with "homicide bombing", on the grounds that since the primary purpose of such a bombing is to kill other people, homicide is a more apt a adjective than "suicide". However, since any bombing intended to cause human deaths can be classified as a "homicide bombing," others have argued that homicide bombing fails to capture the distinctive feature of suicide bombings -- namely, the bombers' use of means which bringings about their own deaths.[26][27]

The first to use the term for a wide audience was White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer in April 2002.[28] However, the only major media outlets to use it were Fox News Channel and the New York Post (both owned by News Corporation).[29][30]

genocide bombing

"Genocide bombing" was coined in 2002 by a Jewish member of the Canadian parliament, Irwin Cotler, in an effort to focus attention on the alleged intention of genocide by militant Palestinians in their calls to "Wipe Israel off the map."[31][32]

sacrifice bombing

In the German-speaking area the term "sacrifice bombing" (Ger. Opferanschlag) was proposed in 2012 by German scholar Arata Takeda.[33] The term is intended to shift the focus away from the suicide of the perpetrators and towards their use as weapons by their commanders.


Until the second half of the twentieth century most suicide attacks occurred in a military context.


To counter the superior numbers of the Chola dynasty empire's army in the 11th century, suicide squads were raised by the Indian Chera rulers. This helped the Cheras to resist Chola invasion and maintain the independence of their kingdom from the time of Kulothunga Chola I. These warriors were known as the "chavers".[34] Later, these suicide squads rendered service as police, volunteer troop and fighting squads in the region. Now their primary duty was to assist local rulers in battles and skirmishes. The rulers of the state of Valluvanad are known to have deployed a number of suicide squads against the ruler of Calicut.[35]


In the late 17th century, Qing official Yu Yonghe recorded that injured Dutch soldiers fighting against Koxinga's forces for control of Taiwan in 1661 would use gunpowder to blow up both themselves and their opponents rather than be taken prisoner.[36] However, the Chinese observer may have confused such suicidal tactics with the standard Dutch military practice of undermining and blowing up positions recently overrun by the enemy which almost cost Koxinga his life during the Siege of Fort Zeelandia.[37]

Moro Juramentado[edit]

Main article: Juramentado

Moro Muslims who performed suicide attacks were called mag-sabil, and the suicide attacks were known as Parang-sabil. The Spanish called them juramentado. The idea of the juramentado was considered part of jihad in the Moros' Islamic religion. During an attack, a Juramentado would throw himself at his targets and kill them with bladed weapons such as barongs and kris until he himself was killed. The Moros performed juramentado suicide attacks against the Spanish in the Spanish–Moro conflict of the 16th to the 19th centuries, against the Americans in the Moro Rebellion (1899–1913), and against the Japanese in World War II.[38]

The Moro Juramentados aimed their attacks specifically against their enemies, and not against non-Muslims in general. They launched suicide attacks on the Japanese, Spanish, Americans and Filipinos, but did not attack the non-Muslim Chinese as the Chinese were not considered enemies of the Moro people.[39][40][41][42][43] The Japanese responded to these suicide attacks by massacring all known family members and relatives of the attacker(s).[44]


Some sources regard the assassination of Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1881 as the work of suicide bombers.[45] A would-be suicide-bomber killed Vyacheslav von Plehve, the Russian Minister of the Interior, in St Petersburg in 1904.[46]

Chinese suicide squads[edit]

Chinese suicide bomber putting on 24 hand grenade-explosive vest prior to attack on Japanese tanks at the Battle of Taierzhuang.

During the Xinhai Revolution (the Revolution of 1911) and the Warlord Era of the Republic of China (1912–1949), "Dare to Die Corps" (traditional Chinese: 敢死隊; simplified Chinese: 敢死队; pinyin: gǎnsǐduì) or "Suicide squads"[47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56] were frequently used by Chinese armies. China deployed these suicide units against the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

In the Xinhai Revolution, many Chinese revolutionaries became martyrs in battle. "Dare to Die" student corps were founded, for student revolutionaries wanting to fight against Qing dynasty rule. Dr. Sun Yatsen and Huang Xing promoted the Dare to Die corps. Huang said, "We must die, so let us die bravely."[57] Suicide squads were formed by Chinese students going into battle, knowing that they would be killed fighting against overwhelming odds.[58]

The 72 Martyrs of Huanghuagang died in the uprising that began the Wuchang Uprising, and were recognized as heroes and martyrs by the Kuomintang party and the Republic of China.[59] The martyrs in the Dare to Die Corps who died in battle wrote letters to family members before heading off to certain death. The Huanghuakang was built as a monument to the 72 martyrs.[60] The deaths of the revolutionaries helped the establishment of the Republic of China, overthrowing the Qing dynasty imperial system.[61] Other Dare to Die student corps in the Xinhai revolution were led by students who later became major military leaders in Republic of China, like Chiang Kaishek,[62] and Huang Shaoxiong with the Muslim Bai Chongxi against Qing dynasty forces.[63][64][65] "Dare to Die" troops were used by warlords.[66] The Kuomintang used one to put down an insurrection in Canton.[67] Many women joined them in addition to men to achieve martyrdom against China's opponents.[68][69]

Suicide bombing was also used against the Japanese. A "dare to die corps" was effectively used against Japanese units at the Battle of Taierzhuang.[70][71][72][73][74][75]

A Chinese soldier detonated a grenade vest and killed 20 Japanese soldiers at Sihang Warehouse. Chinese troops strapped explosives like grenade packs or dynamite to their bodies and threw themselves under Japanese tanks to blow them up.[76] This tactic was used during the Battle of Shanghai, to stop a Japanese tank column when an attacker exploded himself beneath the lead tank,[77] and at the Battle of Taierzhuang where Chinese troops with dynamite and grenades strapped to themselves rushed Japanese tanks and blew themselves up,[78][79][80][81] in one incident obliterating four Japanese tanks with grenade bundles.[82][83]

During the 1946-1950 Communist Revolution, coolies fighting the Communists formed "Dare to Die Corps" to fight for their organizations, with their lives.[84] During the Tianamen Square Incident of 1989, protesting students also formed "Dare to Die Corps", to risk their lives defending the protest leaders.[85]

Japanese Kamikaze[edit]

A Japanese Mitsubishi Zero's suicide attack on the USS Missouri (BB-63), April 11, 1945.
Kamikaze pilot about to miss crash diving into escort carrier USS White Plains (CVE-66).

The tactics of the Kamikaze, a ritual act of self-sacrifice by state military forces, occurred during combat in a large scale at the end of World War II. These suicide attacks, carried out by Japanese kamikaze bombers, were used as a military tactic aimed at causing material damage in the war. In the Pacific Allied ships were attacked by kamikaze pilots who caused significant damage by flying their explosive-laden aircraft into military targets.

In these attacks, airplanes were used as flying bombs. Later in the war, as Japan became more desperate, this act became formalized and ritualized, as planes were outfitted with explosives specific to the task of a suicide mission.[86] Kamikaze strikes were a weapon of asymmetric war used by the Empire of Japan against United States Navy and Royal Navy aircraft carriers, although the armoured flight deck of the Royal Navy carriers diminished Kamikaze effectiveness. The Japanese Navy also used piloted torpedoes called kaiten ("Heaven shaker") on suicide missions. Although sometimes called midget submarines, these were modified versions of the unmanned torpedoes of the time and are distinct from the torpedo-firing midget submarines used earlier in the war, which were designed to infiltrate shore defenses and return to a mother ship after firing their torpedoes. Although extremely hazardous, these midget submarine attacks were not technically suicide missions, as the earlier midget submarines had escape hatches. Kaitens, however, provided no means of escape.[87][88]


During the Battle for Berlin the Luftwaffe flew "Self-sacrifice missions" (Selbstopfereinsatz) against Soviet bridges over the River Oder. These 'total missions' were flown by pilots of the Leonidas Squadron. From April 17–20, 1945, using any available aircraft, the Luftwaffe claimed the squadron had destroyed 17 bridges, however military historian Antony Beevor when writing about the incident thinks that this was exaggerated and that only the railway bridge at Küstrin was definitely destroyed. He comments that "thirty-five pilots and aircraft was a high price to pay for such a limited and temporary success". The missions were called off when the Soviet ground forces reached the vicinity of the squadron's airbase at Jüterbog.[89]

Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff intended to assassinate Adolf Hitler by suicide bomb in 1943, but was unable to complete the attack.[90]

Korean War[edit]

North Korean tanks were attacked by South Koreans with suicide tactics during the North Korean conquest of the South.[91][92]

American tanks at Seoul were attacked by North Korean suicide squads,[93] who used satchel charges.[94] North Korean soldier Li Su-Bok is considered a hero for destroying an American tank with a suicide bomb.[95]

Suez Crisis

An Arab Christian military officer from Syria, Jules Jammal, allegedly used made a suicide attack to bring down a French ship during the Suez Crisis in 1956.[96][97][dubious ]


The concept of self-sacrifice has long been a part of war. Commentator Noah Feldman has noted that although the idea of suicide bombing "as a tool of stateless terrorists was dreamed up a hundred years ago by the European anarchists" immortalized in Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent, "it was not until 1983 when Shiite militants blew up the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, that it became "tool of modern terrorist warfare."[98] Modern suicide bombing has been defined as "involving explosives deliberately carried to the target either on the person or in a civilian vehicle and delivered by surprise".[99] The intended targets are often civilian, not just military or political.

The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of August 7, 1998, Al-Qaeda suicide bombing

The number of attacks using suicide tactics has grown from an average of fewer than five per year during the 1980s to 81 suicide attacks in 2001 to 460 in 2005.[100]

Suicide bombing was first used by factions of the Lebanese Civil War and especially by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) of Sri Lanka. The Islamic Dawa Party's car bombing of the Iraqi embassy in Beirut in December 1981 and Hezbollah's bombing of the U.S. embassy in April 1983 and attack on United States Marine and French barracks in October 1983 brought suicide bombings international attention. Other parties to the civil war were quick to adopt the tactic, and by 1999 factions such as Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Ba'ath Party, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party had carried out around 50 suicide bombings between them. (The latter of these groups sent the first recorded female suicide bomber in 1985.[citation needed]

The tactic had spread to dozens of countries by 2005. The most deadly one-day suicide attack was the 2001 September 11 attacks airline hijacking in the U.S.

Israel and the Palestinian Territories since 1994, and Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. In Somalia since 2006, al-Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts, have carried out major suicide attacks in Somalia,[101] the worse year so far being 2014 with 16 attacks and over 120 killed. In Israel since July 6, 1989,[102] in Iraq since the US-led invasion of that country in 2003, in Pakistan since 2001 and in Afghanistan since 2005 and in Somalia since 2006.[101][103]

Lebanon saw the first bombing, but it was the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in Sri Lanka who perfected the tactic and inspired its use elsewhere.[104] Their Black Tiger unit committed 82 suicide attacks from 1987 to 2009, killing 961 people,[105] including Indian Prime Minister at the time Rajiv Gandhi,[106][107][108] and the president of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa.[109][110][111][112]

Another non-religious group involved in suicide attacks was the Kurdistan Workers' Party which began their insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984. According to the CPOST (Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism) Suicide Attack Database, as of 2015, ten suicide attacks by the PKK in 1996, 1999, 2007, and 2012 killed 32 people and injured 116.[113] At least according to Turkish government statistics PKK have killed or wounded hundreds of government workers and destroyed or damaged hundreds of school, post offices and mosques.[114]

Suicide attacks by organization,
1982 to mid-2015.
Group attacks people
Islamic State 424 4949
Al-Qaeda (Central) 20 3391
Taliban (Afghanistan) 665 2925
Al-Qaeda in Iraq 121 1541
Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam
82 961
Al-Shabab 64 726
HAMAS 78 511
Al-Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula
23 354
Ansar al-Sunna
28 319
Islamic Jihad
50 225
Al-Aqsa Martyrs'
40 107
Taliban (Pakistan) 7 92
Ansar Bait
10 84
PKK (Kurdistan) 10 32
Hezbollah 7 28
Unidentified attackers 2547 22877
Suicide attacks by location,
1982 to mid-2015.
Country attacks people killed
Iraq 1938 20084
Pakistan 490 6287
Afghanistan 1059 4748
United States 4 2974
Syria 172 2058
Sri Lanka 115 1584
Nigeria 103 1347
Yemen 87 1128
Lebanon 66 1007
Somalia 91 829
Russia 86 782
Israel 113 721
Algeria 24 281
Indonesia 10 252
Egypt 21 246
Kenya 2 213
Iran 8 160
Libya 29 155
India 15 123
Turkey 29 115
Palestinian Territory 59 67
All other countries 99 674
Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem after suicide bombing by Hamas which killed 15 Israeli civilians and wounded 130.

Suicide bombing became a popular tactic among Palestinian militant organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. The first suicide bombing in Israel was in 1994. Attacks peaked from 2001-2003 with over 40 bombings and over 200 killed in 2002.[115] Bombers affiliated with these groups often use so-called "suicide belts", explosive devices (often including shrapnel) designed to be strapped to the body under clothing. In order to maximize the loss of life, the bombers seek out cafés or city buses crowded with people at rush hour, or less commonly a military target (for example, soldiers waiting for transport at roadside). By seeking enclosed locations, a successful bomber usually kills a large number of people. In Israel, Palestinian suicide bombers have targeted civilian buses, restaurants, shopping malls, hotels and marketplaces.[116]

Support and volunteers for attacks have been generated by a number of music videos and announcements that promote eternal reward for children who seek "shahada" on Palestinian television according to Palestinian Media Watch.[117][118] Israeli sources alleged that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah operate "Paradise Camps", training children as young as 11 to become suicide bombers.[119][120]

The September 11 attacks orchestrated by Al-Qaeda, involved the hijacking of four large passenger jets in which three were deliberately flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, New York, and into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. Inside a fourth jet, passengers battled the hijackers and the plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 246 victims aboard the planes were killed (there were no survivors), as well as 2,731 more in and around the targeted buildings. The passenger jets selected were required to be fully fueled to fly cross-country, turning the planes themselves into the largest suicide bombs in history. The September 11 attacks had considerable economic and political impact and triggered massive increases in military and security expenditure in response.[citation needed]

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi and foreign insurgents carried out waves of suicide bombings. They attacked United States military targets, although many civilian targets (e.g., Shiite mosques, international offices of the UN and the Red Cross) were also attacked. Iraqi men waiting to apply for jobs with the new army and police force) were targets. In the lead up to the Iraqi parliamentary election, on January 30, 2005, suicide attacks upon civilian and security personnel involved with the elections increased, and there were reports of the insurgents co-opting disabled people as involuntary suicide bombers.[121]

In what became known as the "7/7" bombings, on 7 July 2005, during the morning rush hour, four Islamist suicide bombers exploded home-made peroxide explosives on three London underground trains and a bus killing 52 civilians and injuring 700.

In the first eight months of 2008, Pakistan overtook Iraq and Afghanistan in suicide bombings, with 28 bombings killing 471 people.[122]

First the targets were American soldiers, then mostly Israelis, including women and children. From Lebanon and Israel, the technique of suicide bombing moved to Iraq, where the targets have included mosques and shrines, and the intended victims have mostly been Shiite Iraqis. The newest testing ground is Afghanistan, where both the perpetrators and the targets are orthodox Sunni Muslims. Not long ago, a bombing in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, killed Muslims, including women, who were applying to go on pilgrimage to Mecca. Overall, the trend is definitively in the direction of Muslim-on-Muslim violence. By a conservative accounting, more than three times as many Iraqis have been killed by suicide bombings in the last 3 years as have Israelis in the last 10. Suicide bombing has become the archetype of Muslim violence – not just to Westerners but also to Muslims themselves.[98]

An Iranian soldier, Mohammad Hossein Fahmideh, threw himself under an Iraqi tank with a grenade in his hand during the Iran-Iraq war.[123]

Al-Qaeda carried out its first suicide attack in the mid-1990s.[124]

In Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, suicide bombings have generally been carried out by Islamist and occasionally by secular Palestinian groups including the PFLP.[125] In 1993, Hamas carried out the first suicide attack.[124] Between October 2000 and October 2006, there were 167 clearly identified suicide bomber attacks, with 51 other types of suicide attack.[126] It has been suggested that there were so many volunteers for the "Istishhadia" in the Second Intifada in Israel and the occupied territories, that recruiters and dispatchers had a 'larger pool of candidates' than ever before.[126]

In the decade following the 9/11 attacks, there were 336 suicide attacks in Afghanistan and 303 in Pakistan, while there were 1,003 documented suicide attacks in Iraq between 20 March 2003 and 31 December 2010. Suicide bombings have become a tactic in Chechnya, first being used in the conflict in 2000 in Alkhan Kala.[127] A number of suicide attacks have also occurred in Russia as a result of the Chechen conflict, notably including the Moscow theater hostage crisis in 2002 to the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004.[128]

There have also been suicide attacks in Western Europe and the United States. The September 11 attacks killed 2,977 people — 2,507 civilians, 72 law enforcement officers, 343 firefighters, and 55 military personnel — in Manhattan, New York, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania in 2001.[129] An attack in London on July 7, 2005 killed 52 people.[130]

Weapons and methods[edit]

See also: Suicide weapon

Means of suicide attack in the 20th and 21 centuries include:

Tactical advantages[edit]

A major reason for the popularity of suicide attacks despite the sacrifice involved for its perpetrators is its tactical advantages over other types of terrorism. The ability to conceal weapons, make last-minute adjustments, increased ability to infiltrate heavily guarded targets, lack of need for remote or delayed detonation, escape plans or rescue teams. Robert Pape observes: "Suicide attacks are an especially convincing way to signal the likelihood of more pain to come, because if you are willing to kill yourself you are also willing to endure brutal retaliation. "... The element of suicide itself helps increase the credibility of future attacks because it suggests that attackers cannot be deterred."[132]

Attacker profiles and motivations[edit]

Studies have shown conflicting results about what defines a suicide attacker. According to Riaz Hassan, "apart from one demographic attribute – that the majority of suicide bombers tend to be young males – the evidence has failed to find a stable set of demographic, psychological, socioeconomic and religious variables that can be causally linked to suicide bombers’ personality or socioeconomic origins."[5] Scott Atran agrees: "In targeting potential recruits for suicide terrorism, it must be understood that terrorist attacks will not be prevented by trying to profile terrorists. They are not sufficiently different from everyone else. Insights into homegrown jihadi attacks will have to come from understanding group dynamics, not individual psychology. Small-group dynamics can trump individual personality to produce horrific behavior in otherwise ordinary people."[3]

Criminal Justice professor Adam Lankford recently identified more than 130 individual suicide terrorists, including 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta, with classic suicidal risk factors, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, other mental health problems, drug addictions, serious physical injuries or disabilities, or having suffered the unexpected death of a loved one or from other personal crises.[133] These findings have been further supported by psychologist Ariel Merari, whose interviews and assessments of suicide bombers, regular terrorists, and terrorist recruiters found that only members of the first group showed major risk factors for conventional suicide.[134]

Robert Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, found the majority of suicide bombers came from the educated middle classes. A study of the remains of 110 suicide bombers for the first part of 2007 by Afghan pathologist Dr. Yusef Yadgari, found 80% were missing limbs before the blasts, other suffered from cancer, leprosy, or some other ailments. Also in contrast to earlier findings of suicide bombers, the Afghan bombers were "not celebrated like their counterparts in other Arab nations. Afghan bombers are not featured on posters or in videos as martyrs."[135]

Anthropologist Scott Atran's research has found an extremely sharp increase in suicide attacks. Atran says that the attacks are not organized from the top down, but occurs from the bottom up. That is, it is usually a matter of following one's friends, and ending up in environments that foster groupthink. Atran is also critical of the claim that terrorists simply crave destruction; they are often motivated by beliefs they hold sacred, as well as their own moral reasoning.[136]

A recently published paper by Harvard University Professor of Public Policy Alberto Abadie "cast[s] doubt on the widely held belief that terrorism stems from poverty, finding instead that terrorist violence is related to a nation's level of political freedom."[137] More specifically this is due to the transition of countries towards democratic freedoms. "Intermediate levels of political freedom are often experienced during times of political transitions, when governments are weak, political instability is elevated, so conditions are favorable for the appearance of terrorism".[137][138]

A study by German scholar Arata Takeda analyzes analogous behavior represented in literary texts from the antiquity through the 20th century (Sophocles' s Ajax, Milton's Samson Agonistes, Friedrich Schiller's The Robbers, Albert Camus's The Just Assassins) and comes to the conclusion "that suicide bombings are not the expressions of specific cultural peculiarities or exclusively religious fanaticisms. Instead, they represent a strategic option of the desperately weak who strategically disguise themselves under the mask of apparent strength, terror, and invincibility."[139][140]

Many suicide bombers have college or university experience, and come from middle class homes. Humam Balawi, who perpetrated the Camp Chapman attack in Afghanistan in 2010, was a medical doctor.[141] They are most often young adult men.[3]

Nationalist resistance and religion[edit]

Afghanistan suicide bomb attacks, including non-detonated, 2002–2008

To what extent attackers are motivated by religious enthusiasm, by resistance to perceived outsider oppression or some combination of the two is disputed.

According to Robert Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, 95% of suicide attacks in recent times have the same specific strategic goal: to cause an occupying state to withdraw forces from a disputed territory.[142]

Pape suggests that resentment of foreign occupation and nationalism is the principal motivation for suicide attacks:

Beneath the religious rhetoric with which [such terror] is perpetrated, it occurs largely in the service of secular aims. Suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism ... Though it speaks of Americans as infidels, al-Qaida is less concerned with converting us to Islam than removing us from Arab and Muslim lands.[143]

Robert Pape's studies have found that suicide attacks are most often provoked by political occupation. Pape found the targeted countries were ones where the government was democratic and public opinion played a role in determining policy. Other characteristics Pape found included a difference in religion between the attackers and occupiers, and that there was grassroots support for the attacks.[144] Attackers were disproportionately from the educated middle classes.[145] Characteristics which Pape thought to be correlated to suicide bombing and bombers included: brutality and cruelty of the occupiers,[146] and competition among militant groups.[147]

Other researchers have identified sociopolitical factors as more central in the motivation of suicide attackers than religion.[148][149]

Other researchers contend that Pape's analysis is fundamentally flawed, particularly his contention that democracies are the main targets of such attacks.[150] Atran found that non-Islamic groups have carried out very few bombings since 2003, while bombing by Muslim or Islamist groups associated with a "global ideology" of "martyrdom" has skyrocketed. In one year, in one Muslim country alone – 2004 in Iraq – there were 400 suicide attacks and 2,000 casualties.[8] Still others[who?] argue that perceived religious rewards in the hereafter are instrumental in encouraging Muslims to commit suicide attacks.[151][152]

Pape also reported that a fine-grained analysis of the time and location of attacks strongly support his conclusion that "foreign military occupation accounts for 98.5% -- and the deployment of American combat forces for 92% -- of all the 1,833 suicide terrorist attacks around the world" between 2004 and 2009.[153] Moreover, "the success attributed to the surge in 2007 and 2008 was actually less the result of an increase in coalition forces and more to a change of strategy in Baghdad and the empowerment of the Sunnis in Anbar." (emphasis in the original)[154] The same logic can be seen in Afghanistan. In 2004 and early 2005, NATO occupied the north and west, controlled by the Northern Alliance, whom NATO had previously helped fight the Taliban. An enormous spike in suicide terrorism only occurred later in 2005 as NATO moved into the south and east, which had previously been controlled by the Taliban and locals were more likely to see NATO as a foreign occupation threatening local culture and customs.[155]

In his book, Dead for Good, Hugh Barlow describes recent suicide attack campaigns as a new development in the long history of martyrdom that he dubs predatory martyrdom. Some individuals who now act alone are inspired by emails, radical books, and new social media.[156]

According to Atran[157] and former CIA case officer Marc Sageman,[158] support for suicide actions is triggered by moral outrage at perceived attacks against Islam and sacred values, but this is converted to action as a result of small-world factors. Millions express sympathy with global jihad (according to a 2006 Gallup study involving more than 50,000 interviews in dozens of countries, 7 percent or at least 90 million of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims consider the 9/11 attacks "completely justified").[159]


Main article: Istishhad

What connection the high percentage of suicide attacks executed by Islamist groups since 1980 has to do with the religion of Islam is disputed. Specifically, scholars, researchers, and others, dispute whether Islam forbids suicide in the process of attacking enemies or the killing of civilians.

According to a report compiled by the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, 224 of 300 suicide terror attacks from 1980 to 2003 involved Islamist groups or took place in Muslim-majority lands.[160] Another tabulation found a 4.5 fold increase in suicide bombings in the two years following Papes study and that the majority of these bombers were motivated by the ideology of Islamist martyrdom.[8] According to another estimate, as of early 2008, 1,121 Muslim suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Iraq.[161]

Islamic suicide bombing is a fairly recent event. It did not exist before 1983, and for more than a decade after that were limited to Hezbaollah and certain other Lebanese shi'a factions.[162]

Recent research on the rationale of suicide bombing has identified both religious and sociopolitical motivations.[163][164][165][166] Those who cite religious factors as an important influence note that religion provides the framework because the bombers believe they are acting in the name of Islam and will be rewarded as martyrs. Since martyrdom is seen as a step towards paradise, those who commit suicide while discarding their community from a common enemy believe that they will reach an ultimate salvation after they die.[163] Leor Halevi, a professor at Vanderbilt University and author of Muhammad's Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society, suggests that some suicide bombers are perhaps motivated by an escape from the potential punishment of the tomb that comes with martyrdom.[167]

An estimated 7–14% of Muslims worldwide (depending on the poll taken) supported the Al Qaeda strike against the United States.[168]

Islamist militant organisations (including al-Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad) argue that suicide operations are justified according to Islamic law, despite what some Muslims claim is Islam's strict prohibition of suicide and murder.[169][170] The international community considers the use of indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations[124] and the use of human shields[171][172] as illegal under international law.[173]

Militant Muslim groups that carry out suicide attacks say that they believe their actions fulfill the obligation of jihad against the "oppressor" and that they will be rewarded with paradise; they have found support with some Muslim clerics. Justifications have been given by conservative Iranian Shi'ah cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, "When protecting Islam and the Muslim community depends on martyrdom operations, it not only is allowed, but even is an obligation as many of the Shi'ah great scholars and Maraje', including Ayatullah Safi Golpayegani and Ayatullah Fazel Lankarani, have clearly announced in their fatwas."[174] clerics have supported suicide attacks largely in connection with the Palestinian issue. Prominent Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has supported such attacks by Palestinians in perceived defense of their homeland as heroic and an act of resistance.[175] Shiite Lebanese cleric Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, the spiritual authority recognized by Hezbollah, holds similar views.[98]

The Quranic verse used by Zarein Ahmedzay in support of his actions is Surah 9 At-Tawba verse 111:[176]

Verily, Allah has purchased of the believers their lives and their wealth for the price of Paradise, to fight in the way of Allah, to kill and get killed. It is a promise binding on the truth in the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur'an.

Taliban apologists disagree with the notion that suicide attacks are tantamount to simple suicide. The June 2013 issue of the Taliban magazine Azan extolled the virtues of suicide attacks, claiming that "suicide bombing" is a "false term" for jihad martyrdom attacks and cannot be called "suicide according to Islam because… Islam extols the martyrdom operation. So martyrdom operation ? Suicide bombing".[177]

The Taliban article cites Quran verse 2:207 in support of suicide bombing: "And amongst mankind is he who sells himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah. And Allah is full of sympathy to (His) slaves", and quotes Ibn Kathir: "The majority of the scholars of Tafsir [interpretations of the Koran] hold that this verse was sent down regarding every mujahid in the path of Allah… and when Hisham ibn 'Amir plunged into the enemy ranks, some of the people objected to this. So, Umar bin Khattab and Abu Huraira recited this verse." (Tafsir ibn Kathir 1/216).

The articles notes that Abu Huraira and Umar ibn Khattab, the third caliph of Islam, approved acts in which the Muslims knew in advance of their certain deaths, and that authors Maulana Muawiya Hussaini and Ikrimah Anwar cited numerous sayings of Muhammad on the authority of Islamic jurist Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj in which Muhammad approved of such acts. "The Sahaba [companions of Prophet Muhammad] who carried out the attacks almost certainly knew that they were going to be killed during their operations but they still carried them out and such acts were extolled and praised in the sharia."[citation needed]

The difference between engaging in an act where the perpetrator plans to fight to the death but where the attack does not require their death, is important to at least one Islamist terror group -- Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). While the group extolls "martyrdom" and has killed many civilians, LeT believes suicide attacks where the attackers dies by their own hand (such as by pressing a detonation button), are haram (forbidden). Its "trademark" is that of perpetrators fighting "to the death" but escaping "if practical". "This distinction has been the subject of extensive discourse among radical Islamist leaders."[178]

Critics of radical Islamism have quoted radical scholars promising various heavenly rewards to Muslims who die as martyrs, (specifically as suicide attackers), such as 70 virgins (houri) as wives.[179][180][181][182] One Israeli source (Y. Feldner of MEMRI) complained that

the death announcements of martyrs in the Palestinian press often take the form of wedding, not funeral, announcements. `Blessings will be accepted immediately after the burial and until 10 p.m. …at the home of the martyr's uncle,` read one suicide bomber's death notice.[183] `With great pride, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad marries the member of its military wing… the martyr and hero Yasser Al-Adhami, to "the black-eyed,"` read another.[184][181]

However, a number of Western and Muslim scholars of Islam have posited that suicide attacks are a clear violation of classical Islamic law and characterized such attacks against civilians as murderous and sinful.[185][186]

Middle East historian Bernard Lewis wrote that "The emergence of the now widespread terrorism practice of suicide bombing is a development of the 20th century. It has no antecedents in Islamic history, and no justification in terms of Islamic theology, law, or tradition."[186] Respected Muslim scholars have also condemned suicide bombings as terrorism that is prohibited in Islam with the perpetrators being destined to hell.[185] In condemning suicide attacks, Muslim scholar Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri directly targeted the rationale of Islamists by stating, "Violence is violence. It has no place in Islamic teaching, and no justification can be provided to it...good intention cannot justify a wrong and forbidden act".[185] Other have noted the Quranic verses in opposition to suicide, taking of life other than by way of justice (i.e. the death penalty for murder), or collective punishment.[187]

All acts of war in Islam are governed by Islamic legal rules of armed warfare or military jihad. These rules are covered in detail in the classical texts of Islamic jurisprudence.[98] Under orthodox Islamic law, jihad is a collective religious obligation on the Muslim community, when the community is endangered or Muslims are subjected to oppression and subjugation. The rules governing such conflicts include not killing women, children or non-combatants, and leaving cultivated or residential areas undamaged.[98][188][189] For more than a millennium, these tenets were accepted by Sunnis and Shiites; however, since the 1980s militant Islamists have challenged the traditional Islamic rules of warfare to justify suicide attacks.[98][188]

In January 2006, one of Shia Islam's highest ranking Marja clerics, Ayatollah al-Udhma Yousof al-Sanei decreed a fatwa against suicide bombing, declaring it a "terrorist act".[citation needed] In 2005 Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti also issued a fatwa "Against The Targeting Of Civilians".[190]

Other Sunni Muslims have condemned suicide attacks and provided scholastic refutations of suicide bombings. Ihsanic Intelligence, a London-based Islamic think-tank, published their two-year study into suicide bombings in the name of Islam, The Hijacked Caravan,[191] which concluded that,

The technique of suicide bombing is anathema, antithetical and abhorrent to Sunni Islam. It is considered legally forbidden, constituting a reprehensible innovation in the Islamic tradition, morally an enormity of sin combining suicide and murder and theologically an act which has consequences of eternal damnation.[192]

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al Shaykh, issued a fatwa on September 12, 2013 that suicide bombings are "great crimes" and bombers are "criminals who rush themselves to hell by their actions". Al Shaykh described suicide bombers as "robbed of their minds... who have been used (as tools) to destroy themselves and societies."[193]

"In view of the fast-moving dangerous developments in the Islamic world, it is very distressing to see the tendencies of permitting or underestimating the shedding of blood of Muslims and those under protection in their countries. The sectarian or ignorant utterances made by some of these people would benefit none other than the greedy, vindictive and envious people. Hence, we would like to draw attention to the seriousness of the attacks on Muslims or those who live under their protection or under a pact with them", Al Shaykh said, quoting a number of verses from the Qur'an and Hadith.[194]

American based Islamic jurist and scholar Khaled Abou Al-Fadl argues,

The classical jurists, nearly without exception, argued that those who attack by stealth, while targeting noncombatants in order to terrorize the resident and wayfarer, are corrupters of the earth. "Resident and wayfarer" was a legal expression that meant that whether the attackers terrorize people in their urban centers or terrorize travelers, the result was the same: all such attacks constitute a corruption of the earth. The legal term given to people who act this way was muharibun (those who wage war against society), and the crime is called the crime of hiraba (waging war against society). The crime of hiraba was so serious and repugnant that, according to Islamic law, those guilty of this crime were considered enemies of humankind and were not to be given quarter or sanctuary anywhere .... Those who are familiar with the classical tradition will find the parallels between what were described as crimes of hiraba and what is often called terrorism today nothing short of remarkable. The classical jurists considered crimes such as assassinations, setting fires, or poisoning water wells – that could indiscriminately kill the innocent – as offenses of hiraba. Furthermore, hijacking methods of transportation or crucifying people in order to spread fear are also crimes of hiraba. Importantly, Islamic law strictly prohibited the taking of hostages, the mutilation of corpses, and torture.[195]

According to Charles Kimball, chair of the Department of Religion at Wake Forest University, "There is only one verse in the Qur'an that contains a phrase related to suicide", Surah 4 verse 29 of the Quran. It reads:

O you who have believed, do not consume one another's wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.[citation needed]

Some commentators posit that "do not kill yourselves" is better translated "do not kill each other", and some translations (e.g., by M.H. Shakir) reflect that view. Mainstream Islamic groups such as the European Council for Fatwa and Research also cite the Quranic verse Al-Anam 6:151 as prohibiting suicide: "And take not life, which Allah has made sacred, except by way of justice and law".[196] The Hadith, including Bukhari 2:445, states: "The Prophet said, '...whoever commits suicide with a piece of iron will be punished with the same piece of iron in the Hell Fire', [and] 'A man was inflicted with wounds and he committed suicide, and so Allah said: 'My slave has caused death on himself hurriedly, so I forbid Paradise for him.'"[197][198]

Recent polling by the Pew Research Center has shown decreases in Muslim support for suicide attacks. In 2011 surveys, less than 15% of Pakistanis, Jordanians, Turks, and Indonesians thought that suicide bombings were sometimes/oftentimes justified. Approximately 28% of Egyptians and 35% of Lebanese felt that suicide bombings were sometimes/oftentimes justified. However, 68% of Palestinians reported that suicide attacks were sometimes/oftentimes justified.[199]


Simulated female suicide bomber, GlobalMedic 2011

Suicide operatives are overwhelmingly male in most groups, but among Chechen rebels[200] and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) women form a majority of the attackers.[201]

According to a report issued by intelligence analysts in the U.S. army in 2011, "Although women make up roughly 15% of the suicide bombers within groups which utilize females, they were responsible for 65% of assassinations; 20% of women who committed a suicide attack did so with the purpose of assassinating a specific individual, compared with 4% of male attackers." The report further stated that female suicide bombers often were "grieving the loss of family members [and] seeking revenge against those they feel are responsible for the loss, unable to produce children, [and/or] dishonored through sexual indiscretion."[202][203] Male suicide bombers are presented as being motivated more by political factors than female suicide bombers are.[204]

Female bombers have a tendency to be in their late twenties and significantly older than their male terrorists. [205]

In terrorist organizations war and counter terrorism are enthusiastically promoted towards women as a means of women’s liberation. These women have been proven as a more lethal and effective weapon of destruction as they are able to use their feminine features to camouflage the explosives. They use the ability to produce to hide the bombs disguised as their pregnant belly which also make them look more vulnerable as a woman in this state. Women participating in these events do not bring on any suspicion in crowded areas as they are appearing a harmless mother to be and perhaps fragile and weak. These walking bombs avoid invasive searches, that are seen as taboo as it threatens the woman’s honor, in these areas and often not realized until it is too late to avoid the explosion. These women have proven to be more deadly with higher success rates with more casualties and deaths than their male counterparts. These bombers are often seen as stumbling or calling out in distress to get more people to crowd around her to provide assistance when the explosives are set off. It is interesting to point out that although these women are permitted to participate they are not permitted to hold the detonator, this is still held by the men in charge.[205]

The media portrayal of female and male bombers has been significantly different until only recently when women became more commonly reported filling role of suicide bomber. These reports were newsworthy because it was see as “unladylike” and their actions are outside of the traditional female roles.[206] Female suicide bombers have been observed in many predominantly nationalist conflicts by a variety of organizations against both military and civilian targets:

  • In Lebanon on April 9, 1985, Sana'a Mehaidli, a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), detonated an explosive-laden vehicle, which killed two Israeli soldiers and injured two more. During the Lebanese Civil War, female SSNP members bombed Israeli troops and the Israeli proxy militia the South Lebanon Army.[citation needed]
  • On May 21, 1991, former Indian Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Between 30 and 40% of the organization's suicide bombings were carried out by women.[citation needed]
  • The Chechen shahidkas have attacked Russian troops in Chechnya and Russian civilians elsewhere; for example, in the Moscow theater hostage crisis.[citation needed]
  • Women of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have carried out suicide bombings primarily against Turkish Armed Forces, in some cases strapping explosives to their abdomen in order to simulate pregnancy.[207]:66
  • Wafa Idris, under Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, became the first Palestinian female suicide bomber on January 28, 2002 when she blew herself up on Jaffa Road in Central Jerusalem.[208]:221
  • On February 27, 2002, Darine Abu Aisha carried out a suicide bombing at the Maccabim checkpoint of the Israeli army near Jerusalem. On the same day, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the religious leader of the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas, issued a fatwa, or religious rule, that gave women permission to participate in suicide attacks, and stated that they would be rewarded in the afterlife.[209]:315
  • Ayat al-Akhras, the third and youngest Palestinian female suicide bomber (at age 18), killed herself and two Israeli civilians on March 29, 2002 by detonating explosives belted to her body in a supermarket. She had been trained by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group linked to the armed branch of Fatah (Yasser Arafat's party), more secular than Hamas. The killings gained widespread international attention due to Ayat's age and gender and the fact that one of the victims was also a teenage girl.
  • Hamas deployed its first female suicide bomber, Reem Riyashi, on January 14, 2004. Al-Riyashi attacked Erez checkpoint, killing 7 people.[208]:171
  • Two female attackers attacked U.S. troops in Iraq on August 5, 2003. Whereas female suicide bombers are not typically introduced in initial stages of a conflict, this attack demonstrates the early and significant involvement of Iraqi women in the Iraq War.[208]:284
  • On 29 March 2010, two female Chechen terrorists bombed two Moscow subway stations killing at least 38 people and injuring more than 60 people.
  • The Taliban has used at least one female suicide bomber in Afghanistan.[210]
  • On December 25, 2010, the first female suicide bomber in Pakistan detonated her explosives-laden vest, killing at least 43 people at an aid distribution center in northwestern Pakistan.[211]
  • On December 29, 2013, a female Chechen suicide bomber detonated her vest in the Volgograd railway station killing at least 17 people.[citation needed]

Specific groups[edit]

Al Qaeda[edit]

In Al Qaeda, about 70 percent join with friends, 20 percent with kin. Interviews with friends of the 9/11 suicide pilots reveal they weren't "recruited" into Qaeda. They were Middle Eastern Arabs isolated even among the Moroccan and Turkish Muslims who predominate in Germany. Seeking friendship, they began hanging out after services at the Masjad al-Quds and other nearby mosques in Hamburg, in local restaurants and in the dormitory of the Technical University in the suburb of Harburg. Three (Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Marwan al-Shehhi) wound up living together as they self-radicalized. They wanted to go to Chechnya, then Kosovo.[212]


Hamas's most sustained suicide bombing campaign in 2003-04 involved several members of Hebron's Masjad (mosque) al-Jihad soccer team. Most lived in the Wad Abu Katila neighborhood and belonged to the al-Qawasmeh hamula (clan); several were classmates in the neighborhood's local branch of the Palestinian Polytechnic College. Their ages ranged from 18 to 22. At least eight team members were dispatched to suicide shooting and bombing operations by the Hamas military leader in Hebron, Abdullah al-Qawasmeh (killed by Israeli forces in June 2003 and succeeded by his relatives Basel al-Qawasmeh, killed in September 2003, and Imad al-Qawasmeh, captured on October 13, 2004). In retaliation for the assassinations of Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (March 22, 2004) and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi (April 17, 2004), Imad al-Qawasmeh dispatched Ahmed al-Qawasmeh and Nasim al-Ja'abri for a suicide attack on two buses in Beer Sheva (August 31, 2004). In December 2004, Hamas declared a halt to suicide attacks.[212]

On January 15, 2008, the son of Mahmoud al-Zahar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was killed (another son was killed in a 2003 assassination attempt on Zahar). Three days later, Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered Israel Defense Forces to seal all border crossings with Gaza, cutting off the flow of supplies to the territory in an attempt to stop rocket barrages on Israeli border towns. Nevertheless, violence from both sides only increased. On February 4, 2008, two friends (Mohammed Herbawi, Shadi Zghayer), who were members of the Masjad al-Jihad soccer team, staged a suicide bombing at commercial center in Dimona, Israel. Herbawi had previously been arrested as a 17-year-old on 15 March 2003 shortly after a suicide bombing on Haifa bus (by Mamoud al-Qawasmeh on March 5, 2003) and coordinated suicide shooting attacks on Israeli settlements by others on the team (March 7, 2003, Muhsein, Hazem al-Qawasmeh, Fadi Fahuri, Sufian Hariz) and before another set of suicide bombings by team members in Hebron and Jerusalem on May 17–18, 2003 (Fuad al-Qawasmeh, Basem Takruri, Mujahed al-Ja'abri). Although Hamas claimed responsibility for the Dimona attack, the politburo leadership in Damascus and Beirut was clearly initially unaware of who initiated and carried out the attack. It appears that Ahmad al-Ja'abri, military commander of Hamas's Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza requested the suicide attack through Ayoub Qawasmeh, Hamas's military liaison in Hebron, who knew where to look for eager young men who had self-radicalized together and had already mentally prepared themselves for martyrdom.[212][213]


The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were thought to have mastered the use of suicide terrorism and had a separate unit, "The Black Tigers", consisting "exclusively of cadres who have volunteered to conduct suicide operations."[214][215]

Public Surveys[edit]

The Pew Global Attitudes Project surveys Muslim publics to measure support for suicide bombing and other forms of violence that target civilians in order to defend Islam. In the annual poll, the highest support for such acts has been reported by Palestinians (at approximately 70 percent), except for years in which Palestinians were not surveyed. The lowest support has generally been observed in Turkey (between 3 and 17 percent, depending on the year). The 2009 report concluded that support for suicide bombing has declined in recent years, especially in Pakistan, where support dropped from 33 percent in 2002 (the first year of the survey) to 5 percent in 2009.[216]

Response, results[edit]

One of the first bombing campaigns utilizing primarily suicide attacks had considerable success. In the early 1980s Hezbollah used these bombing attacks targeting first foreign peacekeepers and then Israel. The result in both cases was withdrawal from Lebanon by the targets.[217]

Suicide bombings are often followed by reprisals. As a successful suicide bomber cannot be targeted, the response is often a targeting of those believed to have sent the bomber. In targeting such organizations, Israel often uses military strikes against organizations, individuals, and possibly infrastructure. In the West Bank the IDF formerly demolished homes that belong to families whose children (or renters whose tenants) had volunteered for such missions (whether successfully or not),[218] though an internal review starting in October 2004 brought an end to the policy, but was resumed in 2014.[219]

In the case of the 9/11 attacks, at least in the short term, the results were negative for Al-Qaeda, as well as the Taliban Movement. Since the September 11 attacks, Western nations have diverted massive resources towards stopping similar actions, as well as tightening up borders, and military actions against various countries believed to have been involved with terrorism. Critics of the War on Terrorism suggest the results were negative, as the proceeding actions of the United States and other countries has increased the number of recruits, and their willingness to carry out suicide bombings.

It is more difficult to determine whether Palestinian suicide bombings have proved to be a successful tactic. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the suicide bombers were repeatedly deployed since the Oslo Accords.[220] In 1996, the Israelis elected the conservative candidate Benjamin Netanyahu who promised to restore safety by conditioning every step in the peace process on Israel's assessment of the Palestinian National Authority's fulfillment of its obligations in curbing violence as outlined in the Oslo agreements.[citation needed]

In the course of al-Aqsa Intifada which followed the collapse of the Camp David II summit between the PLO and Israel, the number of suicide attacks increased. In response, Israel mobilized its army in order to seal off the Gaza Strip and reinstate military control of the West Bank, patrolling the area with tanks. The Israelis began a campaign of targeted killings to kill militant Palestinian leaders, using jets and helicopters to deploy high-precision bombs and missiles.[citation needed]

The suicide missions, having killed and injured many Israelis, are believed by some to have brought on a move to the political right, increasing public support for hard-line policies towards the Palestinians, and a government headed by the former general, prime minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon's government has imposed restrictions on the Palestinian community in response to the suicide bombings. The separation barrier has been credited with reducing the number of suicide bombing attacks.[221][222]

Social support by some for this activity remained, however, as of the calling of a truce at the end of June 2003. This may be due to the economic or social purpose of the suicide bombing and the bombers' refusal to accept external judgements on those who sanction them. Often extremists assert that, because they are outclassed militarily, suicide bombings are necessary. For example, the former leader of Hamas Sheikh Ahmad Yassin stated: "Once we have warplanes and missiles, then we can think of changing our means of legitimate self-defense. But right now, we can only tackle the fire with our bare hands and sacrifice ourselves."[223]

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) pioneered the use of suicide bombings against civilian and political targets. Their struggle of the for the creation of an independent state in the North and East of the island lasted from 1983 and 2009 and led to the deaths of two heads of state or government, several ministers, and up to 100,000 combatants and civilians (by a UN estimate),[224] but ended in military defeat.

Among the targets of the attackers, such as the United States, the element of suicide in the major attack on it (the 9/11 attacks) persuaded many that previously unthinkable, "out of the box" strategic policies in a "war on terrorism" — from "preventive war" against countries not immediately attacking the US, to almost unlimited surveillance of virtually any person in the United States by the government without normal congressional and judicial oversight — was necessary. Since the terrorists had to be prevented, not punished after the fact, it seemed necessary "to look for them almost everywhere, even if no evidence existed" that "they" were "there" at all". Future attacks would not be deterred by the threat of retaliation if the attackers were already willing to kill themselves.[225] These responses "produced their own costs and risks — in lives, national debt, and America’s standing in the world."[225]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]



  1. ^ Kay, Jonathan (13 September 2005). "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism". Islam Daily. Retrieved 5 October 2015. 
  2. ^ "Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism. Suicide Attack Database". Retrieved 4 October 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism (figure 1, pg. 128),; accessed July 11, 2015.
  4. ^ HOFFMAN, BRUCE (June 2003). "The Logic of Suicide Terrorism". The Atlantic. Retrieved 4 October 2015. According to data from the Rand Corporation's chronology of international terrorism incidents, suicide attacks on average kill four times as many people as other terrorist acts. 
  5. ^ a b Hassan, Riaz (September 3, 2009). "What Motivates the Suicide Bombers?". YaleGlobal. Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. Retrieved November 2, 2012. 
  6. ^ Hutchinson, W. (March 2007). "The systemic roots of suicide bombing". Systems Research and Behavioral Science 24 (2): 191–200. 
  7. ^ Pape's tabulation of suicide attacks runs from 1980 to early 2004 in Dying to Win and to 2009 in Cutting the Fuse.
  8. ^ a b c The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism (pp. 131, 133),; accessed July 11, 2015.
  9. ^ Definition given by Kofi Annan, March 2005 in the UN General Assembly, while Secretary General of the UN."Story: UN reform". United Nations. Archived from the original on 2007-04-27. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  10. ^ Jason Burke (2004). Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam. I.B.Tauris. pp. 1–24 (22). ISBN 978-1-85043-666-9. Retrieved August 19, 2012. 
  11. ^ F. Halliday. (2002). Two Hours that Shook the World: September 11, 2001 – Causes and Consequences, Saqi; ISBN 0-86356-382-1, pp. 70–71
  12. ^ Number of suicide attacks and deaths from attacks 1982-2014. From Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism Suicide Attack Database
  13. ^ Pedahzur, p. 8
  14. ^ a b c d Dodd, Henry (23 Aug 2013). A short history of suicide bombing. Action on Armed Violence. Retrieved 6 October 2015. First of all let’s be clear what kind of attacks we are talking about. Suicide bombings are those that involve the deliberate death of the perpetrator. We’re not just talking about a reckless charge in battle. The focus is on those attacks where the perpetrator functions as a sophisticated guidance system for the weapon. They function as part human and part weapon. In this way they are suicide attacks rather than suicidal attacks. 
  15. ^ a b Yoram Schweitzer (April 21, 2000). "Suicide Terrorism: Development and Characteristics". International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Retrieved March 22, 2015. ... a very specific kind of attack. It does not deal with the very high-risk terror operations that leave only little chance of survival to their perpetrators. Such attacks as the Japanese Red Army’s (JRA) attack at Lod airport in 1972, Abu Nidal’s attack on a synagogue in Istanbul in 1986 and the PFLP-GC hand-glider attack on an army barracks in Kiryat Shmona in 1987 fall outside the scope of this paper. Also excluded were the self-inflicted deaths of members of terrorist organization, ... a politically motivated violent attack perpetrated by a self-aware individual (or individuals) who actively and purposely causes his own death through blowing himself up along with his chosen target. ... the perpetrator’s ensured death is a precondition for the success of his mission." 
  16. ^ An example is an October 1990 bombing by the Provisional IRA which killed five soldiers and a vehicle driver (Patrick Gillespie). Gillespie was driving his car loaded with a bomb under threat of having his two children killed and it was later found was unaware he would be killed by the bomb. (source: Toolis, Kevin. Rebel Hearts: Journeys within the IRA's soul (2nd ed.) Picador, 2000. Chapter 4: "Informers"; p. 253; ISBN 0-330-34648-2
  17. ^ Cyril Smith profile,; accessed April 18, 2015.
  18. ^ a b LANKFORD, ADAM (17 December 2012). "What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers". New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2015. For years, the conventional wisdom has been that suicide terrorists are rational political actors, while suicidal rampage shooters are mentally disturbed loners. But the two groups have far more in common than has been recognized. ... Although suicide terrorists may share the same beliefs as the organizations whose propaganda they spout, they are primarily motivated by the desire to kill and be killed — just like most rampage shooters. 
  19. ^ OPPEL Jr., RICHARD A. (May 27, 2008). "2 American Soldiers Are Killed in Insurgent Attacks in Iraq". New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2015. in Mosul, Iraqi security forces raided a house and found six Iraqi boys 15 to 18 years old preparing to become suicide bombers, a police official in Mosul said. According to The Associated Press, four of the boys appeared before local reporters at Mosul police headquarters on Monday, including one who wept and said that a Saudi fighter “threatened to rape our mothers and sisters, destroy our houses and kill our fathers if we did not cooperate with him.” 
  20. ^ Azami, Dawood (15 December 2014). "How the Taliban groom child suicide bombers". BBC News. Retrieved 9 October 2015. In some cases, [children recruited to be Taliban bombers] were given an amulet containing Koranic verses and told it would help them survive. Some handlers gave children keys to hang round their necks and were told the gates of paradise will open for them 
  21. ^ "Germans Maintain Losing Airline Inside Panama Canal Defense Zone: Service in Ecuador Keeps 20 Pilots for Two Planes--Company Called Center of Fifth Column Activities New Route Planned Value in Case of War"|Russell B. Porter|New York Times| August 10, 1940| page 6
  22. ^ "CARRIER ROUTS FOE: Ships' and Planes' Fire Foils Japanese Raid Near Gilbert Isles A FIGHTER PILOT DOWNS 6 Fleet Force Escapes Damage, but Loses Two Aircraft -- Suicide Dive Balked NAVY IN ACTION IN THE FAR PACIFIC U.S. CARRIER ROUTS 18 BOMBERS IN RAID DOWNED SIX PLANES", New York Times, 4 March 1942, ROBERT F. WHITNEY.
  23. ^ The Times (London), August 21, 1945, page 6
  24. ^ The Times (London), April 15, 1947, page 2, (quote) "Designed originally as a counter-measure to the Japanese 'suicide-bomber,' it is now a potent weapon for defence or offence"
  25. ^ Before World War II, the magazine Modern Mechanix (though not using the exact phrase), reported Italians threatening to carry out attacks with "a squadron of aviators pledged to crash their death-laden planes in suicidal dives directly onto the decks of British ships". (source: "OIL – Modern WAR GOD Threatens the World", Modern Mechanix & Inventions, February 1936
  26. ^ a b Moghadam, Assaf (2006). Pedahzur, Ami, ed. Root Causes of Suicide Terrorism: The Globalization of Martyrdom. Oxon, NY: Routledge. p. 16. ISBN 0415770297. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  27. ^ Peter Johnson. "Homicide bomber vs. suicide bomber". USA Today. Retrieved March 22, 2015. 
  28. ^ homicide bombing., April 18, 2002; retrieved August 19, 2012.
  29. ^ L. Khan (2006). A Theory of International Terrorism: Understanding Islamic Militancy. Boston, MA: Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 97–98. ISBN 978-90-04-15207-6. 
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