Terrorism. A word that is featuring more and more in today’s global media. A word that, for many, sparks fear and is synonymous with acts of indiscriminate violence. Suicide terrorism is particularly more distressing; showing the extent to which a terrorist will go to for extremism. Suicide terrorism is also increasing. Why? Simply because terrorists have learned that it works. It gives the extremist a unique tactical advantage, is more likely to be successful, easier to execute and is less expensive to implement. A suicide terrorist is the ‘ultimate smart bomb’ for adaptable terror strategy; for example, they can wait for the desired density of people in their target area or react quickly if there is a change of plan.
A typical Palestinian suicide operation costs less than $150 dollars to implement and yet typically kills four times as many people as other terrorist attacks. It is also a less complicated approach, as no escape plan for the perpetrator is necessary which often adds considerably to the complexity of the task.
When we think of suicide terrorists, more than not, we picture an image of a socially isolated, uneducated, highly religious, heavy-faced, unhappy young man. However, in reality a typical suicide terrorist is educated and mentally stable. For instance, two thirds of the 9/11 hijackers had engaged in tertiary academic studies A more rational thinker makes for a better reached target with better clarity of decision on the timing and location of the attack.
What goes through the minds of individuals to lead them to become suicide bombers? To intimidate and demoralise the enemy? The individuals who become suicide attackers potentially have social, religious, cultural and material incentives. Social motivations could be the feeling of intense group pressure to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Furthermore, religious incentives may be that people may feel there are spiritual rewards, such as “a place with God”. Or alternatively the longing for religious purity after being indoctrinated by religious ideology, as is typical in Palestine with indoctrination as early as from the age of six years old. Individuals may be seeking personal revenge because of the loss of a loved one; there are well documented examples of this in Chechnya as well as in the case of “Black Widows” female suicide bombers. Sometimes there is also financial gain for a terrorist’s family members or is it simply an act of martyrdom, to impress a wider audience?
The majority of suicide terrorist attacks are part of a larger group, campaigning to achieve a specific goal, most often the withdrawal of the target state’s military forces from their national homeland.
9/11 is the perfect example of the savagery and bloodshed a suicide attack can cause. The scale of the impact was due to 19 hijacker’s willingness, dedication and determination to martyr themselves, after swearing an oath of loyalty and a pledge to carry out the suicide operation. Bin Laden, in an interview with Al Jazeera sought to justify their actions “So with these images (a reference to Lebanon) and their like as their background, the events of September 11th came as a reply to those great wrongs, should a man be blamed for defending his sanctuary? Is defending oneself and punishing the aggressor in kind, objectionable terrorism? If it is such, then it is unavoidable for us.”
There is more to suicide terrorism than one may think. Sadly, social psychology suggests that there is much more rational thought behind it than we often assume.
Original image by Callum Halpin.