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Suicide attack

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Title: Suicide attack  
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Subject: February 2009, Second Intifada, March 2009, February 2007, 2008
Collection: Suicide Bombing, Suicide Methods, Terrorism Tactics
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Suicide attack

Result of Kiyoshi Ogawa's Kamikaze attack on USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), May 1945

A suicide attack is a violent attack in which the attacker intends to kill others or cause great destruction and expects to die in the process. Between 1981 and 2006, 1200 suicide attacks occurred around the world, constituting 4% of all terrorist attacks but 32% (14,599 people) of all terrorism-related deaths. 90% of these attacks occurred in Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Sri Lanka.[1] Its primary use is as a weapon of psychological warfare intended to affect a larger public audience.[2]

Although the use of suicide attacks has been prevalent throughout history, particularly with the Japanese 2003 US-led invasion.[3]

The motivation of suicide attackers is disputed. Robert Pape attributes over 90% of attacks prior to the Iraq Civil War to a goal of withdrawal of occupying forces.[4] Anthropologist Scott Atran argues that since 2004 the overwhelming majority of bombers have been motivated by the ideology of Islamist martyrdom, and these attacks have been much more numerous. In just two years, 2004–2005, there were more suicide attacks, "roughly 600, than in Pape's entire sample."[5]

In recent times, the usual means of suicide attack are an individual wearing a vest or driving a vehicle or aircraft filled with explosives because the attacker can cause significant casualties and devastation within a short time. Synonyms include suicide bombing, suicide-homicide bombing, martyrdom operation, predatory martyrdom, kamikaze and human bomb.


  • Tactics 1
    • Historical 1.1
    • Modern 1.2
  • Japanese Kamikaze 2
  • Moro Juramentado 3
  • Chinese suicide squads 4
  • Definition 5
  • Weapons and methods 6
  • Female suicide bombers 7
  • Profile of attackers 8
    • Idealism 8.1
    • Islam 8.2
    • Nationalism 8.3
  • Other views 9
  • Case studies 10
    • Background 10.1
    • 1980 to present 10.2
    • Public Surveys 10.3
  • Response 11
  • Usage of term 12
    • Homicide bombing 12.1
  • See also 13
  • Bibliography 14
  • Further reading 15
  • References 16
  • External links 17



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".[6] 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.

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.[7] 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.[8]

The 1927 Bath School disaster ended when the perpetrator, Andrew Kehoe, detonated explosives in his truck, killing himself and several others.

Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff intended to assassinate Adolf Hitler by suicide bomb in 1943, but was unable to complete the attack.[9]

During the Battle for Berlin the Luftwaffe flew Selbstopfereinsatz ("self-sacrifice missions") against Soviet bridges over the Oder River. These missions were flown by pilots of the Leonidas Squadron under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Heiner Lange. From 17 April until 20 April 1945, using any aircraft that were available, the Luftwaffe claimed that the squadron destroyed 17 bridges. However, the 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.[10]

Following World War II, Viet Minh "death volunteers" fought against the French Colonial Forces by using a long stick-like explosive to destroy French tanks.

An Arab Christian military officer from Syria, Jules Jammal, used a suicide bomb attack to bring down a French ship during the Suez Crisis in 1956.[11]


Iranian Hossein Fahmideh threw himself under an Iraqi tank with a grenade in his hand during the Iran-Iraq war.[12]

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

Lebanese Civil War are one of the other early examples of modern suicide terrorism.[13]Al-Qaeda used its first suicide attack in the mid-1990s. [13] The number of attacks using suicide tactics has grown from an average of fewer than five per year during the 1980s to 180 per year between 2000 and 2005,[3] and from 81 suicide attacks in 2001 to 460 in 2005.[14] These attacks have been aimed at diverse military and civilian targets, including in Sri Lanka, in Israel since July 6, 1989,[15] 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.[16][17]

Between 1980 and 2000 the largest number of suicide attacks was carried out by separatist

  • The Economic Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Mark Harrison PDF
  • Suicide Bombers – Why do they do it, and what does Islam say about their actions?
  • Women Armed for Terror NY Times list of female suicide-bombers.
  • Study: Female suicide bombers seek atonement News report on a study into the motivation behind female suicide attacks.
  • Defending the Transgressed Fatwa against suicide bombing by Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti
  • Erased In A Moment Suicide Bombing Attacks Against Israeli Civilians [Human Rights Watch]
  • Suicide Terrorism: Rationalizing the Irrational
  • Athena Intelligence Advanced Research Network on Insurgency and Terrorism: articles on Suicide Terrorism in the Virtual Library
  • Suicide Terrorism: Origins and Response
  • Video of suicide attack in Colombo, Attempted assassination of Sri Lankan Minister Douglas Devananda by LTTE
  • Understanding Suicide Terrorism And How To Stop It – audio interview by NPR
  • Robert A. Pape, It's the Occupation Stupid. Foreign Policy magazine, October 18, 2010
  • The New Face of Terrorism – interview with Mia Bloom on YouTube
  • Suicide Attack (in German) on YouTube Alexander Kluge's interview with Arata Takeda

External links

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  3. ^ a b c The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism figure 1, p.128
  4. ^ Pape's tabulation of suicide attacks runs from 1980 to early 2004 in Dying to Win and to 2009 in Cutting the Fuse.
  5. ^ a b c The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism p.131, 133
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  • Bloom, Mia (2005). Dying to Kill. New York: Columbia University Press.  
  • Davis, Joyce M. (2004). Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance, and Despair in the Middle East. Palgrave Macmillan.  
  • Gambetta, Diego (2005). Making Sense of Suicide Missions. Oxford Oxfordshire:  
  • Hassan, Riaz (2010). Life as a Weapon: The Global Rise of Suicide Bombings.  
  • Hassan, Riaz (2011). Suicide Bombings.  
  • Hudson, Rex (2002). Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why. The Lyons Press.  
  • Jayawardena, Hemamal (2007). Forensic Medical Aspects of Terrorist Explosive Attacks. Zeilan Press.  
  • Khosrokhavar, Farhad (2005). Suicide Bombers.  
  • Lewis, Jeffrey W. (2012). The Business of Martyrdom: A History of Suicide Bombing. Naval Institute Press.  
  • Reuter, Christoph (2004). My Life Is a Weapon. Princeton:  
  • Scheit, Gerhard (2004). Suicide Attack (in German). Ca Ira Verlag.  
  • Swamy, M.R. (1994). Tigers of Lanka. Vijitha Yapa Publications, Sri Lanka.  
  • Takeda, Arata (2010). ]Aesthetics of Self-Destruction: Suicide Attackers in Western Literature [Ästhetik der Selbstzerstörung: Selbstmordattentäter in der abendländischen Literatur (in German).  
  • Matovic, Violeta (2007). Suicide Bombers Who's Next.  
  • Victor, Barbara (2003). Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers. Rodale.  
  • Rajan, V.G. Julie (2011). Women Suicide Bombers: narratives of violence. New York: Routledge.  
  • Atran, Scott (2003). "Genesis of suicide terrorism". Science, 299, pp. 1534–1539.
  • Butterworth, Bruce Robert; Dolev, Shalom; Jenkins, Brian Michael (2012). "Security Awareness for Public Bus Transportation: Case Studies of Attacks Against the Israeli Public Bus System." Mineta Transportation Institute.
  • Conesa, Pierre (2004). "Aux origines des attentats-suicides". Le Monde diplomatique, June, 2004.
  • Hoffman, Bruce (2003). "The logic of suicide terrorism". The Atlantic, June, 2003.
  • Kix, Paul (2010). "The truth about suicide bombers." Boston Globe.
  • Lankford, Adam. (2010). Do Suicide Terrorists Exhibit Clinically Suicidal Risk Factors? A Review of Initial Evidence and Call for Future Research. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15, pp. 334–340.
  • Takeda, Arata (2010). "Suicide bombers in Western literature: demythologizing a mythic discourse". Contemporary Justice Review, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp. 455–475.
  • Kassim, Sadik H. "The Role of Religion in the Generation of Suicide Bombers"
  • Kramer, Martin. (1996). "Sacrifice and "Self-Martyrdom" in Shi'ite Lebanon".
  • Sarraj, Dr. Eyad. "Why we have become Suicide Bombers"
  • Feffer, John. August 6, 2009. "Our Suicide Bombers: Thoughts on Western Jihad"

Further reading

  • Atran, Scott (2006). "The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism". The Washington Quarterly 29 (2): 127–147.  
  • Lankford, Adam (2013). The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.  
  • Pedahzur, Ami (2004). Suicide Terrorism. Polity.  


See also

In the German-speaking area the term sacrifice bombing (Ger. Opferanschlag) was proposed in 2012 by German scholar Arata Takeda.[175]

Another attempted replacement is genocide bombing. The term was coined in 2002 by a Jewish member of the Canadian parliament, Irwin Cotler, in an effort to replace the term homicide bomber as a substitute for "suicide bomber."[173] The intention was to focus attention on the alleged intention of genocide by militant Palestinians in their calls to "Wipe Israel off the map."[174]

Supporters of the term homicide bombing argue that since the primary purpose of such a bombing is to kill other people rather than merely to end one's own life, the term homicide is a more accurate description than suicide. However, any bombing intended to cause human deaths can be classified as a homicide bombing. Therefore, some have argued that homicide bombing is a less useful term, since it fails to capture the distinctive feature of suicide bombings: namely, the bombers' use of means which they are aware will inevitably bring about their own deaths.[172]

Some effort has been made to replace the term suicide bombing with the term homicide bombing by certain commentators and news outlets. The first such use was by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer in April 2002.[169] However, it has failed to catch on; the only major media outlets to use it were Fox News Channel and the New York Post (both owned by News Corporation).[170][171]

Homicide bombing

In order to assign either a more positive or negative connotation to the act, suicide bombing is sometimes referred to by different terms. Islamists often call the act a isshtahad (meaning 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. (The title is by no means restricted to suicide bombers and can be used for a wide range of people, including innocent victims; Muhammad al-Durra, for example, is among the most famous shuhada of the Intifada, and even a few non-Palestinians such as Tom Hurndall and Rachel Corrie have been called shahid).

The term with the meaning "an attacker blowing up himself or a vehicle to kill others" appeared in 1981, when it was used by Thomas Baldwin in an Associated Press article to describe the bombing of the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut.

The usage of the term "suicide bombing" dates back to at least 1940. A 10 August 1940 New York Times article of mentions the term in relation to German tactics. A 4 March 1942 article refers to a Japanese attempt as a "suicide bombing" on an American carrier. The Times (London) of 15 April 1947, p. 2, refers to a new pilotless, radio-controlled rocket missile thus: "Designed originally as a counter-measure to the Japanese 'suicide-bomber,' it is now a potent weapon for defence or offence". The quotes are in the original and suggest that the phrase was an existing one. An earlier article (21 August 1945, p. 6) refers to a kamikaze plane as a "suicide-bomb". Even earlier, though not using the exact phrase, the magazine Modern Mechanix (February 1936) reports the Italians reacted to a possible oil embargo by stating that they would 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".

Usage of term

“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,” Sheikh Al-AsShaikh said, quoting a number of verses from the Qur'an and Hadith.[168]

On September 16, 2013 he condemned violence against non-Muslims living in Islamic countries or Muslims labeled as infidels. The Grand Mufti condemned acts that cause the “shedding of blood of Muslims and of those living in their counties in peace.” Sheikh Al Shaykh stated, “Given the dangerous developments in the Muslim world, I would like to warn against the danger of attacking Muslims and those (non-Muslims) under Muslim protection.”

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". Sheikh described suicide bombers as "robbed of their minds... who have been used (as tools) to destroy themselves and societies."[167]

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.[166]

Such views are challenged both from the outside and from within Islam. According to Islamic jurist and scholar Khaled Abou Al-Fadl,

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."[165]

If the objective is to kill as many people as possible, suicide bombing by terrorists may thus "work" as a tactic in that it costs fewer lives than any conventional military tactic and targeting unarmed civilians is much easier than targeting soldiers. As an objective designed to achieve some form of favorable outcome, especially a political outcome, most believe it to be a failure. Terrorist campaigns involving the targeting of civilians have never won a war. Analysts believe that in order to win or succeed, any guerrilla or terrorist campaign must first transform into something more than a guerrilla or terrorist movement. Such analysts believe that a terrorist cause has little political attraction and success may be achieved only by renouncing terrorism and transforming the passions into politics.

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.

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.[163][164]

In the course of 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 also began a campaign of targeted killings to kill militant Palestinian leaders, using jets and helicopters to deploy high-precision bombs and missiles.

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.[162] 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 Authority's fulfillment of its obligations in curbing violence as outlined in the Oslo agreements.

In the case of the September 11 attacks, the long-term effects remain to be seen, but 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.

Suicide bombings are sometimes followed by 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),[160] though an internal review starting in October 2004 brought an end to the policy, but was resumed in 2014.[161] The effectiveness of suicide bombings—notably those of the Japanese kamikazes, the Palestinian bombers, and even the September 11, 2001 attacks—is debatable. Although kamikaze attacks could not stop the Allied advance in the Pacific, they inflicted more casualties and delayed the fall of Japan for longer than might have been the case using only the conventional methods available to the Japanese Empire. The attacks reinforced the resolution of the World War II Allies to destroy the Imperial force, and likely would have been considered in the decision to use atomic bombs against Japan.

World leaders, especially those of countries that experience suicide bombings, usually express resolve to continue on their previous course of affairs after such attacks. They denounce suicide bombings and sometimes vow not to let such bombings deter ordinary people from going about their everyday economic business.


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.[159]

Public Surveys

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.[108]

In the first eight months of 2008, Pakistan overtook Iraq and Afghanistan in suicide bombings, with 28 bombings killing 471 people.[158]

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

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, Iraqi men waiting to apply for jobs with the new army and police force) were also attacked. 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.[157]

On December 22, 2001, Richard Reid attempted to destroy the American Airlines Flight 63 by the means of a bomb hidden in a shoe. He was arrested after his attempt was foiled when he was unable to light the bomb's fuse.

The September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack involved the hijacking of large passenger jets which were deliberately flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, killing everyone aboard the planes and thousands 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 also had a vast economic and political impact: for the cost of the lives of the 19 hijackers and financial expenditure of around US$100,000, al-Qaeda, the militant Islamist group responsible for the attacks, effected a trillion-dollar drop in global markets within one week, and triggered massive increases in military and security expenditure in response.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party has also employed suicide bombings in the scope of its guerrilla attacks on Turkish security forces since the beginning of their insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984. Although the majority of PKK activity is focused on village guards, gendarme, and military posts, they have employed suicide bombing tactics on tourist sites and commercial centers in Western Turkish cities, especially during the peak of tourism season.

Palestinian television has aired a number of music videos and announcements that promote eternal reward for children who seek "shahada",[152] which Palestinian Media Watch has claimed is "Islamic motivation of suicide terrorists".[153] The Chicago Tribune has documented the concern of Palestinian parents that their children are encouraged to take part in suicide operations.[154] Israeli sources have also alleged that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah operate "Paradise Camps", training children as young as 11 to become suicide bombers.[155][156]

Suicide bombing is a popular tactic among Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. 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.[151]

Sbarro pizza restaurant bombing in Jerusalem, in which 15 Israeli civilians were killed and 130 wounded by a Hamas suicide bomber.

Lebanon saw the first bombing, but it was the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka who perfected the tactic and inspired its use elsewhere.[149] Their Black Tiger unit has committed between 76 and 168 (estimates vary) suicide bombings since 1987, the higher estimates putting them behind more than half of the world's suicide bombings between 1980 and 2000.[150] The list of victims include former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and the president of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa.

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. Female combatants have existed throughout human history and in many different societies, so it is possible that females who engage in suicidal attacks are not new.) Hezbollah was the only one to attack overseas, bombing the Israeli embassy (and possibly the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building) in Buenos Aires; as its military and political power have grown, it has since abandoned the tactic.

Suicide attacks per organization, 1983 to 2000. (ICT)[148]
Tamil Tigers 171
Al-Shabaab >30
Islamic Jihad Organization 25
Other Lebanese groups 25
Hamas 22
PKK 15
Islamic Jihad 8
Chechen separatists 7
Dawa (Kuwait) 2
Egyptian Islamic Jihad 1
al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya 1
Armed Islamic Group of Algeria 1

Modern suicide bombing—involving explosives deliberately carried to the target either on the person or in a civilian vehicle and delivered by surprise—has been dated from 1981. It was used by factions of the Lebanese Civil War and especially by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) of Sri Lanka. The tactic had spread to dozens of countries by 2005. Those hardest-hit are Sri Lanka during its prolonged ethnic conflict, Lebanon during its civil war, Israel and the Palestinian Territories since 1994, and Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. Since 2006, al-Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts, have carried out major suicide attacks in Somalia.[17]

1980 to present

In 1972, in the hall of the allied to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Until then, no group involved in terrorism had conducted such a suicide operation in Israel.

Following World War II, Viet Minh "death volunteers" fought against the French colonial army by using a long stick-like explosive to detonate French tanks, as part of their urban warfare tactics.

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 of 1945, using any aircraft that were available, the Luftwaffe claimed that the squadron destroyed 17 bridges, however the 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.[10]

Suicide attacks were used as a military tactic aimed at causing material damage in war, during the Second World War in the Pacific as Allied ships were attacked by Japanese kamikaze pilots who caused maximum damage by flying their explosive-laden aircraft into military targets, not focused on civilian targets.

The Japanese Navy also used piloted torpedoes called kaiten 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 defences and return to a mother ship after firing their torpedoes. Though extremely hazardous, these midget submarine attacks were not technically suicide missions, as the earlier kaitens had escape hatches. Later kaitens, by contrast, provided no means of escape.

The ritual act of self-sacrifice during combat appeared in a large scale at the end of World War II with the Japanese kamikaze bombers. 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. 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.

A Japanese Mitsubishi Zero's suicide attack on the USS Missouri (BB-63), April 11, 1945

The concept of self-sacrifice has long been a part of war. However, many instances of suicide bombing today have intended civilian targets, not military targets alone. "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.'"[108]


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 March 15, 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 (and who is also originally from a Hebron clan) 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.[146]

  • Hamas's most sustained suicide bombing campaign in 2003-4 involved several buddies from 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.
  • Five of the seven plotters in the 2004 Madrid train bombings who blew themselves up when cornered by police grew up in the tumble-down neighborhood of Jemaa Mezuak in Tetuan, Morocco: Jamal Ahmidan, brothers Mohammed and Rashid Oulad Akcha, Abdennabi Kounjaa, Asri Rifaat. In 2006, at least five more young Mezuaq men went to Iraq on "martyrdom missions": Abdelmonim Al-Amrani, Younes Achebak, Hamza Aklifa, and the brothers Bilal and Munsef Ben Aboud (DNA analysis has confirmed the suicide bombing death of Amrani in Baqubah, Iraq). All 5 attended a local elementary school (Abdelkrim Khattabi), the same one that Madrid’s Moroccan bombers attended. And 4 of the 5 were in the same high school class (Kadi Ayadi, just outside Mezuak). They played soccer as friends, went to the same mosque (Masjad al-Rohban of the Dawa Tabligh), mingled in the same restaurants, barbershops and cafes.
  • 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.

Case studies

According to Atran[144] and former CIA case officer Marc Sageman,[145] 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 in involving more than 50,000 interviews in dozens of countries, 7 percent (90 million) of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims consider the 9/11 attacks "completely justified"). Nevertheless, only some thousands show willingness to commit violence (e.g., 60 arrested in the USA, 2400 in Western Europe, 3200 in Saudi Arabia). They tend to go to violence in small groups consisting mostly of friends, and some kin (although friends tend to become kin as they marry one another's sisters and cousins – there are dozens of such marriages among militant members of Southeast Asia's Jemaah Islamiyah). These groups arise within specific "scenes": neighborhoods, schools (classes, dorms), workplaces, and common leisure activities (soccer, paintball, mosque discussion group, barbershop, café, online chat-room).

Other views

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]

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

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are considered to have mastered the use of suicide terrorism as "the contemporary terrorist groups engaged in suicide attacks, the LTTE has conducted the largest number of attacks." The LTTE also has a unit, The Black Tigers, which are "constituted exclusively of cadres who have volunteered to conduct suicide operations."[141][142]


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.[140]

The articles also 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 the authors Maulana Muawiya Hussaini and Ikrimah Anwar cite numerous sayings of Prophet Muhammad on the authority of renowned Islamic jurist Imam Muslim in which the prophet 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."

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 scholars of the Taliban strenuously 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."[139]

Some commentators believe that the phrase "do not kill yourselves" is better translated "do not kill each other", and some translations (e.g., by Shakir) reflect that view.[135] 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".[136] In addition, the Hadith unambiguously forbid suicide including Bukhari 2:445, "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."[137][138]

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.

According to Charles Kimball, chair of the Department of Religion at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, "There is only one verse in the Qur'an that contains a phrase related to suicide", Surah 4 verse 29 of the Quran.[134] It reads:

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.[124] 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.[5] According to another estimate, as of early 2008, 1,121 Muslim suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Iraq.[125] Recent research on the rationale of suicide bombing has identified both religious and sociopolitical motivations.[126][127][128][129][130] 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.[126] 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.[131] Other researchers have identified sociopolitical factors as more central in the motivation of suicide attackers.[132][133]

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.[123]

However, a number of Western and Muslim scholars of Islam have pointed out that suicide attacks are a clear violation of classical Islamic law and characterized such attacks against civilians as murderous and sinful.[119][120] For example, British historian Bernard Lewis states, "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."[120] Respected Muslim scholars have also condemned suicide bombings as terrorism that is prohibited in Islam with the perpetrators being destined to hell.[119] 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".[119] In January 2006, one of Shia Islam's highest ranking Marja clerics, Ayatollah al-Udhma Yousof al-Sanei also decreed a fatwa against suicide bombing, declaring it as a "terrorist act".[121] 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, titled The Hijacked Caravan,[122] which concluded that,

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.

The Quranic verse used by Zarein Ahmedzay in support of his actions is Surah 9 At-Tawba verse 111:[118]

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."[116] 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.[117] Shiite Lebanese cleric Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, the spiritual authority recognized by Hezbollah, holds similar views.[108]

Islamist militant organisations (including al-Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad) argue that suicide operations are justified according to Islamic law, despite Islam's strict prohibition of suicide and murder.[111][112] The international community considers the use of indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations[13] and the use of human shields[113][114] as illegal under international law.[115]

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.[108] In 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.[108][109][110] 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 in order to justify suicide attacks.[108][109]


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, the internet, various new electronic media, and a general public tolerance of extreme teachers and leaders with terrorist agendas.[107]

Suicide operatives are overwhelmingly male in most groups, but among the Chechen rebels and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) women form a majority of the attackers.[106]

Other researchers have argued that Pape's analysis is fundamentally flawed, particularly his contention that democracies are the main targets of such attacks.[100] 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.[5] Still others argue that perceived religious rewards in the hereafter are instrumental in encouraging Muslims to commit suicide attacks.[101][102] Pape reported, however, 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.[103] 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)[104] 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 supported the Taliban and saw NATO as a foreign occupation threatening local culture and customs.[105]

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 jiahdi 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.

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,[95] and that there was grassroots support for the attacks.[96] Attackers were disproportionately from the educated middle classes.[97] Characteristics which Pape thought to be correlated to suicide bombing and bombers included: brutality and cruelty of the occupiers,[98] and competition among militant groups.[99]

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.[95]

The doctrine of asymmetric warfare views suicide attacks as a result of an imbalance of power, in which groups with little significant power resort to suicide bombing as a convenient tactic (see advantages noted above) to demoralize the targeted civilians or government leadership of their enemies. Suicide bombing may also take place as a perceived response to actions or policies of a group with greater power. Groups which have significant power have no need to resort to suicide bombing to achieve their aims; consequently, suicide bombing is overwhelmingly used by guerrillas, and other irregular fighting forces. Among many such groups, there are religious overtones to martyrdom: attackers and their supporters may believe that their sacrifice will be rewarded in an afterlife. Suicide attackers often believe that their actions are in accordance with moral or social standards because they are aimed at fighting forces and conditions that they perceive as unjust.


Use of suicide terror against civilian targets has differing effects on the attackers' goals (see reaction below). Some economists suggest that this tactic goes beyond symbolism and is actually a response to commodified, controlled, or devalued lives, as the suicide attackers apparently consider family prestige and financial compensation from the community as compensation for their own lives. Whether such motivation is significant as compared to political or religious feeling remains unclear.

Some suicide bombers are educated, with college or university experience, and come from middle class homes. Humam Balawi, for example, who perpetrated the Camp Chapman attack in Afghanistan in 2010, was a medical doctor.[94] They are also most often young adult men.[3] Leaders of the groups who perpetrate these attacks claim that they search for individuals who can be trusted to carry out the mission, and that those with mental illnesses are not considered ideal candidates.

A study by German scholar Arata Takeda analyzes analogous behavior represented in literary texts from the antiquity through the 20th century (Sophocles' Ajax, Milton's Samson Agonistes, 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."[93]

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."[91] 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".[91][92]

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.[90]

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."[89]

Studies have shown conflicting results about what defines a suicide attacker. 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.[87] 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.[88]

Profile of attackers

  • 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.
  • Former Indian Prime minister Chechen shahidkas have attacked Russian troops in Chechnya and Russian civilians elsewhere; for example, in the Moscow theater hostage crisis.
  • 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.[80]
  • 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.[81]
  • 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.[82]
  • Hamas deployed its first female suicide bomber, Reem Riyashi, on January 14, 2004. Al-Riyashi attacked Erez checkpoint, killing 7 people.[83]
  • 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.[84]
  • On March 29, 2010, two female Chechen terrorists bombed two Moscow subway stations killing at least 38 people and injuring over 60.
  • The Taliban has used at least one female suicide bomber in Afghanistan.[85]
  • 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.[86]
  • On December 29, 2013, a female Chechen suicide bomber detonated her vest in the Volgograd railway station killing at least 17 people.

Female suicide bombers have been employed in many, predominantly nationalistic, conflicts by a variety of organizations against both military and civilian targets:

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."[78] Female suicide bombers are thus presented as being predominantly motivated by non-political factors, as opposed to their male counterparts.[79]

Female suicide bombers

Weapons and methods

With awareness of that debate in mind, suicide terrorism itself has been defined by A. Pedahzur as "A diversity of violent actions perpetrated by people who are aware that the odds they will return alive are close to zero."[76] This captures suicide bombing, and the range of suicide tactics below.

For example, Jason Burke, a journalist who has lived among Islamic militants himself, whilst preferring the term 'militancy' to 'terrorism', suggests that most define terrorism as 'the use or threat of serious violence' to advance some kind of 'cause', and stresses that terrorism is a tactic. Burke leaves the target of such actions out of the definition, although he is also clear in calling suicide bombings 'abhorrent'.[74] F. Halliday meanwhile draws attention to the fact 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', although similar to Burke does not define terrorism in terms of the militance of the victim as did Kofi Annan. His preferred approach is to focus on the specific aspects within terrorism that we can study without using the concept itself, laden as it is with 'such distortion and myth'. This means focusing on the specific components of 'terror' and 'political violence' within terrorism.[75]

Suicide terrorism is a problematic term to define. There is an ongoing debate on definitions of terrorism itself. Kofi Annan, as Secretary General of the UN, defined terrorism in March 2005 in the General Assembly as any action "intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants" for the purpose of intimidation.[73] This definition would distinguish suicide terrorism from suicide bombing in that suicide bombing does not necessarily target non-combatants, and is not widely accepted.


Coolies against the Communist takeover formed "Dare to Die Corps" to fight for their organizations, with their lives.[71] During the Tianamen Square Incident of 1989, protesting students also formed "Dare to Die Corps", to risk their lives defending the protest leaders.[72]

Suicide bombing was also used against the Japanese. Chinese troops strapped explosives like grenade packs or dynamite to their bodies and threw themselves under Japanese tanks to blow them up.[62] This tactic was used during the Battle of Shanghai, where a Chinese suicide bomber stopped a Japanese tank column by exploding himself beneath the lead tank,[63] and at the Battle of Taierzhuang where dynamite and grenades were strapped on by Chinese troops who rushed at Japanese tanks and blew themselves up.[64][65][66][67][68] During one incident at Taierzhuang, Chinese suicide bombers obliterated four Japanese tanks with grenade bundles.[69][70]

A "dare to die corps" was effectively used against Japanese units at the Battle of Taierzhuang.[56][57][58][59][60][61]

"Dare to Die" troops were used by warlords in their armies to conduct suicide attacks.[52] "Dare to Die" corps continued to be used in the Chinese military. The Kuomintang used one to put down an insurrection in Canton.[53] Many women joined them in addition to men to achieve martyrdom against China's opponents.[54][55]

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.[43] Suicide squads were formed by Chinese students going into battle, knowing that they would be killed fighting against overwhelming odds.[44] 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.[45] 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.[46] The martyrdom of the revolutionaries helped the establishment of the Republic of China, overthrowing the Qing dynasty imperial system.[47] 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,[48] and Huang Shaoxiong with the Muslim Bai Chongxi against Qing dynasty forces.[49][50][51]

During the Xinhai Revolution 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"[33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42] were frequently used by Chinese armies. China also deployed these suicide units against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Chinese suicide squads

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 Moro's Islamic religion. During an attack, a Juramentado would throw themselves at their targets and kill them with bladed weapons such as Barongs and Kris until they themselves were killed. The Moros performed juramentado suicide attacks against the Spanish in the Spanish–Moro conflict, the Americans in the Moro Rebellion, and against the Japanese in World War II.[26] The Moro Juramentados aimed their attacks specifically against their enemies, and not non-Muslims in general. They launched suicide attacks on the Japanese, Spanish, Americans and Filipinos, but did not attack the non-Muslim Chinese since the Chinese were not considered enemies of the Moro people.[27][28][29][30][31] The Japanese responded to these suicide attacks by massacring all the relatives of the attacker.[32]

Moro Juramentado

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. Though extremely hazardous, these midget submarine attacks were not technically suicide missions, as the earlier midget submarines had escape hatches. Kaitens, by contrast, provided no means of escape.

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. 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 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.

October 25, 1944: Kamikaze pilot in a Mitsubishi Zero's Model 52 crash dives on escort carrier USS White Plains (CVE-66). The aircraft missed the flight deck and impacted the water just off the port quarter of the ship a few seconds later.

Japanese Kamikaze

There have also been suicide attacks in Western Europe and the United States. The September 11 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks killed nearly 3000 people in New York, Washington D.C and Shanksville, Pennsylvania in 2001.[24] An attack in London on 7 July 2005 killed 52 people.[25]

In the ten years after September 11, 2001, there were 336 suicide attacks in Afghanistan and 303 in Pakistan, while there were 1,003 documented suicide attacks in Iraq between March 20, 2003, and December 31, 2010.[21] Suicide bombings have also become a tactic in Chechnya, first being used in the conflict in 2000 in Alkhan Kala.[22] 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.[23] The 2010 Moscow Metro bombings are also believed to result from the Chechen conflict.

In Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, suicide bombings have generally been perpetrated by Islamist and occasionally by secular Palestinian groups including the PFLP.[19] In 1993, Hamas carried out the first suicide attack.[13] Between October 2000 and October 2006, there were 167 clearly identified suicide bomber attacks, with 51 other types of suicide attack.[20] 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.[20]


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