Noor Dahri
Noor Dahri
CT Expert

Suicide Terrorism and Its Motivations

I discussed what suicide terrorism is, how it works, what are their root causes and how it effects on other’s personal life or on the entire system in two previous articles,  Suicide Terrorism: Rational or Irrational  and Suicide Terrorism, Root Causes & Effects . In this article, I shine a light the prime motivations for someone to become a suicide bomber and how the events catch the media’s attention. One difference between a suicide attack and other attacks is often the lethality. Many suicide attacks are more lethal than normal terrorist attacks, with the impact of an attack desiring more casualties than normal attack to create a greatest possible sense of chaos and fear.

Suicide attacks are not carried out by individuals, but by an organisation. An organisation can choose or strongly suggest where and when to send suicide bombers and attackers. The suicide attack is a more developed type of attack. In normal terrorist attacks, there are more chances for a terrorist to be caught on the spot and in a suicide attacks, it is less likely that a suicide member will be arrested. The terrorist organisation that carries out a suicide attack achieves many goals and two of them are most important.

  • Instant Media Attention
  • Fear and anxiety

Because a suicide attack is a more lethal attack than a normal bombing, the media is kept focused on this attack and when there are more casualties it generates more fear, horror and anxiety within targeted communities. I agree with the definition of the suicide attacker by Ariel Merari, in which she stated:

[A suicide attack is a] situation in which a person intentionally kills himself (or herself) for the purpose of killing others in the service of a political or ideological goal

There are many motives, grievances and benefits behind a suicide bomber. These rationales include personal, economic, political, nationalist, sociological motives. Merari also states, “Suicide bombers can be driven by desires and emotions primarily focused on their private lives, with no or little connection with a collective, religious or political cause.”

Religious motives remain the most common factors for suicide attacks because in this cause, suicide bombers get many personal and family or social and worldly benefits.  Suicide is prohibited in most religions of the world, for example, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, but if someone kills others and himself to get the higher religious reward, it is not considered as a suicide but martyrdom. Muslim suicide bombers have a belief that once they commit a suicide mission, they will get 70 virgins hereafter, the family will receive worldly honour within the community and they will be known very well among their peoples’ thoughts. For them, Suicide bombers are not only serving for the nation or the country, but also protecting the religion as well by committing a suicide mission.

Robert Pape states,

 Suicide terrorist is weaker actor target is the stronger

Terrorist organisations always use suicide tactics when they know they are weaker than the target and believe they cannot otherwise achieve a significant political goal. Modern terrorism has the added phenomenon of psychological warfare that creates long standing anxiety within the population. The psychological impact of terrorism is more fearful than any other form of attacks because victims become psychologically disabled and cannot react instantly The main goal of terrorists is to generate the terror which transfers people’s reactions from rational fear into irrational fear. Aside from the immediate death and destruction, a main goal, terrorists want to generate irrational fear and panic in the hearts and mind of the ordinary citizens of the state.  In this situation, our main policy should be, to thwart the irrational fear which terrorists create within a targeted population.

Many people have had personal experiences of terrorist attacks in their lives, regardless of where they live. For example, if a suicide attack were to happen tomorrow in Trafalgar Square, London, one of the first things to cross a person’s mind likely would be, my family lives there; I was planning on going there. It is natural for people in the targeted population to personalise an attack, and this, as has been noted earlier in this article, is precisely one of the primary aims of the terrorist organisations.  It may be statistically far more likely for a person to be hurt in a car accident at Trafalgar Square in London than by a suicide attack, (even if one attack occurred there). None-the-less, the sense of impending doom of a possible attack spreads irrational anxiety. Nevertheless, it is an innate human reaction for a person to feel as if the attack was aimed for directly at him or her.

Once a person is aware of natural trap and dangerous feeling of the sense that sees the action as personal, they might find it much easier to behave more rationally after the initial and normal response and the anxiety of terrorism might be limited.

The organisations that are widely active in the world are part of a worldwide Islamic Jihad network, whose ideology is based on their harsh version of political Islam. It is one which has manipulated the message of Islam to reflect each group’s rigid and extremely conservative and violent views but they still call themselves Islamist Jihadi Organisation. Jihadi motivations are rooted in the way they interpret the divine message. For example, if you will conduct the terrorist act against a specific community, a certain relation or a certain country, you will go to Jannah (Paradise) or you will become martyrs and will get seventy Hoors (virgin ladies in the paradise hereafter).

This motivation leads some to carry out deadly offensive acts to get not only worldly benefits but afterlife benefits too related to his or her family. Terrorists can expect streets and parks to be named for them.  It is a high level of dignity and honour among these communities to have the family live in their town or village; to have a martyr be among their own is even better. A martyr will not just take their parents into Jannah without accountability but also seventy members of his close family.

Countering the motivations that lead to terrorism is a much more complicated process than simply fighting the operational capabilities of a terrorist organisation. There are two groups of people, whose motivations influence the level and nature of terrorism. The first group is the terrorists themselves; it includes the leaders and activists of the organization. The second group is the constituency whom are the people the terrorists claim to represent. It is this second group who are part of the aim of the counter-motivation campaign. These motivations allow the constituency to continue to see terrorism as a viable answer to problems instead of talking and cooperation.

A truly divine message does not teach hatred or promote the killing of those who do not belong to their religion. Jihad and terrorism are very different phenomena in Islam but it was manipulated and created the wrong message to the other communities.

True Jihad is not an act of violence that promotes the killing of others simply for being of another culture or religion or even Muslims who are not with them ideologically. In a broader sense, jihad means striving to the utmost extent of one’s ability and power by exerting oneself spiritually in the way of Allah and doing one’s best to preach the message of Islam to others. (The True Spirit of Jihad, Sarah Ahmad,

About the Author
Mr. Noor Dahri is the Founder and Executive Director of Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism- ITCT, a UK based Counter Islamist Terrorism Think Tank. Noor was born and raised in Pakistan. Noor Dahri has also worked with the London Police department for the last seven years. He has studied Forensics and Criminal Psychology from Oxford – UK and Counter Terrorism from International Institute for Counter Terrorism ICT- Israel. He is an author of "Terra Nullius: The Rebirth of a Land Without Peace"
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