Suicide Terrorism: Rational or Irrational

A suicide attack is an operational method in which the perpetrator knows it costs his or her life. This characteristic distinguishes the suicide attack from any other acts of terrorism. It places this action in the psychological realm and requires the suicide bomber to create a sort of tunnel vision. A cognitive solution for the gruesome action to come.

The suicide bombers and indeed the terrorists’ organizational goal is to propagate fear and panic within society, instill fear and the notion of helplessness regarding the inability to prevent such attack. Operationally, suicide attacks require no escape plan and scale down the fear of the perpetrator being caught and interrogated afterwards.

The number of suicide attacks has skyrocketed over the last two decades. Appearing first as a threat in Lebanon in the 1980s (in 1981: Al Dawa against the Iraqi Embassy and in 1983: The Hezbollah-led campaign of suicide attacks against Western targets) and then in Sri Lanka (1987: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against a Sri Lanka Army camp). The phenomenon of suicide attacks has spread exponentially since then. Affected countries include, among others: Israel (1994), Turkey (1995) India (1999), Pakistan (1999), Russia (2000), the United States (2001), Kenya (2002), Saudi Arabia (2003), Iraq (2003), Indonesia (2005), the United Kingdom (2007) and Yemen (2008). In addition, many other plots were foiled in various other countries around the globe.  This increase can be explained by the fact that suicide terrorism is a smart bomb at low expense for modern terrorists – a product of radical ideology with a modus operandi easily exportable and imitable.

Rational or irrational 

I strongly disagree with what some counter-terrorism experts put forward about the irrationality of suicide attacks because the rationality of these attacks have provided strong evidence in those countries that were or still are facing these deadly attacks. Among these countries are Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Russia and other countries.

This phenomenon of suicide terrorism is not a new to the macrocosm, but this tactic is an old Paradox practiced by radical Islamists since it started in Israel, the USA, the UK, in Pakistan and in other countries of the world.

Israel and Pakistan are the only countries who had faced a very high quantity of suicide attacks in past few decades. From 2000 to 2005, there were around 147 suicide attacks carried out against the state of Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations. These attacks caused the deaths of more than 500 Israelis, the overwhelming majority was civilians. These successful suicide attempts were extremely lethal and the impacts of these attacks on the victim’s population left a high mark of fear and panic among them. These death figures were the successful suicide attacks only.

The Israeli security forces foiled around 450 suicide attacks on various stages. There were around 147 successful suicide attacks which were carried out by 156 Palestinian males and 8 females.

It is essential to understand that suicide attacks are always carried out by organizations not by individual lone wolves. The prime reason of growing suicide terrorism in the world is that terrorists have learned that it works. These attacks are always initiated, planned, organized and launched the terrorist organizations and are not personally initiated, but organized attacks.

Committing suicide attacks are the outcome of rational decision processes because of their costs and what they consider as benefits. The terrorist organization always gets multiple benefits to carry out suicide attacks against the state and some of the benefits are as below:

1-      To achieve the political goal

2-      The cost of attacks is very cheap

3-      Less chances of capturing a suicide bomber

4-      Lethality of attacks

5-      To spread more fear and panic among the victims

6-      Media attention

7-      To deliver a message to the local and international community

Suicide attacks are very advanced rational terrorist tactics compared to other tactics like shooting, stabbing, remote bombing, etc. The Suicide terrorism is a rational behavior for both, organization and the perpetrator himself.

There are many examples of famous organizations that have carried out suicide attacks and the LTTE (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was the most popular terrorist organization in Sri Lanka that not only carried out suicide attacks against the state but also introduced the latest and most modern suicide tactics. LTTE was the exclusive organization whose members were not caught by the security forces because they kept poison pills and swallowed once they were arrested before being interrogated. Suicide attacks don’t only occur against the occupations, but also against the democratic states by Islamists.

I agree with Dr Ganor (Director, ICT Herzilya -Israel) that suicide attacks are more lethal and cause more casualties than any other type of bombing attacks. In suicide attacks, the perpetrator can have control of the timing and the location of the incident and once he finds that a certain location did not have enough people at the time he has chosen, he can change the timing and placement whenever and wherever he wishes. This tactic of suicide attack proves that it is more rational than any other type of terrorist tactic.

I also agree with Dr Ganor that suicide terrorism is the most dangerous modus operandi of modern terrorism. There is a big difference between remote bombing and suicide bombing because in remote bombing, the timing and placement is not under the control of the perpetrator, but in suicide attack both the timing and placement are completely under control of the perpetrator, this’s why, the lethal way of suicide terrorism is more dangerous than remote bombing.

According to the Robert Pape:

Most suicide terrorism is undertaken as a strategic effort directed toward achieving particular political goals; it is not simply the product of irrational individuals or an expression of fanatical hatreds.

The objective of counterterrorism experts researching the field is to counter the terrorist act successfully, this is why; we need to know and understand the terrorist’s rational tactic, motivation, ideology and root cause. If such thing does not exit and we believe that suicide bombers are irrational and imbalanced in every way, then why should we evaluate the grounds of their suicidal acts? In this situation, I strongly believe that suicide terrorism is a rational act and there is a solid ideology, reason, motivation and root cause behind carrying out these lethal acts. In my next article, I will explain the root causes of the Suicide Terrorism.

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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