Suicide Terrorism, Root Causes & Effects

There are many platforms that carry out suicide terrorism but I will discuss about the religious platform which carried out most successful suicide terrorism in the world. The root causes of suicide terrorism are not so dissimilar from any type of terrorist act. The basic causes of terrorism are to disrupt, destroy, and achieve a political goal. The other root causes of suicide terrorism are as follows:

  • Personal Motives / Motivations
  • Religious obligation
  • Huge benefits (worldly and hereafter)
  • Brutal Occupation
  • Identity Issues
  • Individual/ Psychological approach

Some experts argue that suicide terrorists are always against the brutality of the occupying state or the cruel treatment of their own democratic governments, but I believe these cases are not primary amongst suicide terrorist but the motivations, religious obligations and huge benefits are the main root causes behind it.

For example, Dr. Ganor, head of International Institute for Counter Terrorism in Herzilya suggests:

The factor that is most influential to Muslims who commit suicide attacks is religion beliefs. Religion unites most of the suicide attackers in the world and almost all the Muslim Shahids (Global and local Jihadi terrorists, the Palestinians, homegrown terrorists, Chechens, Iraqis, etc.

This is one of the main root cause of suicide terrorism but the origins of suicide terrorism are not social or economic, brought on by humiliation or state terror, but rather by the religious, political- ideological characteristics of a population that support the use of suicidal acts.

Suicide terrorism is more religious and cultural than political. Its roots are in religious teachings, which provide religious motivations and justifications to get worldly benefits and dignity hereafter. On the issue of motivation and way of terrorist’s operation, Dr Ganor is on the opinion that:

A suicide attack is an operational method in which the very act of the attack is dependent upon the death of the perpetrator

The suicide bomber is a rational actor, he knows and fully understands what he is going to do and fully agrees to carry out suicidal tactics to provide comprehensive benefits and obtain multiple objectives.

  • Benefits to the religion
  • Benefits to the organization
  • Benefits to the family
  • Benefits to him/herself
  • Benefits to the community
  • Benefits to the state (state that provide suicide terrorist to gain political goals)

If we look at the benefits and motivations that drag someone to become a suicide bomber, we can understand that the religious motivations are greater than the political or economic motivations.

Terrorist organisations consider suicidal mission as a successful tool to easily gain its political goal. Through suicidal missions they can create a fear and anxiety in the victim nation and this pressurises the state to take weak action which means that terrorist organisations attain the political ends. Terrorist organisations always use suicide tool to carry out suicide attack because they prefer death than to life and being a martyr is their religious motivation.

According to the Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah:

We are going to win because they love life and we love death

Dr Ganor explained this situation very well and he stated: “This is a unique situation in which the terrorist is fully aware that if he does not kill himself, the planned attack will not be carried out.”

How to describe the suicide attack, according to Martha Crenshaw:

Acts of terrorism that require the death of the perpetrator for successful implementation typically known as “suicide attack

The climax is that the perpetrator of a suicidal act does not think he is committing a suicide but rather making himself a Martyr, a “Shaheed” in Arabic. They believe that whoever becomes Shaheed by committing suicide tactic will go to Jannah (paradise).

According to Dr Ganor:

The radical Islamic activists who decide to become “Shahids” see themselves as martyrs who are fulfilling a divine command of protecting their religion from the attack by the infidels

Terrorist acts usually emanate from rational, calculated, conscious decisions. These decisions represent an optimal strategy to attain the social–political goals of these perpetrators. Terrorism might not represent pathological or illogical behavior but could represent the best means to fulfill personal needs in some circumstances.

I believe that terrorists are quite rational and simply by considering how much time they spend on planning. They don`t just appear suddenly and decide to attack something or somebody but rather they analyse the entire situation and decide where to start from. They decide what the outcomes might be both positive and negative and some of them also work out a plan “B” in case their initial strategy might fail.

This is why, I believe terrorist are rational beings. They believe it is a part of a mechanism that is linked to some ideological ideas. Suicide Terrorism is a rational behavior, making suicide bombers rational actors who kill others to achieve certain goals. Please read further about rationality of suicide terrorism in my previous article “Suicide Terrorism, Rational or Irrational”.

From the (Social) psychological approach, there is more or less consensus that they are not mentally unbalanced. According to Jerrold M Post:

Terrorists are not depressed and not severely emotionally disturbed, nor are they crazed fanatics. In fact, terrorist groups and organizations regularly weed out emotionally unstable individuals as they represent a security risk

The terrorists think about costs and benefits and consider that violence is the best way to elevate their cause.


The effects of suicide terrorism are very intense for the entire nation of the victim country. People not only suffer from different types of fear and anxiety, but the psychologically effect of terrorism remain in the country for a long time.

There are many types of effects which completely ruin the lives of victims of terrorism. Here are some of them:

  • Emotional Effects
  • Cognitive Effects
  • Physical Effects
  • Interpersonal Effects

So apart from the above mentioned, there are many other common symptoms which disturb the victim’s daily routine system.

  • Feeling helpless
  • Detachment and Numbness
  • Disturbed and Startled
  • Unsecure feelings
  • Nightmare and trouble sleeping
  • Feeling lazy and unhappy at the workplace and home
  • Develops a fear psychosis
  • Uncertainty of future
  • Mistrust for the law of the land
  • Helplessness as an individual
  • Increase stress and anxiety
  • Incites hatred or violence against individual or group
  • Increase aggression
  • Strengthen belief that violence is the last solution

Some people are more affected by a traumatic event than others, it totally depends on the nature of the event and the nature of the individual’s experience of the situation.

The victims of suicide terrorism or common terrorism are suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms, PTSD have many psychological, emotional, social and physical effects.

According to the American Psychiatric Association:

PTSD is a mental disorder resulting from exposure to an extreme, traumatic stressor. PTSD has a number of unique defining features and diagnostic criteria

The victims or survivors of terrorism are at high risk of a range of PTSD problems. These people are direct witnesses or survivals of any kind of terrorism, especially suicide terrorism. There are some survivors who have a high risk of Post disasters:

  • Exposure of mass destruction of death, family or friend
  • Sudden or violent death of a loved one
  • Loss of home or community
  • Loss of land or business or sudden unemployment
  • Property destruction
  • Personal Injury

When terrorist attacks occur, children may witness or learn about them on TV, talking to people at school and by hearing from adults who are discussing about the terror events. Children are affected more easily than adults because of their young age and they remember many things that are happening around them and it has a negative effect on their minds.

Research shows that children of any age are strongly affected by terrorist incidents. A few days after 9/11, a survey showed that 35% parents said that their children have some kind of stress due to the terrorist attack. Almost half of them reported that their children were worried about their own safety, or the safety of their loved one.

This was an important finding because these children were not direct victims or witnesses of any sort of terrorism or had any relation with the people were killed or injured, but they had just read or watched the terror attack in the newspaper or on TV. Parents have a great responsibility to teach their children positively and let them know about reality and be prepare them for any event that might happen should not only look after them but take care of their parents as well by providing positive reassurance.

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"