The Origin of Suicide Bombers
Some trace the genesis of suicidal attacks by terrorists back to the 11th century assassins. Others, at least prior to the events of 9/11/01, recall the 2500 Japanese Navy “Kamikaze” or “divine wind” pilots who died in suicide attacks during WWII. But the one link among them — from different cultures and different eras, far removed from each other — has always been a religiously-based motivation.
The concept of suicide attacks as a military weapon had been part of Japanese culture long before WWII, expressed in the code of the Samurai and the Bushido religion. Although the original Kamikaze pilots were elite, college-educated men who believed their death might turn the tide of war in Japan’s favor, by war’s end, mere boys were recruited to make these futile flights. For the Japanese, in addition to their desperation and their ancestral history of “suicidal warriors,” there also needed to be a belief that the individual “divine wind” pilot was on a mission to save his country and preserve his way of life.
In their case, this was against an enemy that had far greater resources and could be expected to prevail without the sacrifice of the Japanese suicidal pilots. The Second World War Kamikaze had limited effect as a weapon of mass destruction, but as a weapon of terror it found great success.
A far greater level of success was gained in 1983 when two simultaneous suicide truck bombers killed 241 U.S. Marines and 59 French paratroopers in Beirut, Lebanon, resulting in all U.S. troops pulling out of that war-torn country a few months later. The message to those responsible for the suicide bombers was loud and clear; the tactic worked. International terrorists now had a new, low-cost, and politically effective strategic weapon.
September 11, 2001
Fast forward to September 2001 when the world saw 18 individuals arm themselves with crude box cutters and the knowledge of the many holes in airline security. The soon-to-be mass murderers had something more than shared weapons and knowledge. They, like the Kamikaze pilots 60 years before them, also shared a common belief. They too believed they were soldiers in a holy war where personal sacrifice was needed to prevail against a far technically superior enemy. It was them against us, the “true believers” vs. “the invading infidels,” and they bet their lives on their mission and the award they believed awaited them in the hereafter.
While accounting for only about 5% of world wide terrorist attacks, suicide bombers are believed responsible for at least 50% of the victims injured and killed by terrorists. And while countries like Lebanon and Israel have had to confront these walking “smart bombs” for decades, they are relatively new to the rest of the western world and are as hard to understand as they are to stop. For the groups employing this terror weapon, it is one that is readily available, inexpensive, and deadly to both life and moral.
On December 29, 2009, a 32-year-old double agent/medical doctor from Jordan was responsible for the loss of at least eight CIA operatives. They were all killed when Jordanian medical doctor Hammam Khalil al-Balawi detonated an explosive device concealed on his body. Agents believed he had critical knowledge of a high value al-Qaeda target and made an even more critical error when they allowed him to get close to them without first being searched for weapons. U.S. and Jordanian intelligence agents wrongly believed they had “flipped” the bomber and in their attempt to show trust, they died because they wanted to believe in him. In a video released after his death, the bomber called for all jihadists to attack U.S. targets, this while his widowed wife, acknowledging he was a lonely person, called him a hero for martyring himself for his religion.
This bomber followed in the footsteps of the seven or more individuals involved in the June 30, 2007 suicide bomber attack on the Glasgow, Scotland Airport. A number of the Glasgow bombing suspects were also medical doctors. They, like Dr. al-Balawi, rejected their Hippocratic Oath “never to do harm to anyone,” and instead attempted to murder hundreds of innocent people.
Scotland was fortunate in that while they were apparently good doctors, they were lousy suicide bombers. Many have tried to characterize suicide bombers as simply young, uneducated religious zealots; but such individuals are only part of a small but deadly new army willing to die to carry out their “Kamikaze-like” mission in the name of their religion.
The late 20th and early 21th century has witnessed hundreds of suicide bombers around the world, to include classic failures like Richard Reid, the so-called airline “shoe bomber” and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old college educated Nigerian who attempted to blow himself and 300 hundred passengers up on a Christmas day airline flight from Lagos to Detroit. Abdulmutallab had told others that his greatest wish was for Islam to be the rule of law across the world. His terrorist handlers were able to make him believe that mass murder would further this goal.
On 1/18/10, Taliban terrorists wearing explosive suicide vests and driving vehicles loaded with explosives attacked Kabul, Afghanistan, staging simultaneous suicide attacks across that city just as Afghanistan’s President was installing new members to his cabinet. While the numbers of killed and injured were mild by Afghanistan standards, the dead terrorists had delivered their message. The Taliban was still a force with which to be reckoned.
Radicalization in America
We have also witnessed U.S. citizens, some radicalized while in America; take their own life in suicide bombing attacks. One such man traveled from Minnesota (home to 60,000 Somalis) to Somalia where he turned himself into a living bomb for an al Qaeda-related group known as al-Shabab. What is it, we ask, that can change an otherwise reasonable, non-suicidal person into a ticking bomb looking for victims to murder, and how are such individuals convinced to wrap an explosive belt around their waist in their quest for jihad and martyrdom?
One simple fact is that suicide bombers work. A suicidal bomber with an explosive belt kills about four times as many victims as those caught up in a terrorist shooting attack. This fact is not lost on the terrorist organizations that identify and recruit suicide bombers. All such groups need to do is tap into a never ending cadre of recruits willing to believe their death has meaning, this while they are trained to die.
Those who Recruit Bombers
One primary recruiter of future terrorists and suicide bombers is said to be American born Islamic cleric and Wahabi fundamentalist Anwar al-Awlaki. His anti-West, anti-Israel and pro-jihadist lectures, Internet messages and videos are said to have inspired a least three of the 9/11 suicide hijackers, as well as U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan (who in November killed 13 and wounded over 30 at Ft. Hood, Texas). Hasan wrote to al-Awlaki that “he couldn’t wait to join him in Paradise.” It was this same radical cleric who provided both the inspiration and the training for the attempted Christmas day suicide airline bomber and Michael Finton, charged with the November 2009 attempt to bomb a Springfield, Illinois federal building with one ton of explosives, was said to both admire and quote from al-Awkaki’s writings. It was also al-Awlaki who, within days of the 9/11 attack on America, suggested the attacks had in reality been committed by Israeli intelligence agents.
The Bombers’ Common Traits
Al-Awalaki and his murderous cohorts have been able to identify the personality traits resident in individuals that can be molded into suicide bombers. These traits, like those found in individuals recruited into cults, can include loneliness; those seeking an individual identification through membership in a group; those with a personal commitment to a leader (like al-Awlaki); people who have suffered a deep personal or family crisis or loss, and those with an overwhelming desire for revenge while seeking a personal path to glory.
In the case of Muslim suicide bombers, there is a belief that their religion is the one true religion and those non-believers, especially those who wage war on their land, are candidates for murder. Because all major religions speak against suicide, the suicide bomber-to-be must also possess an altered personal, political and especially religious belief system that can embrace the idea of suicidal terrorism as both morally justified and, as if to “close the deal,” a means to earn their own key to paradise.
Those who identify and recruit suicide bombers are experienced students of the human condition and masterful analysts of human hearts and minds. They impress upon the recruit how important he is, and of the importance of his future mission of murder and mayhem in Allah’s name. Have no doubt though: the recruitment of suicide bombers is a serious business whose ultimate product is human bombs along with dead soldiers and civilians.
Most terrorist organizations do not post help wanted signs stating: “Suicide bombers needed; apply within.” These groups do, however, offer spiritual training, improvement courses and other types of specialized training. While such individuals are initially recruited as soldiers, they, like the Kamikaze pilots of WWII, are converted to suicide warriors who fight “the true fight” against the infidels, with, of course, the promise of 72 virgins if you die while martyring yourself. Although the number of virgins is not specified in the Quran, it comes from a quotation of Muhammad recorded in one of the lesser known Hadith, but the Quran (52:24) does indicate “and there will go round boy-servants of theirs, to serve them as if they were preserved pearls," indicating other personal rewards that await the faithful who die in battle. Sex sells.
For many people, their religion composes their social environment. When you look for answers within such a group, you tend to gravitate to those who hold themselves out as having all the answers. David Koresh did this with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas and the majority of his followers died believing he was a messianic figure to be followed, even if it meant into death. Jim Jones offered his followers all the answers and poison Kool-aid in Ghana, and now hate mongers like al-Awlaki are inspiring yet others to die for the religious and political dogma he feeds them.
The well of Islam has been poisoned by the jihadist movement. Men like al-Awlaki hope to drive a wedge between the Middle East and the West and just may succeed if both sides of the issue do not realize how they are being manipulated by those who seek not peace, but death by any means.
The Future for Suicide Bombers
The future of suicide bombers will see yet new and low cost efforts being exerted to surpass the West’s ability to spend millions of dollars to combat yesterday’s suicide techniques. The so-called Christmas day “underwear bomber” was able to defeat both metal detectors and routine body pat-downs due to his method of concealing 80 grams of PETN explosive (more than enough to blow a hole in the airplane where he sat above a fuel tank) close to his genitalia. While personal rights advocates struggle with airport x-ray machines that will show just enough of the human anatomy to allow us to find a bomb or weapon, terrorists are moving on to yet new weapon ideas.
In addition to plastic explosives and non-metallic weapons, we will probably see the use of more female bombers in the future. We should also expect the terrorists to continue to seek out ways to attack their favorite targets, to include airliners, buildings and groups of people. Female bombers will likely attempt to conceal explosive devices on their bodies or perhaps within false pregnancy devices as we’ve seen in Iraq. In this way they play on the current level of political and social correctness that makes security personnel reluctant to search Islamic women in a manner that would be considered invasive. Yet this is deemed necessary to find potential weapons of destruction concealed on a man, woman or a child.
What We All Have to Lose
Somehow those individuals being identified and recruited as human guided missiles must compare the truth of their religion against the twisted interpretation being fed to them by those who seek only bloodshed and murder in the name of religion. There is an ongoing war, not a war of religions, but a war that is being waged that there can be no coexistence between different religions. This is a war of both beliefs and bullets and if we do not learn from the past; our world could ultimately lose its future