Suicide terrorism is not a new phenomenon. From the 11th-century Assassins — whose brazen and usually public murders of their rivals invited immediate death to the perpetrators — to Vietcong sympathizers who blew up themselves and U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, many people have proven their willingness to perish while carrying out attacks in pursuit of their political goals. Yet, the “modern” expressions of the suicide terror phenomenon surfaced with the appearance of the first suicide terrorists in Lebanon, more than 20 years ago.
Suicide attacks began in Lebanon in 1983 (some say 1981, when a sole suicide attack hit the Iraqi embassy in Beirut), at the instigation of Hizbollah, a Lebanese Shiite terror organization. Six months after an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, simultaneous truck bombings killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French paratroopers; just four months later, U.S. troops left Lebanon. Five other organizations (most of them not religious) in ...view middle of the document...
After 1983, many terror groups adapted the concept, giving bombers explosives to carry on their bodies. The resulting bombings were smaller, though more precise, allowing the bomber to be a “guided human missile.” Therefore, modern suicide terror attacks can be defined as violent, politically motivated actions executed knowingly, actively, and with prior intent by individuals who kill themselves while destroying their chosen civilian or military targets. Terrorist groups often choose this tactic because it is available and inexpensive, and the damage caused to the morale of the rival population is grave. A suicide attack, like all other terror attacks in the modern era, is meant to magnify the “power image” of the perpetrating organization.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka; the Palestinian fundamentalist organizations of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) — and later other non-religious groups such as Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and the Kurdish PKK in Turkey have adopted and refined suicide attacks as their “strategic weapons” against their adversaries.
Under Osama bin Laden’s leadership, al Qaeda and its affiliated groups and networks have given a global dimension to what usually appeared to be national, religious, or local conflicts. Bin Laden’s fundamentalist Islamic ideology and his grand strategy have spread the suicide terror phenomenon throughout the world. For bin Laden and his like-minded disciples, suicide terrorism has served as a weapon of defiance and as a symbolic tool to prove the supremacy of the purity of Muslims over the decadence of their rivals. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, where for the first time an unprecedented number of suicide bombers were used in four simultaneous suicide missions, al Qaeda and others have been leading a global suicide campaign. Through May 2004, al Qaeda and its affiliates had carried out about 80 suicide attacks by about 150 perpetrators. These numbers do not include almost 70 suicide bombers that have operated in Iraq since March 2003 (at least some, if not most, of them belong to the “Global Jihad” movement) and almost the same number of Chechen separatist suicide bombers, who started to operate in 2000.