Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home

What do we know about suicide bombing?: Review and analysis

  • Veronica Ward (a1)
Abstract

In this article, the present status of our knowledge about the phenomenon of “suicide” bombing or “martyrdom” operations is identified. A review of many studies located at different levels of analysis is conducted, followed by an analysis and evaluation of the state of the research at each level. In addition, an exploration of the evolution in the characteristics of this tactic and the differences, if any, between subnational and transnational acts is undertaken. The conclusion identifies what we know and what may be appropriate for future research and public policy initiatives.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      What do we know about suicide bombing?
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      What do we know about suicide bombing?
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      What do we know about suicide bombing?
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
Corresponding author
Correspondence: Department of Political Science, Utah State University, 0725 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT, 84322-0725. Email: veronica.ward@usu.edu
References
Hide All
1 Horgan, J., The Psychology of Terrorism (London: Routledge, 2005).
2 Silke, A., “Cheshire-cat logic: The recurring theme of terrorist abnormality in psychological research,” Psychology, Crime & Law , 1998, 4(1): 5169.
3 Victoroff, J., “The mind of the terrorist: A review and critique of psychological approaches,” Journal of Conflict Resolution , 2005, 49(1): 342.
4 Crenshaw, M., “Explaining suicide terrorism: A review essay,” Security Studies , 2007, 16(1): 133162, at p. 135.
5 Hafez, M., Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2006).
6 Hafez, M., Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2007).
7 Singh, R., Hamas and Suicide Terrorism: Multi-causal and Multi-level Approaches (London: Routledge, 2011).
8 Moghadam, A., The Globalization of Martyrdom: Al Qaeda, Salafi Jihad, and the Diffusion of Suicide Attacks (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).
9Horgan, p. 22.
10 Durkheim, E., Suicide: A Study in Sociology (New York: Free Press, 1897/1951), p. 43.
11Durkheim, p. 44.
12Durkheim, p. 151.
13Durkheim, p. 209.
14Durkheim, p. 246.
15Durkheim, pp. 219–221.
16Durkheim, p. 223.
17Durkheim, p. 225.
18Durkheim, p. 223.
19Durkheim, p. 222.
20 Pedahzur, A., Suicide Terrorism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005).
21 Pedahzur, A., Perliger, A., and Weinberg, L., “Altruism and fatalism: The characteristics of Palestinian suicide terrorists,” Deviant Behavior , 2003, 24(4): 405423.
22Pedahzur, 2005, p. 7.
23 Stack, S., “Emile Durkheim and altruistic suicide,” Archives of Suicide Research , 2004, 8(1): 922, at p. 20.
24Stack, p. 19.
25 Schweitzer, Y., “Suicide terrorism: Development and main characteristics,” in Countering Suicide Terrorism (Heerzliyya, Israel: Interdisciplinary Center Projects Publishing, 2001), p. 78.
26 Abdel-Khalek, A. M., “Neither altruistic suicide, nor terrorism but martyrdom: A Muslim perspective,” Archives of Suicide Research , 2004, 8(1): 99113.
27 Blackwell, A. D., “Middle-class martyrs: Modeling the inclusive fitness outcomes of Palestinian suicide attack,” unpublished paper, 2006.
28Hafez, 2006, p. 60.
29 Ginges, J. and Atran, S., “What motivates participation in violent political action: Selective incentives of parochial altruism?,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences , 2009, 1167: 115123.
30 Hassan, N., “Letter from Gaza: An arsenal of believers—talking to the human bombs,” The New Yorker , November 19, 2001.
31 Atran, S., “The moral logic and growth of suicide terrorism,” Washington Quarterly , 2006, 29(2): 127147.
32Quoted by N. Hassan, 2001, p. 6.
33 Ricolfi, L., “Palestinians, 1981–2003,” in Making Sense of Suicide Missions, Gambetta, D., ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
34Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Taming the Tamil Tigers,” January 10, 2008, http://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/stories/2008/january/tamil_tigers011008 (accessed February 19, 2018).
35 Waldman, A., “Masters of suicide bombing: Tamil guerrillas of Sri Lanka,” New York Times , January 14, 2003.
36 Pape, R. A. and Feldman, J. K., Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), p. 296.
37 Bloom, M., Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).
38 Hopgood, S., “Tamil Tigers, 1987–2002,” in Making Sense of Suicide Missions, Gambetta, D., ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
39 Roberts, M., “Tamil Tiger ‘martyrs’: Regenerating divine potency? Studies in Conflict & Terrorism , 2005, 28(6): 493514, at p. 497.
40 Roberts, M., “Suicide missions as witnessing: Expansions, contrasts,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism , 2007, 30(10): 857887, at p. 858.
41Roberts, 2007, p. 860.
42Atran, 2006, p. 139.
43 Khosrokhavar, F., Suicide Bombers: Allah’s New Martyrs (London: Pluto Press, 2005), pp. 3, 6.
44 McDermott, T., Perfect Soldiers The Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It (New York: HarperCollins, 2005).
45 Strenski, I., “Sacrifice, gift and the social logic of Muslim ‘human bombers’,” Terrorism and Political Violence , 2003, 15(3): 134, at p. 8.
46Hafez, 2006, p. 55.
47 Abufarha, N., The Making of a Human Bomb: Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 230.
48Singh, p. 14.
49Singh, p. 15.
50Abufarha, p. 11.
51Abufarha, p. 49.
52Hafez, 2006, p. 47.
53 Victor, B., Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers (Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2003), p. 191.
54 Hsiao-Rei Hicks, M., Dardagan, H., Bagnall, P. M., Spagat, M., and Sloboda, J. A., “Casualties in civilians and coalition soldiers from suicide bombings in Iraq, 2003–10: A descriptive study,” The Lancet , 2011, 378(9794): 906914, at p. 907.
55 Hassan, R., Life as a Weapon: The Global Rise of Suicide Bombings (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 52.
56Hassan, 2011, p. 52.
57Hassan, 2011, p. 54.
58Hafez, 2007.
59Quoted by Horgan, p. 50.
60Silke, p. 56.
61Horgan, p. 49.
62 Post, J. M., Leaders and Their Followers in a Dangerous World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), pp. 27, 28.
63 American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III(Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1987).
64Post, 2004, pp. 127–128.
65 Post, J. M., “Terrorist psycho-logic: Terrorist behavior as a product of psychological forces,” in Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind, Reich, Walter, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 32, 34.
66 Post, J. M., The Mind of the Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to Al-Qaeda (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. 8.
67Post, 2007, p. 8.
68Post, 2007, p. 8.
69Post, 2007, p. 8.
70Post, 2007, p. 75.
71Post, 2007, pp. 77, 88.
72Post, 2007, p. 8.
73Horgan, p. 60.
74Horgan, p. 53.
75Horgan, p. 54.
76Silke, p. 52.
77Horgan, pp. 47–48.
78Silke, pp. 60, 61.
79Horgan, p. 51.
80 Pearlstein, R., The Mind of the Political Terrorist (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, A91), p. 46.
81Silke, p. 20.
82Quoted by Horgan, p. 51.
83 Lachkar, J., “The psychological make-up of a suicide bomber,” Journal of Psychohistory , 2002, 29(4): 349367, at p. 352.
84 deMause, L., “The childhood origins of terrorism,” Journal of Psychohistory , 2002, 29(4): 340348, at p. 341.
85 Lankford, A., “Could suicide terrorists actually be suicidal? Studies in Conflict & Terrorism , 2011, 34(4): 337366, at p. 340.
86Lankford later published a book in which the same argument is made. A. Lankford, The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
87 Merari, A., “Suicide terrorism in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” paper presented at the Suicide Terrorism Conference, (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 2004).
88 Merari, A., Diamant, I., Bibi, A., Broshi, Y., and Zakin, B., “Personality characteristics of ‘self martyrs’/‘suicide bombers’ and organizers of suicide attacks,” Terrorism and Political Violence , 2010, 22(1): 87101, at p. 89.
89 Merari, A., Driven to Death: Psychological and Social Aspects of Suicide Terrorism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 20.
90Merari, 2010, pp. 103–104.
91 Elster, J., “Motivations and beliefs in suicide missions,” in Making Sense of Suicide Missions, Gambetta, D., ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 257.
92 Merari, “These diagnoses are drawn from American Psychiatric Association,” in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed.(Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994), pp. 112113.
93Merari, 2010, p. 142.
94DSM IV-TR, quoted by C. McCauley and S. Moskalenko, “Do suicide terrorists have personality problems?,” Terrorism and Political Violence, 2011, 23(1): 108–111, at p. 110.
95Merari et al., 2010, p. 95.
96McCauley and Moskalenko, pp. 110, 111.
97Merari et al., 2010, p. 96.
98Abufarha, p. 224.
99 Luis de la Corte Ibanez, “Suicide terrorism explained: A psychosocial approach,” in Understanding Suicide Terrorism: Psychosocial Dynamics, Kuman, U. and Mandal, M. K., eds. (London: Sage, 2014), p. 36.
100Merari, 2010, p. 141.
101 Haney, C., Banks, C., and Zimbardo, P., “Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison,” International Journal of Criminology and Penology , 1973, 1(1): 6997, at pp. 73, 75.
102Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo, p. 80.
103Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo, p. 81.
104Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo, p. 90. An alternative explanation for the unexpected results may be problematic psychological tests.
105Merari et al., 2010, p. 117.
106Horgan, p. 44.
107 Speckhard, A., Talking to Terrorists (McLean, VA: Advances Press, 2012), p. 641.
108Speckhard, p. 773.
109 Strozier, C. B. and Terman, D. M., “Introduction,” in The Fundamentalist Mindset, Strozier, C. B., Terman, D. M., Jones, J. W., and Boyd, K. A., eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 3.
110 Strozier, C. B. and Boyd, K., “Definitions and Dualism,” in The Fundamentalist Mindset, Strozier, C. B., Terman, D. M., Jones, J. W., and Boyd, K. A., eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 11.
111Strozier and Boyd, p. 11.
112Strozier and Boyd, p. 11.
113 Ammerman, N. T., “North American Protestant fundamentalism,” in Fundamentalisms Observed, Marty, M. E. and Appleby, R. S., eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1991), vol. 1, p. 2.
114 Almond, G. A., Appleby, R. S., and Sivan, E., Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalism around the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), p. 17.
115 Galen, L., “Review of The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History ,” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion , 2011, 21(3): 237241, at p. 238.
116 Khosrokhavar, F., “The psychology of the global jihadists,” in The Fundamentalist Mindset, Strozier, C. B., Terman, D. M., Jones, J. W., and Boyd, K. A., eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 140147.
117 Strozier, C. B., “The apocalyptic other,” in The Fundamentalist Mindset, Strozier, C. B., Terman, D. M., Jones, J. W., and Boyd, K. A., eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 6263.
118Paul Gill cites multiple studies which display a range of percentages of individuals judged mentally ill. Here there is no agreement. P. Gill, Lone-Actor Terrorists: A Behavioural Analysis (London: Routledge, 2015), p. 107.
119Gill, p. 2017.
120Gill.
121 Spaaij, R., Understanding Lone Wolf Terrorism: Global Patterns, Motivations and Prevention (London: Springer, 2012).
122Bloom.
123 Pape, R., Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (New York: Random House, 2005).
124Pape and Feldman, 2010.
125Pape, pp. 45, 46.
126Bloom, p. 3.
127Atran, 2006, p. 128.
128 Moghadam, A., “Motives for martyrdom: Al-Qaida, Salafi jihad, and the spread of suicide attacks,” International Security , 2008–2009, 33(3): 4678, at pp. 55–56.
129Pape, p. 65.
130 Moghadam, A., “Suicide terrorism, occupation, and the globalization of martyrdom: A critique of Dying to Win ,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism , 2006, 29(8): 707729, at pp. 713–716.
131 Hroub, K., “Hamas after Shaykh Yasin and Rantisi,” Journal of Palestinian Studies , 2004, 33(4): 2138.
132 Hoffman, B. and McCormick, G. H., “Terrorism, signaling, and suicide attack,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism , 2004, 27(4): 243281.
133 Moghadam, A., “Palestinian suicide terrorism in the Second Intifada: Motivations and organizational aspects,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism , 2003, 26(2): 6592.
134 Strinberg, A. and Warn, M., “Realities of resistance: Hizballah, the Palestinian rejectionists and Al-Qaeda compared,” Journal of Palestinian Studies , 2004, 34(3): 2341.
135 Gupta, D. and Mundra, K., “Suicide bombing as a strategic weapon: An empirical investigation of Hamas and Islamic jihad,” Terrorism and Political Violence , 2005, 17(4): 573598, at p. 578.
136 Zaidi, S. M. A., “Organizational profiling of suicide terrorism: A Pakistani case study,” Defence Studies , 2009, 9(3): 409453, at p. 426.
137 Speckhard, A. and Akhmedova, K., “The new Chechen jihad: Militant Wahhabism as a radical movement and a source of suicide terrorism in post-war Chechen society,” Democracy and Security , 2006, 2(1): 103155, at p. 440.
138Speckhard and Akhmedova, p. 442.
139 Hansen, S. J., “Revenge or reward? The case of Somalia’s suicide bombers,” Journal of Terrorism Research , 2011, 1(1): 1540, at pp. 24, 25.
140Quoted by M. Roberts, “Tamil Tigers’: Sacrificial symbolism and ‘dead body politics,”’ Anthropology Today, 2008, 24(3): 22–23, at p. 22.
141Roberts, 2008, p. 23.
142 Atran, S., Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood and the (Un) Making of Terrorists (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), p. 303.
143Atran, 2010, p. 13.
144Atran, 2010, p. 317.
145Atran, 2010, p. 450.
146 Ginges, J., Hansen, I., and Norenzayan, A., “Religion and support for suicide attacks,” Psychological Science , 2009, 20(2): 224230, at p. 224.
147 Sageman, M., Understanding Terror Networks (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), p. 147.
148Sageman, 2004, p. 144.
149Sageman, 2004, pp. 154, 156.
150 Sageman, M., Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), pp. 48, 70.
151 Argo, N. and Amant, Omar, “Conversation,” BOMB Magazine , 2006 (97): https://bombmagazine.org/articles/nichole-argo-and-omar-amanat/ (accessed February 19, 2018).
152 Wiktorowicz, Q., “Suicide bombings: Do beliefs matter.” 2004, September. Working Paper, Memphis, TN: Rhodes College, p. 4.
153McDermott.
154Wiktorowicz, p. 10.
155Wiktorowicz, pp. 7, 10.
156 Pedahzur, A. and Perliger, A., “The changing nature of suicide attacks: A social network perspective,” Social Forces , 2006, 84(4): 19872008, at p. 1988.
157Pedahzur and Perliger, p. 1989.
158Pedahzur and Perliger, p. 1995.
159Pedahzur and Perliger, p. 1996.
160 Kirby, A., “The London bombers as ‘self-starters’: A case study in indigenous radicalization and the emergence of autonomous cliques,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism , 2007, 30(5): 415428, at p. 415.
161Kirby, pp. 416, 418.
162Quoted by Kirby, p. 423.
163Kirby, p. 415.
164Quoted by Kirby, p. 422.
165 Jordan, J., “Analysis of Jihadi terrorism incidents in Western Europe, 2001–2010,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism , 2012, 35(5): 382404, at p. 388.
166Jordan, p. 390.
167Jordan, p. 391.
168Jordan, p. 391.
169 Ryan, M., Hot issue: Could Benghazi embassy deaths be a harbinger of Al-Qaeda’s ‘fourth generation warfare?’ (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2012), p. 3.
170 Zelin, A. Y., “Know your Ansar al-Sharia,” Foreign Policy , September 21, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/21/know-your-ansar-al-sharia/ (accessed February 19, 2018).
171Quoted by P. Baker, “Recovered Bin Laden letters show a divided Al Qaeda.” New York Times, May 3, 2012.
172Zelin.
173 Wagemakers, J., “What’s in a name: A Jihadi labels himself,” September 11, 2012, http://www.jihadica.com/whats-in-a-name-a-jihadi-labels-himself/ (accessed February 19, 2018).
174 Lister, C. R., The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 6970.
175 Burke, J., The New Threat from Islamic Militancy (London: Bodley Head, 2015), p. 99.
176Burke, p. 204.
177Burke, p. 211.
178Singh, p. 9.
179Singh, pp. 11–12.
180Singh, p. 12.
181Singh, p. 13.
182Singh, p. 51.
183Singh, p. 92.
184Hafez, 2006, p. 6.
185Hafez, 2006, p. 8.
186Hafez, 2007, p. 17.
187Quoted by Hafez, 2007, p. 16.
188Hafez, 2007, p. 90.
189Hafez, 2007, p. 221.
190Moghadam, 2008, p. 60.
191Moghadam, 2008, p. 252.
192Moghadam, 2008, p. 253.
193Moghadam, 2008, p. 204.
194 Ebert, B. W., “Guide to conducting a psychological autopsy,” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice , 1987, 18(1): 5256, at p. 53.
195 Overholser, J. C., Braden, A., and Dieter, L., “Understanding suicide risk: Identification of high-risk groups during high-risk times,” Journal of Clinical Psychology , 2011, 68(3): 349361, at p. 334.
196Overholser, pp. 335–336.
197Overholser, p. 334.
198 Fierke, K. M., Political Self-Sacrifice: Agency, Body and Emotion in International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 4.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Politics and the Life Sciences
  • ISSN: 0730-9384
  • EISSN: 1471-5457
  • URL: /core/journals/politics-and-the-life-sciences
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed