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. The concept of suicidal attacks as a military weapon had been part of Japanese culture long before WWII, this as expressed in the code of the Samurai and the Bushido. Although the original Kamikaze pilots were elite, college-educated men who believed their death might turn the tide of war in Japan’s favor; but 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 quickly becoming the weapon of choice for terrorist groups, suicidal bombers work best when considered from a cost/benefit analysis. They are low cost walking stealth bombers. A silent, hard to detect and elusive weapon, like the $2.2 billion dollar U.S. B-2 bomber, they are fully capable of penetrating deep into “enemy” territory and attacking before the opposition ever realizes they are there. 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 Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi detonated an explosive device concealed on his body. Agents believed he had critical knowledge of a high value al-Qaida 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. abu Mulal 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 20thand 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.
Bomber – Victims
Some suicide bombers are simply victims themselves, like the 80 Iraqi women targeted as rape victims and then convinced the only way they could remove their shame would be through their suicidal martyrdom. You would have to read the Quran rather loosely to justify the use of female suicide bombers (15% of all such bomb carriers); while these same terrorists strictly interpret this holy book in their justification for murder.
The Taliban in Pakistan, an ally of Al-Qaeda, has been accused of kidnapping hundreds of children, many as young as six, and indoctrinating, really brainwashing them as religious warriors and potential suicide bomberswho were even willing to kill their parents in their new found religious zeal.
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 Wahhabi 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-Awlakithat “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.
Suicide bombers are recruited to fight for jihad, or holy war, against the forces of the west. They are exhorted to wage war for their homeland and their religion, this while being told of the brotherhood they would encounter in their fight against the U.S. and its allies. Clerics like al-Awlaki praise such individuals, with al-Awlaki calling Major Hasan “a hero who did the right thing against an army that is fighting against his own people.” As if his own self-fulfilling prophesy, al-Awlaki continues to urge American Muslims to leave the West as that environment is hostile toward Muslims, this while calling America the number one enemy of the Muslim nation. Al-Awlaki tells Muslims it is their duty as believers to wipe out non-Muslims, preaching his messages of murder and death to those who would travel to hear him or who were one of his over 5,000 Facebook followers, noting his use of Internet technology to reach out to the “faithful.”
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.
Once the potential suicide bomber candidate is identified, his recruitment begins with him first becoming a “made member” of a terrorists group like al-Qaeda. Once the future bomber becomes a member of the group, persuasion, manipulation and other pressure techniques are brought to bear on the individual during his indoctrination, either in person and/or via the Internet through one of the over 5,000 online jihadist web sites. Socialization with individuals outside of the group is quickly forbidden as the leaders charged with training the soon-to-be suicide bombers do not want their pool of recruits to dry up because others attempt to talk the bomber out of his future mission.
Suicide bomber handlers also need to recruit those who will follow their dictates and their interpretation of the Koran to the letter. By this, as part of their indoctrination bombers-to-be are fed “out of context” passages from the Quran by their trainers as a way to justify the murder of innocents, including their fellow Muslims. And while some recruits are found in the ranks of the educated, others are mere youths from poor families, like the 14-year-old boy found wearing a suicide vest in Pakistan, and yet others are trained and paid to blow themselves up when in the midst of unknowing victims.
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. The recruitment and grooming of these walking bombs has the ultimate goal of strapping an explosive device on a recruit and having him blow himself up in a crowded area, killing dozens and terrorizing tens of thousands by his actions. Their message is that they can kill anytime and anyone they want to.
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 peaceful 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) as part of 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 devises 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. One can only imagine the unimaginable. Two White House party crashers with 100 grams each of PETN sewed into their underwear, after walking through metal detectors undetected, simultaneously detonate their suicide bombs while surrounded by high ranking administrative officials and international guests.
There is an ongoing war, but it is not a war of or between religions. It is a war being waged by some who do not believe that different religions can coexist. Terrorism is a tactic practiced by radical Islamic fundementalists who support jihadist groups and wage war against those in the West. This is definately a war of both beliefs and bullets where the jihadists use their religion to justify their otherwise murderous acts. And for all citizens of the world; if we do not learn from the lessons of past our world could ultimately lose any hope for its future.