Found this article in the Sunday Times interesting, thought I would share it.

The deadly tactic has been used for a long time but has never been more effective than today, writes Yuba Bessaoud

The use of suicide attacks in conflict dates back to at least 2,000 years ago but the savage wave of bombings that has hit the Middle East, America and much of Europe in the past five years is the worst that the world has known.
Since the twin towers of the World Trade Center were brought down by Al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, scores of suicide attacks across the globe have killed more than 4,400 people.

According to a study by Robert Pape, associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago, the monthly toll of attacks has been steadily escalating and shows no sign of abating.

In his book, Dying to Win: the Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Pape challenges the assumption that there is a finite pool of terrorists willing to sacrifice themselves in suicide bombings. Such attacks, he argues, are an efficient means for small terrorist organisations to deliver a large and well targeted punch and have proved successful in meeting such groups’ strategic aims.

“Suicide attacks have risen from an average of three per year in the 1980s to about 10 per year in the 1990s to nearly 50 in 2003,” he said.

“Worse, suicide terrorism has become the most deadly form of terrorism. Suicide attacks amounted to just 3% of all terrorist incidents from 1980 through to 2003 but accounted for 48% of all fatalities — even if the losses of 9/11 (in which nearly 3,000 people died) are not counted.”

The history of suicide assaults dates back to Judaea in the 1st century when Jewish Zealots, an extreme resistance sect, would sacrifice themselves by mounting individual attacks on Roman soldiers with knives. Although documentation is scarce, the Zealots were hundreds strong and committed “numerous daily murders”. Their actions culminated in the Jewish war of AD66 which ultimately brought about the exodus of the Jews from the region.

One thousand years later in northern Iran, the Hashshashin, or Assassins, used suicide attacks to deter neighbouring sultans in Persia and Iraq from invading. The strategy continued until the mid-13th century when the Hashshashin were wiped out by the Mongols.

The next big wave of suicide attacks came during the second world war when the Japanese, forced on to the defensive by the Americans in 1944, sent the first kamikaze planes against the US navy. More than 30 ships were sunk and 700 US military personnel were killed or wounded.

Sporadic suicide attacks were launched by the communists in the Vietnam war but, according to Pape, no significant sect of suicide attackers developed after the kamikaze until the early 1980s.

“In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with 17,000 men, tanks and heavy artillery,” said Pape. “A month later Hezbollah was born and in November of the same year it began to experiment with suicide bombings. The truck bombing of a US marine barracks in Beirut killed 241 Americans. From Hezbollah’s perspective it forced Ronald Reagan to withdraw all military forces from Lebanon.”

The perceived strategic success of Hezbollah’s attack made other terrorist organisations take note. The Marxist-Hindu Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka became the most prolific suicide bombers in the 1980s and 1990s, launching more than 143 individual attacks which killed 900 people, including Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian prime minister.

In recent years it has been Islamic terrorist organisations that have led the suicide charge. There have been more than 160 attacks launched in Israel, a further

21 that Pape says can be directly linked to Al-Qaeda and, since 2003 — according to different sources — between 150 and 400 in Iraq.

With history showing that suicide killing has been adopted by a diverse range of secular and religious groups, the question of what drives suicide sects is being studied by psychologists.

Sharon Attia, of the London School of Economics, says that while individual suicide bombers may come from all walks of life they do exhibit some common traits.
“At first (in the Middle East) it was single, uneducated men, then educated men. Then women and children,” she said. “The common thing is that there is an issue of low self-esteem. It could be a family respect issue, it could be that people feel deprived or their self-esteem is very low for personal reasons.”

Attia says the cultures from which suicide bombers are drawn also show similarities. “It usually occurs in collectivistic societies; societies where the interests of the group are seen as much more important than the individuals.”

Others argue that terrorist organisations which launch suicide attacks are best understood by analysing them in the same way that experts tackle cults. Secular or religious, all display similar peculiarities.

Ian Howarth, of the Cult Information Centre, said that Al-Qaeda showed some parallels with organisations such as the Branch Davidians, who had sparked the Waco massacre in Texas in 1993: “A messianic and self-appointed leader; the use of psychological coercion; the creation of an insular and elitist environment; the idea that ends justify means; and a tendency to gather wealth at the top are common to all.”

Howarth noted that non- terrorist cults can also be suicidal. In the Jonestown massacre of 1978, more than 900 members of the People’s Temple cult killed themselves with poison on the demand of their leader.

Howarth added that it was possible to talk cult members out of their mindset. Most experts would seek to isolate individuals from the cult leader and other members and reason with them over a prolonged period. “You have to bring out what is happening behind the scenes and make it clear to them,” he said.

“For example, they might believe the leader is full of peace and love and not making a penny out of it, but if you can expose the Swiss bank accounts and the limousines you may be able to turn them. It’s a long process.”