Well a consensus seems to have been reached that some at least of the bombers were ‘suicides’ (the probability seems to be that they all were). So what do we know about suicide bombing? Well reading around I came across this document from the Rand Corporation which contains a chapter from terrorism specialist Bruce Hoffman entitled “Defending America Against Suicide Terrorism” which seems quite to the point. This paragraph seems especially prescient about ‘Why is suicide bombing so attractive to terrorists?’.
“To answer these questions, we conducted extensive research and interviews with foreign police/security forces with prior experience with suicide terrorism. The following conclusions emerged.
First, from a tactical standpoint, suicide attacks are attractive to terrorists because they are inexpensive and effective?with an extremely favorable per-casualty cost benefit for the terrorists. Moreover, they are less complicated and compromising than other lethal operations. No escape plan is needed because, if successful, there will be no assailant to capture and interrogate. Suicide attacks are perhaps the ultimate ?smart bombs.? They can cleverly
employ disguise and deception and effect last-minute changes in timing, access, and choice of target. Finally, suicide attacks guarantee media coverage. They offer the irresistible combination of savagery and bloodshed.”
And for those who are interested in points from the ‘oh why do we keep making the same mistakes department’ this (pdf) file from Hoffman on Insurgency and Counter Insurgency in Iraq (written in June 2004, but still largely valid) makes an interesting read.