Suicide Bombers

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.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

7 thoughts on “Suicide Bombers

  1. Juan Cole makes an interesting point about how cults indoctrinate their members. He links to a site devoted to this topic: http://www.csj.org/

    This may be a useful approach to the the problem of depriving terrorist planners of cannonfodder. After all, it must take quite a bit of work to get recruits to the point where they will blow themselves up.

  2. @ Kevin.

    Absolutely agree, fighting this needs a many-headed-hydra. Incidentally, British Home Secretary Charles Clarke has just come out with this:

    “A central hypothesis that has to be tested and investigated, is that the individuals we know about were working within a wider community,” he told reporters in Brussels.

    “The police work … is obviously focusing on trying to answer for themselves the question,”

    I think this is to the point, if Hoffman is right, the bombers identified will only lead to a dead end. The documentation will only be ‘matryr signatures’, since detail seems to have been attended to they will not be an accident. But the next attack, this could be next week, next year, or five years from now, this is what they are playing with.

  3. to get recruits to the point where they will blow themselves up.

    Are you sure? In a western nation they can be confident that they’d have to spend the rest of their lifes in prison or on the run in any case. More likely the former. And they won’t be popular in prison.

  4. Some are of the opinion that volunteers for suicide missions are a perishable resource; that is, the group that wishes to use them needs to use them quickly, before they change their mind. If this is true, the fact that 7 July involved four simultaneous suicide terrorists implies a large recruiting base. Even in Israel, suicide bombings are frequent, but typically involve only one bomber per incident. (11 September also involved several suicides, but it appears that not all of the terrorists were told the full plan until after the planes were hijacked.)

  5. It makes sense to look into the local factors in the Yorkshire region which constituted the social background of the bombers – all four of whom came Leeds, according to the latest information from Police sources:

    As for crime in Yorkshire:

    – Yorkshire and Humber’s average of recorded crime is 137 per 1,000 population, Yorkshire and Humber rates 2nd highest with London being the highest with 145 per 1,000 population of recorded crime.

    – Yorkshire and Humber has the highest recorded burglary rate of the 9 regions, with 24 per 1000 compared to the England and Wales average of 16 per 1000 population.

    – Yorkshire and Humber has the 3rd highest count of recorded violent crime with 21 per 1,000 population, this is the same as the England and Wales average at 21 per 1,000 population.
    http://www.yorkshirefutures.com/cb.aspx?page=974DDEFC-A3E8-468C-BC9E-48745584A230

    “Our violent crime figures rose by 49.6 per in 2004/05 and the first few months of this financial year show a rise of 97 per cent on this time last year. However, this increase now appears to be slowing down, indicating that our tighter application of national recording standards has had a significant effect on the rise in violent crime figures.”
    http://www.southyorks.police.uk/news/details.php?id=1243

    “the UK has one of the lowest murder rates amongst the European Union, with London being below average for EU capital cities”
    http://www.gos.gov.uk/goyh/149232/149234/?a=42496

  6. “the group that wishes to use them needs to use them quickly, before they change their mind”
    That is true. But on the other hand. If the brainwashing goes on long enough people can commit suidice partly voluntary in groups of almost 1000.
    Remember Jonestown?

  7. Frans,

    Abolutely. That’s a very appropriate example IMO too:

    “In 1978, 913 followers of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple committed a mass suicide in northern Guyana at a site called, Jonestown. The charismatic leader of Jonestown, was Jim Jones, a preacher who set up the Peoples Temple in San Francisco and ultimately moved his followers to a more clandestine site in Guyana. While Jones was preaching in San Francisco, he helped out many local and even national campaigns and was seen as a healer which much power in the community.”
    http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~reli291/Jonestown/Jonestown.html

    Seems sensible to me to ask about the social pressures which induce some to become members of cults like that.

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