Suicide bombing

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A suicide bombing is an attack using a bomb in which the individual(s) carrying the explosive materials composing the bomb intend(s) and expect(s) to die upon detonation (see suicide).

Suicide bombing is a kind of tactic planned and organized by extremely committed military or paramilitary groups. This tactic became widely known during the Second World War in the Pacific as U.S. ships were attacked by Japanese kamikaze pilots who caused maximum damage by flying their explosive-laden aircraft into military targets. Since the 1980s, the low cost and high lethality of the tactic have made it a favorite with guerrilla, insurgent, and especially terrorist groups, notably in the Middle East and Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers were, as of 2000, "unequivocally the most effective and brutal terrorist organization ever to utilize suicide terrorism" (according to Yoram Schweitzer of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel: [2]); since the Tigers signed a cease-fire in 2001, suicide bombings by Islamist terrorists, mostly in the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the Iraqi insurgency, have been the most frequent and cumulatively destructive. The September 11, 2001 attacks used hijacked airplanes to become the largest and most destructive individual suicide bombings.



Military historians classify suicide bombing as a form of armed violence, belonging to the tactics of asymmetric warfare -- suicide bombings are only common when one side in a violent conflict lacks the means for effective, conventional attacks. The cost-benefit analysis, expressed here by Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, is simple: "The method of martyrdom operation [is] the most successful way of inflicting damage against the opponent and the least costly to the mujahidin in terms of casualties" [3]. The strategic rationale may be military, political, or both; the target may be military, in which case the bombing is usually classified as an act of war, or civilian, in which case it is usually considered terrorism. Civilians are the favored targets, being easier to attack than fortified installations, armored vehicles, or armed and wary soldiers. The political message of the suicide bomber's dedication and fearlessness is potent, and the difficulty of deterring an attacker who is willing to die sparks greater fear than other forms of terrorism. The regular targeting of civilians, however, often calls into question the moral legitimacy, and often erodes the broader credibility, of the bomber's cause (although in some of the perpetrating group's base population, it may enhance those qualities).

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The bombers themselves are for the most part young men (female suicide bombers are rare except among the Tamil Tigers and the Kurdistan Workers Party) from middle-class backgrounds in countries with little political freedom. They are usually well-educated and hold strong political or religious beliefs; they are generally not poverty-stricken or mentally ill, though some may have had difficult childhoods. The ritualistic communion of the extremist groups to which they belong ("lone wolf" suicide bombers are unknown), in addition to their strongly-held beliefs, helps motivate their decision to commit suicide; for the religious, e.g. Hamas, the rewards of an afterlife may provide additional impetus. Coercion and deception are occasionally factors.

Chechen suicide bombing at Rizhskaya station of the Moscow Metro on August 30, 2004
Chechen suicide bombing at Rizhskaya station of the Moscow Metro on August 30, 2004

Suicide attacks throughout history have taken various forms and have been encouraged by the lionization of those who laid down their lives for causes they deemed righteous. There are numerous examples, from Samson's suicidal destruction of a Philistine temple (as recounted in the Book of Judges) to the legendary Swiss hero Arnold von Winkelried to the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II. The first modern suicide bombing—involving explosives deliberately carried to the target either on the person or in a civilian vehicle and delivered by surprise—was in 1981; perfected by the factions of the Lebanese Civil War and especially by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, the tactic had spread to dozens of countries by 2005. Those hardest-hit were Lebanon during its civil war, Sri Lanka during its prolonged ethnic conflict, Israel and the Palestinian Territories since 1994, and Iraq since the invasion of 2003.

Responses and reactions to suicide bombings are mixed, so that a full assessment of the action's impact—especially whether it helped or hindered the cause in whose name it was carried out—is difficult. The public response of politicians is usually one of determination and condemnation. Military and law enforcement are mobilized to disrupt or destroy the organization which planned the attack or, in Israel, to punish the families of bombers. Those who support the bomber's cause will often hold him up as a hero; militant Islamist groups like Al Qaeda, for example, lionize suicide bombers as Shahid, or 'martyr'.

The term dates back to the 1940s, when it was used in reference to certain German and Japanese battle tactics, but did not gain its present meaning until 1981. Various alternate terms have been used to frame the act differently: the Islamist use of shahid for the bomber or martyrdom operation for the bombing emphasize the self-sacrificial aspects, while the term "homicide bombing" (preferred phraseology of the George W. Bush Administration and right-leaning media outlets such as the News Corporation) emphasizes the fact that the bomber kills others.


Suicide bombing usually (but not always) targets poorly-guarded, non-military facilities and personnel. It can be either a military tactic, a political one, or a mixture of the two. It may qualify as terrorism when the intention is to kill, maim or terrorise a predominantly civilian target population, or fall within the definition of an act of war when it is committed against a military target under war conditions.

Explosive vest of a Palestinian suicide bomber, captured by the Israeli Police.  Anti-terrorism intelligence claims such suicide bomber clothing is designed by a person they call The Tailor of Death.
Explosive vest of a Palestinian suicide bomber, captured by the Israeli Police. Anti-terrorism intelligence claims such suicide bomber clothing is designed by a person they call The Tailor of Death.

As a political tactic, suicide bombings send a message of impassioned opposition to enemy forces (that the bomber is willing to die for his or her cause) and a message of desperate recklessness to third parties (that the bomber feels the justice of the cause so strongly that he would rather die than submit and that he is giving little thought to the danger). However, it may backfire, as suicide bombings ignite rage and hatred and undermine the belief in the humanity of those who perpetrate them.

When used against civilian targets, suicide bombing usually causes fear in the target population greater than that caused by other forms of terrorism, as the fact that the bomber intends to die makes deterrents ineffective. However, use against civilian targets has differing effects on their goals (see reaction below). Some economists suggest that this tactic goes beyond symbolism and is actually a response to commodified, controlled, or devalued lives, as the suicide bombers apparently consider family prestige and financial compensation from the community as compensation for their own lives.

The doctrine of asymmetric warfare views suicide bombing as an imbalance of power, in which groups with little significant power resort to suicide bombing as a response to actions or policies of a group with greater power. Groups which have significant power have no need to resort to suicide bombing to achieve their aims; consequently, suicide bombing is overwhelmingly used by guerrilla, and other irregular fighting forces. Among many such groups, there are religious overtones: bombers and their supporters may believe that their sacrifice will be rewarded in an afterlife. Suicide bombers often believe that their actions are in accordance with moral or social standards because they are aimed at fighting forces and conditions that they perceive as unjust.

Profile of a bomber

A common reaction to a suicide bomber is to assume that he (or rarely she) was motivated by despair, and probably hailed from a poor, neglected segment of society. Both President George W. Bush and the Dalai Lama have made this claim. However, anthropologist Scott Atran found in a 2003 study that this is not a justifiable conclusion. A recently published paper by Harvard University Professor of Public Policy Alberto Abadie "cast[s] doubt on the widely held belief that terrorism stems from poverty, finding instead that terrorist violence is related to a nation's level of political freedom." [4] More specifically this is due to the transition of countries towards democratic freedoms. "intermediate levels of political freedom are often experienced during times of political transitions, when governments are weak, political instability is elevated, so conditions are favorable for the appearance of terrorism" Quote Original Paper.

In fact, most bombers are educated, many with college or university experience, and come from middle class homes. Most suicide bombers do not show signs of psychopathology. Indeed, leaders of the groups who perpetrate these attacks search for individuals who can be trusted to carry out the mission; those will mental illnesses are not ideal candidates. They often find solace in the ritualistic communion found in extremist circles, which are often headed by charismatic individuals looking for new recruits.

It has also been observed that some suicide bombers were coerced or possibly deceived about the nature of the operation. Japanese kamikaze pilots were sometimes forced to drink poison before their mission so that they would have no second thoughts about surviving. Some counter-intelligence specialists believe that a number of the September 11th hijackers may not have known that they were embarking on a suicide mission. Cases of Middle Eastern suicide bombers being chained or tied to the steering wheel of vehicles carrying bombs or remotely detonating the said vehicles with drivers inside, and also of outfitting developmentally disabled individuals (specifically those with Down's syndrome) with suicide bomb vests, are hotly debated issues.



The concept of self-sacrifice has long been a part of war. From the earliest days of honoring fallen soldiers as heroes, those who sacrifice themselves to further a political, moral, or cultural ideology have been and are still highly regarded figures in their respective societies. Soldiers who lay down their lives to protect their comrades are commonly awarded the highest recognition for courage in battle, while those who survive combat are honored for their physical and psychological sacrifice. An example for such self-sacrifice in warfare in medieval legend is Arnold von Winkelried. The earliest reference of a suicide attack outside a context of warfare is the biblical story of Samson:

And Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life. (Judges 16:30)

During the Crusades, the Knights Templar destroyed one of their own ships, killing 140 Christians in order to kill ten times as many Muslims. Another early example of suicide bombing occurred during the Belgian Revolution, when the Dutch Lt. Jan van Speijk detonated his own ship in the harbour of Antwerp to prevent being captured by Belgians.

The act of deliberately destroying oneself to inflict harm on an enemy is more restricted to modern times and the era of explosives. The line between the two is considered by some a matter of subjectivity, as in the argument that many WWII soldiers killed were "martyrs" (in the sense that they were to suffer for the sake of a principle, rather than dying as the penalty for refusing to renounce a belief) because their life expectancy in combat was very low—often averaging only two or three months.

The ritual act of self-sacrifice during combat appeared in a large scale at the end of World War II with the Japanese kamikaze bombers. In these attacks, airplanes were used as flying bombs. Later in the war, as Japan became more desperate, this act became formalized and ritualized, as planes were outfitted with explosives specific to the task of a suicide mission. Kamikaze strikes were a weapon of symmetric war used by the Empire of Japan chiefly against United States Navy aircraft carriers.

The Japanese Navy also used both one and two man piloted torpedoes called kaitens on suicide missions. Although sometimes called midget submarines, these were modified versions of the unmanned torpedoes of the time and are distinct from the torpedo-firing midget submarines used earlier in the war, which were designed to infiltrate shore defences and return to a mother ship after firing their torpedoes. Though extremely hazardous, these midget submarine attacks were not technically suicide missions; while the early kaitens were equipped with escape hatches, there is no evidence that they were ever used or that the pilots had any intention of using them. Later kaitens, by contrast, provided no means of escape.

After aiming a two-person kaiten at their target, the two crew members traditionally embraced and shot each other in the head. Social support for such choices was strong, due in part to Japanese cultural history, in which seppuku, honorable suicide, was part of samurai duty. It was also fostered and indoctrinated by the Imperial program to persuade, often through coercion (such as through doping), the Japanese soldiers to commit these acts.

Following World War II, Viet Minh "death volunteers" were used against the French colonial army.

In 1972 in the hall of the Lod aeroport in Tel-Aviv (Israel), three Japanese used grenades and automatic rifles to kill 26 people and wound more than a hundred. The group belonged to the Japanese Red Army (JRA) a terrorist organisation created in 1969 and allied to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Until then, no group involved in terrorism has previously conducted such a suicide operation in Israel. Other members of the JRA became instructors in martial art and Kamikaze operations at several Hezbollah training camps bringing the suicide techniques to the middle east.

1980s to present

Lebanon, during its civil war, saw the first modern suicide bombing: the Islamic Dawa Party's car bombing of the Iraqi embassy in Beirut, in December 1981. Hezbollah's bombing of the U.S. embassy in April 1983 and attack on United States Marine and French barracks in October 1983 brought suicide bombings international attention. Other parties to the civil war were quick to adopt the tactic, and by 1999 factions such as Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Ba'ath Party, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (which sent the first female suicide bomber in 1986) had carried out around 50 suicide bombings between them. Hezbollah was the only one to attack overseas, bombing the Israeli embassy (and possibly the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building) in Buenos Aires; as its military and political power have grown, it has since abandoned the tactic.

Lebanon saw the first bombing, but it was the Tamil Tigers who perfected the tactic and inspired its use elsewhere. Their Black Tiger unit have committed between 76 and 168 (estimates vary) suicide bombings since 1987, using more than 240 attackers. Their victims included former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (killed by Thenmuli Rajaratnam), many prominent Lankan leaders (among them the late PM Ranasinghe Premadasa), Colombo's Central Bank, and even warships.

In Northern Ireland, in the early 1990s, the IRA forced men to become suicide bombers by threatening their families. The men were forced to drive vehicles containing bombs at British army or Royal Ulster Constabulary bases.

Bus after suicide bombing, Haifa

Suicide bombing has, since 1993, been a particularly popular tactic amongst some Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Bombers affiliated with these groups often use so-called "suicide belts", explosive devices (often including shrapnel) designed to be strapped to the body under clothing. In order to maximise the loss of life, the bombers may seek out cafés or city buses crowded with people at rush hour, or less commonly a military target (for example, soldiers waiting for transport at roadside). By seeking enclosed locations, a successful bomber usually kills a number of people.

Palestinian television has aired a number of music videos and announcements that promote eternal reward for children who seek "shahada" [5], which Palestinian Media Watch has claimed is "Islamic motivation of suicide terrorists".[6] The Chicago Tribune has documented the concern of Palestinian parents that their children are encouraged to take part in suicide operations.[7] Israeli sources have also alleged that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah operate "Paradise Camps," training children as young as 11 to become suicide bombers. [8][9]

(The first explosive suicide attack of the modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict, interestingly, was carried out by a Japanese Marxist. In 1972 Tsuyoshi Okudaira, part of the Japanese Red Army, deliberately killed himself with a grenade during the Lod Airport Massacre. The attack only superficially resembled a modern suicide bombing: its primary weapons were guns and thrown grenades, and Okudaira only blew himself up when in danger of capture.)

The September 11, 2001 attacks involved the hijacking of large passenger jets which were deliberately flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, killing everyone aboard the planes and thousands more in and around the targeted buildings, thus making it one of the most destructive suicide attacks in history. The passenger jets selected were required to be fully fueled to fly cross-country, turning the planes themselves into the largest suicide bombs in history. The 'September 11' attacks also had a vast economic and political impact: for the cost of the lives of the 19 hijackers and financial expenditure of around US$100,000, al-Qaeda, the militant Islamist group responsible for the attacks, effected a trillion-dollar drop in global markets within one week, and triggered massive increases in military and security expenditure in response.

In December 22, 2001, Richard Reid attempted to destroy the American Airlines Flight 63 by the means of a bomb hidden in a shoe. He was arrested after his attempt was foiled when he was unable to light the bomb's fuse.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, local insurgents carried out waves of suicide bombings. They attacked United States military targets, although many civilian targets (eg. Shiite mosques, international offices of the UN and the Red Cross, Iraqi men waiting to apply for jobs with the new army and police force) were also attacked. In the lead up to the Iraqi parliamentary election, 2005 on January 30, 2005, suicide attacks upon civilian and security personnel involved with the elections increased, and there were reports of the insurgents co-opting disabled people as involuntary suicide bombers [10].

The suicide bombers caught on CCTV at Luton train station at 07:21 BST on July 7, 2005. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer [1]. (Image: Crown copyright)
The suicide bombers caught on CCTV at Luton train station at 07:21 BST on July 7, 2005. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer [1]. (Image: Crown copyright)

Suicide bombings have occurred in more than 25 countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Chechnya, China, Colombia, Croatia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Panama, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. (Suicide planes were also used in the United States). The July 2005 London bombings have been labelled suicide bombings by the media and government officials, but the police have avoided using this term, pending a final report on the incidents.

Range of opinions

World leaders, especially those of countries that experience suicide bombings, usually express resolve to continue on their previous course of affairs after such attacks. They denounce suicide bombings and sometimes vow not to let such bombings deter ordinary people from going about their everyday business.

Suicide bombings in Israel are usually followed by reprisals. As a successful suicide bomber cannot be targeted, the response is often collective punishment of the community, family, or organization from which the bomber came. Under the claim that such individuals and groups gave support to the suicide bomber, Israel often retaliates with military strikes against individuals as well as infrastructure. In the West Bank the armed forces of Israel usually demolish homes that belong to families whose children have volunteered for such missions. There are reports in the Israeli press about families who turned in their children after learning about a possible suicide bombing attack, fearful their house would be demolished.

The effectiveness of suicide bombings—notably those of the Japanese kamikazes, the Palestinian bombers, and even the September 11, 2001 attacks—is debatable. Although kamikaze attacks could not stop the Allied advance, they inflicted more casualties and delayed the fall of Japan for longer than might have been the case using only the conventional methods available to the Empire. Subsequently, Japanese leaders acknowledged the great cost in losing many of their best young men in these actions. And they reinforced the resolution of the World War II Allies to destroy the Imperial force, and may have had a significant effect in the decision to use atomic bombs against Japan.

In the case of the September 11th attacks, the long-term effects remain to be seen, but in the short-to-medium term, the results were profoundly negative for Al-Qaeda as well as for the Taliban. Furthermore, since the September 11 attacks, Western nations have diverted massive resources towards stopping similar actions, as well as tightening up borders, and military actions against various countries that the US and its allies believe to have been involved with terrorism.

It is more difficult to determine whether Palestinian suicide bombings have proved to be a successful tactic. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the suicide bombers were repeatedly deployed since the Oslo Accords. [11] In 1996, the Israelis elected the conservative candidate Benjamin Netanyahu who promised to restore safety by conditioning every step in the peace process on Israel's assessment of the Palestinian Authority's fulfillment of its obligations in curbing violence as outlined in the Oslo agreements.

In the course of Al-Aqsa Intifada which followed the collapse of the Camp David II summit between the PLO and Israel, the number of suicide attacks drastically increased. In response, Israel mobilized its army in order to seal off the Gaza Strip and reinstate military control of the West Bank, patrolling the area with tanks. The Israelis also began a campaign of targeted assassinations to kill militant Palestinian leaders, using jets and helicopters to deploy high-precision bombs and missiles.

The suicide missions, having killed hundreds and maimed thousands of Israelis, are believed by some to have brought on a move to the political right, increasing public support for hard-line policies towards the Palestinians, and a government headed by the former general, prime minister Ariel Sharon. In response to the suicide bombings, Sharon's government has imposed restrictions on the Palestinian community, making commerce, travel, schooling, and other aspects of life difficult for the Palestinians, with the average Palestinian suffering due to the choices of the suicide bombers. The Separation barrier under construction seem to be part of the Israeli government's efforts to stop suicide bombers from entering Israel proper.

Social support by some for this activity remained, however, as of the calling of a truce at the end of June 2003. This may be due to the economic or social purpose of the suicide bombing and the bombers' refusal to accept external judgements on those who sanction them.

If the objective is to kill as many people as possible, suicide bombing by terrorists may thus "work" as a tactic in that it costs fewer lives than any conventional military tactic and targeting unarmed civilians is much easier than targeting soldiers. As an objective designed to achieve some form of favorable outcome, especially a political outcome, most believe it to be a failure. Terrorist campaigns involving the targeting of civilians have never won a war. Analysts believe that in order to win or succeed, any guerrilla or terrorist campaign must first transform into something more than a guerrilla or terrorist movement.[12] Such analysts believe that a terrorist cause has little political attraction and success may be achieved only by renouncing terrorism and transforming the passions into politics.

At the present time, however, suicide bombings are likely to remain the favored method of operation for Palestinian terrorists, as long as they are outclassed militarily by Israel. As Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin put it, "Once we have warplanes and missiles, then we can think of changing our means of legitimate self-defense. But right now, we can only tackle the fire with our bare hands and sacrifice ourselves." [Quoted in Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005) p. 3-4.]

The Islamist View

According to Professor Charles A. Kimball, chair of the Department of Religion at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem the vast majority of Muslims believe that their holy texts forbid suicide. He states "There is only one verse in the Qur'an that contains a phrase related to suicide", Verse 4:29 of the Qur'an[13]. It reads "O you who believe! Do not consume your wealth in the wrong way-rather through trade mutually agreed to, and do not kill yourselves. Surely God is Merciful toward you", but some commentators believe that the phrase "do not kill yourselves" is better translated "do not kill each other"[14], and some translations (e.g. Shakir) reflect that. Mainstream Islamic groups such as the European Council for Fatwa and Research use the Quran'ic verse Al-Anam 6:151 ("And take not life, which Allah has made sacred, except by way of justice and law") as further reason to prohibit suicide.[15]. In addition, the hadith unambiguously forbid suicide. [16][17]

Nevertheless, there is no universal protocol for or against suicide bombings in Islam, as Islam has no centralized authority. Some mainstream Muslim clerics, while condemning the 7 July 2005 London_bombings, have stated that under certain circumstances Islamic suicide bombings are justified. For example, Sayed Mohammed Musawi, head of the World Islamic League in London, insisted "there should be a clear distinction between the suicide bombing of those who are trying to defend themselves from occupiers, which is something different from those who kill civilians, which is a big crime." [18] However the vast majority of Muslims believe suicide attacks are generally forbidden by Islam. It is understood that the individuals undertaking suicide bombings (or "martyrdom operations") are simply following what they understand to be their Islamic duty, and regard their own lives in this world as less important compared to the next, eternal life. The radical schools of Islam teach that such a "martyrdom operation" may result in them being rewarded, by Allah, with Paradise (Jannah) and rewards such as 72 houri in the afterlife.[19] [20] That is, they are willing to sacrifice their own life in the hope of becoming a Shaheed, a martyr.

Furthermore, Islamist militant organisations (including Al Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad) argue that martyrdom operations are justified according to Islamic law, despite Islam's strict prohibition of suicide and murder [21][22]. Irshad Manji, in a conversation with one leader of Islamic Jihad noted their ideology.

"What's the difference between suicide, which the Koran condemns, and martyrdom?" I asked. "Suicide," he replied, "is done out of despair. But remember: most of our martyrs today were very successful in their earthly lives." In short, there was a future to live for--and they detonated it anyway.[23]

Since the four suicide bombings in London on July 7 2005, there have been many scholastic refutations of suicide bombings from Sunni Muslims. Ihsanic Intelligence, a London-based Islamic think-tank, published their two-year study into suicide bombings in the name of Islam, titled 'The Hijacked Caravan', [[24]] which concluded that, "The technique of suicide bombing is anathema, antithetical and abhorrent to Sunni Islam. It is considered legally forbidden, constituting a reprehensible innovation in the Islamic tradition, morally an enormity of sin combining suicide and murder and theologically an act which has consequences of eternal damnation." [[25]] The Oxford-based Malayist jurist, Shaykh Muhammad Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti, issued his landmark fatwa on suicide bombing and targetting innocent civilians, titled 'Defending the Transgressed, by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians', where he states suicide bombing in its most widespread form, is forbidden: 'If the attack involves a bomb placed on the body or placed so close to the bomber that when the bomber detonates it the bomber is certain [yaqin] to die, then the More Correct Position according to us is that it does constitute suicide. This is because the bomber, being also the Maqtul [the one killed], is unquestionably the same Qatil [the immediate/active agent that kills] = Qatil Nafsahu [suicide]" [[26]]

Usage and related terms

The usage of the term "suicide bombing" dates back to at least 1940. An August 10, 1940 New York Times article mentions the term in relation to German tactics. A March 4, 1942 article refers to a Japanese attempt at a "suicide bombing" on an American carrier. The Times (London) of April 15, 1947, page 2, refers to a new pilotless, radio-controlled rocket missile thus: "Designed originally as a counter-measure to the Japanese 'suicide-bomber,' it is now a potent weapon for defence or offence." The quotes are in the original and suggest that the phrase was an existing one. An earlier article (Aug 21, 1945, page 6) refers to a kamikaze plane as a "suicide-bomb."

The term in the context known today (an attacker blowing up himself or a vehicle to kill others) was not used until 1981, when it was used in an Associated Press article to describe the bombing of the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut.

Nonetheless, in order to assign a more positive or negative connotation to the act, suicide bombing is sometimes referred to by different terms. Islamists often use the terms isshtahad or martyrdom operation for the act itself, while the suicide bomber is called a shahid (pl. Shahiddin, literally 'witness' and usually translated as 'martyr'). The term denotes one who died in order to testify his faith in Allah, for example those who die while waging jihad bis saif; it is applied to suicide bombers, by the Palestinian Authority among others, in part to overcome Islamic strictures against suicide. This term has been embraced by Hamas, Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Fatah and other Palestinian factions engaging in suicide bombings. (The title is by no means restricted to suicide bombers; Muhammad al-Durrah, for example, is among the most famous shahiddin of the Intifada, and even a few non-Palestinians such as Tom Hurndall and Rachel Corrie have been called shahid.)

Some have attempted to popularize the term "homicide bombing" as a synonym for "suicide bombing" in order to de-emphasize the self-sacrificial connotations of suicide bombing and emphasize that suicide bombers are committing murder as well as suicide. The first such use was by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, in April 2002. [27]

This phrase has not gained widespread popularity, although News Corp outlets Fox News and the New York Post have adopted it. Some people criticize that homicide bombing is an inaccurate phrase and it should not be used to describe suicide bombings, on the grounds that the term "homicide bomber" would refer to those who kill other people with bombs but not themselves, such as someone who leaves a booby-trap, tosses a grenade, or launches a missile.

See also

External links, resources, references

Further reading

  • Rex Hudson (2002), Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why: The 1999 Government Report on Profiling Terrorists, Lyons Press, ISBN 1585747548
  • Mia Bloom (2005), Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0231133200
  • Robert Pape (2005), Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Random House, ISBN 1400063175
  • Diego Gambetta, Editor (2005), Making Sense of Suicide Missions, OUP, ISBN 0199276994
  • Farhad Khosrokhavar, translated by David Macey (2005), Suicide Bombers: Allah's New Martyrs, Pluto Press, ISBN 0745322832
  • Martin Kramer. 1996. Sacrifice and "Self-Martyrdom" in Shi'ite Lebanon.
  • Bernard B. Fall. 1966. Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. Da Capo Press. (References to suicide bombers on pages 352 and 368).
  • M.R. Narayan Swamy. 1996. Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas, 2nd Ed. Vijitha Yapa Bookshop (Colombo).
  • Dr. Eyad Sarraj. "Why we have become Suicide Bombers".התאבדות
  • Gerhart Scheit. 2005. Suicide Attack ISBN 3-924627-87-8 (German)
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