One of the first suicide bombings took place at the U.S. Embassy in
Beirut in April 1983, killing 63 people. This was followed in October
by bombings in Beirut of a French paratroopers' barracks and a U.S.
Marines' barracks -- killing 58 and 241 people, respectively. Over the
rest of the decade, suicide bombings became relatively commonplace, and
many of them were attributed to Hizballah, the Lebanese political party
that has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the
U.S. State Department. Hostage-takings in Lebanon began in the early
1980s and continued for about 10 years, and most of these incidents
were attributed to Shi'ite militants as well.
Of course, such
incidents continue to this day. An 11 December suicide bombing in
Kandahar, Afghanistan, killed three civilians, and in suicide bombings
in Iraq take civilian lives virtually on a daily basis. Meanwhile,
militants in Iraq claimed recently that they have killed an American
electrician they were holding, and more recently an Egyptian translator
'State Of War'
Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah is Lebanon's leading Shia cleric, and he is
seen by some scholars as the spiritual guide of Hizballah. The deputy
secretary-general of Hizballah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, writes in his
recent book on the organization that Fadlallah provided guidance in the
early days. Some even wanted him to be Hizballah's first leader. Qassem
writes that Fadlallah preferred to "remain a cleric," and in a 6
December interview with RFE/RL, Fadlallah denied having a formal
relationship with Hizballah.
A critic of the 11 September
2001 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda against the United States, Fadlallah
offered a differentiated response regarding the issue of martyrdom
operations. He was asked if there is a difference between martyrdom
operations against Israeli troops who invaded southern Lebanon in the
1980s, similar operations that take place in Israel today, and the
suicide bombings that occur in Iraq.
"Those operations by
Al-Qaeda in Iraq are not justified because they kill innocent civilians
without any circumstances that make this permissible," Fadlallah said.
"There is no state of war between them. As for what happened in Lebanon
when the Israelis invaded and what's happening now in Palestine in the
intifada, these operations have been in the framework of a state of war
between the two parties. We know that both the Palestinians and the
Lebanese had to face the huge power of the Israelis, and they had no
other weapon. And everybody knows that what is allowed in war is not
allowed outside war, and especially, when the war is against
In Iran there is an ongoing program to recruit
volunteers for martyrdom operations in Iraq, and it is organized by the
Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement.
Fadlallah denied such an effort exists. "I believe it is a media
campaign, and not a real one," he said. "There is a difference between
the media world and real world."
Civilians And Soldiers
American University Professor Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is the author of a
highly regarded book on Hizballah, and she follows Shi'ite politics in
Lebanon closely. She explained Fadlallah's stance on martyrdom
operations by saying that the Iraqi people are seen as "innocent."
Israeli people are not considered innocent," Saad-Ghorayeb continued.
"So even if the targets are not Shi'ites in Iraq, and in fact even when
they are Westerners, when Westerners are killed, this is considered....
Hizballah will not come out and say this is terrorism, but they will
speak disparagingly of such attacks even when the victims are
Westerners. This just goes to show that in the eyes of Hizballah, there
is no such thing as an Israeli civilian."
not believe that Hizballah's position on martyrdom operations has
changed over time, whereas its tactics have. "There is no perceived
need for martyrdom attacks," she added. "Hizballah hasn't done that for
years." Saad-Ghorayeb said Hizballah sees martyrdom operations as a
temporary military tactic, but continues to support them in Israel.
"There has been no change, whatsoever, ideologically speaking," she
Some Actions Are Justified
Press journalist Terry Anderson was kidnapped in Beirut in March 1985
and released in December 1991. Other Western journalists were taken
hostage in the 1980s, as were academics and clerics visiting Lebanon.
Several hostages died while in captivity -- for example, UN observer
William Higgins was hung by the neck until dead in July 1989. British
and French hostages were killed as well.
that many Westerners in Beirut at the time were seen as spies. "These
actions, first of all, like the Marine bombing, targeted American
soldiers who were perceived as occupiers. Now regarding Western
hostages even, Hizballah -- and I say this in my book -- Hizballah
regards these people as having been American spies -- many of them at
least -- working for intelligence services. And so the level of
justification differs considerably."
Sheikh Afif Nabulsi,
president of the Association of Jabal Amel Ulama, argues that there are
circumstances in which taking hostages is permissible. He said in an 8
December interview with RFE/RL at the Sayyida Fatima al-Zahra mosque
complex in Sidon that holding "spies" such as Elhanan Tennenbaum (an
Israeli businessman and reservist kidnapped by Hizballah in October
2000 and released some three years later) is "acceptable." "We should
take hostage the spies because they are sent to take the information
from our country and send it to the Israeli people, and then the
Israelis would come and demolish our country," Nabulsi said.
is unacceptable to hold journalists, UN workers, or businesspeople,
Nabulsi said. "The reporter's job is just to take the news, nothing
else," he said. "The reporter must be very objective, he doesn't take
sides, he just comes to take the news from the country." Nabulsi
opposed aggressive actions against United Nations personnel who come to
Nabulsi also addressed the issue of martyrdom
operations. He said there is a difference between ones that take place
in Israel and those in Iraq. "If these operations happen in occupied
regions, for example here, where the Israeli occupiers were, yes, we
have the right to do that," he said. Nabulsi contrasted these incidents
with the terrorist bombings in Madrid and London, and he condemned ones
that occur in Iraqi mosques.
Things that happen in the
occupied regions, he said, differ from those in other areas. "If you
kill some of the British or the American army here or in Iraq, it could
be [permissible], but we do not allow such things," he said. "We do not
go there and kill them there. If they are occupying us here or in Iraq,
we do such things." Nabulsi cited the Koran as saying two wrongs do not
make a right.
No End In Sight
carnage wrought by suicide attacks, particularly when the victims are
civilians, is horrific. Therefore, Fadlallah and many other respected
Islamic scholars were critical of the 11 September 2001 attacks by
Al-Qaeda in the United States. Many analysts argue, however, that
unless respected clerics speak out against suicide bombings per se,
including such attacks in Israel -- and this seems very unlikely -- the
carnage will continue.
Nor is it likely that hostage takings
will end soon. They likewise seem to be an inevitable extension of the
tactics being used against Israeli soldiers. In a 25 November speech at
the Sayyid Al-Shuhada Compound in southern Beirut, the secretary
general of Hizballah defended the practice. Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah
said it is "not a crime" to kidnap Israeli soldiers, Al-Manar
television reported. "Yes, it is our natural right to capture Israeli
soldiers," he continued. "Can I be clearer? We have the right and even
the duty to do this."