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Corruption Watch: April 17, 2003

17 April 2003, Volume 3, Number 13
With the capture of Baghdad and the Iraqi military in apparent disarray, a number of observers have expressed fears that the remnants of such commando forces as the Saddam Fedayeen might engage in suicide attacks against U.S. and British forces inside Iraq and all over the world, as well as against civilian targets within the United Kingdom and the United States. Citing a former commander of Iraqi intelligence service, "Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor" on 7 April reported that an elite unit of 1,200 men drawn from families and clans with close ties to the Ba'athist regime and known as Al-Qareea ("The Strikers") were "honed into a deadly force" whose mission is "purely offensive, and not just offensive, but suicidal."

This issue of "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch" examines the suicide attacker and those who make use of such "human bombs."

By Roman Kupchinsky

Second Lieutenant Shigeyuki Suzuki -- a kamikaze pilot in World War II quoted in Mako Sasaki's work, "Who Became Kamikaze Pilots, and How Did They Feel Towards Their Suicide Mission?" -- wrote to his parents before taking off on his final mission: "People say that our feeling is one of resignation, but they do not understand at all how we feel, and think of us as a fish about to be cooked. Young blood does flow in us. There are persons we love, we think of, and many unforgettable memories. However, with those, we cannot win the war.

"To let this beautiful Japan keep growing, to be released from the wicked hands of the Americans and British, and to build a 'free Asia' was our goal from the Gakuto Shutsujin year before last; yet nothing has changed.

"The great day that we can directly be in contact with the battle is our day of happiness and at the same time, the memorial of our death."

A variation on Lieutenant Suzuki's attack was repeated more than a half century later on 11 September 2001 in Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington, D.C. Al- Qaeda terrorists commandeered passenger jets and rammed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, while a third aircraft went down in Pennsylvania after passengers resisted the hijackers. The pilots in those attacks are not believed to have written letters to their families prior to committing their acts, so there is no record available of what they felt prior to boarding those airplanes in Boston.

Suicide attackers have existed for thousands of years; the so-called Assassins in northern Persia used the tactic, ostensibly to advance the cause of Islam in the 11th century. In the southern Philippines and in India, Muslim communities used it to repel European imperialism.

U.S. military forces were first targeted by a suicide attack in Beirut, Lebanon, in the early morning of 23 October 1983, when a yellow Mercedes-Benz truck loaded with 12,000 pounds of dynamite crashed through the fence of the U.S. Marines' Beirut Battalion Landing Team headquarters. Thomas Friedman, in his book "From Beirut to Jerusalem," describes how the driver of the truck sped past marine sentry Lance Corporal Eddie DiFranco, looked directly at him, and smiled. A massive explosion followed, destroying the barracks and killing 241 U.S. servicemen. The explosion was the work of a Hizballah terrorist who drove the vehicle with no intention of escaping before the blast. In fact, the effectiveness of the entire operation depended upon the driver dying in the attack.

Ten years later, Hamas, one of the main terrorist organizations professing religious motives in fighting Israel, launched its first suicide attack. On 16 April 1993, near Mechola in the Jordan valley, a Hamas member parked a car loaded with explosives between two buses near a restaurant. He sat in the car as he pushed the detonator, resulting in the deaths of two Israelis and wounding five others. It was the first dramatic shift in Hamas tactics in its declared war against Israel.

Suicide attackers -- whether young Palestinian men and women killing innocent civilians in Israel; Iraqis attacking U.S. military targets in Iraq; Kurdish Workers' Party (PPK) fighters attacking Turks; Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka; or Pakistani extremists after Indian targets -- have all confronted the world with a seemingly crucial question. What, if any, flaws of character are responsible for such behavior, or are they indeed flaws? More to the point: Can such individuals be identified by their personality or sociological profiles and thus be stopped prior to an attack?

One view of a suicide attacker is that he or she is an irrational fanatic often inspired by a belief in immense benefits in the afterlife for their perceived martyrdom. Another view is that such individuals have lost touch with reality and have taken "patriotism" beyond any normal measure.

A study conducted by the University of Haifa and titled "The Characteristics of Suicide Terrorists: An Empirical Analysis of Palestinian Terrorism in Israel" ( concludes: "Commentaries in the United States and elsewhere have tended to depict the bombers as naive. They are often depicted, prototypically, as vulnerable young men, individuals with virtually no previous involvement in terrorist violence. These unsophisticated young people are recruited or come forward themselves as the result of a surge in religious commitment brought on by prayer and the inspirational sermons of charismatic Imams."

The same study goes on to claim: "Instead of naive young people, it seems that these are veteran terrorists. They are older, on balance, than non-suicidal Palestinian terrorists, at least those that have been apprehended or killed by Israeli authorities. In addition, the act of committing suicide by attempting to kill as many Israelis as possible in the process represents the culmination of a career in terrorism and not a singular, spectacular event."

Who then are the terrorist attackers, the "human bombs"? Can a profile be constructed? The evidence collected by Bohaz Ganor in his article "Suicide Terrorism: An Overview of Palestinian Bombers" ( suggests that a typical Hamas shahid, or martyr, is a religious male, single and unemployed, with a high-school education and aged 18-27. Such an individual might well be from a rural area, and his parents would likely be at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. In the case of a religious organization such as Hamas, it is highly probable that the potential attacker attended a religious school, where he might have been recruited to join the terrorist organization.

But there are variations.

Izzedine Masri, the 22-year-old Palestinian who blew himself up in a Jerusalem pizza parlor on 9 August 2001, killing 16 people, was the son of a wealthy businessman. The Palestinian who tried to blow up a passenger bus in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood that same year was a college student.

These profiles are subject to geographic factors, as well. In "The Characteristics of Suicide Terrorists," the paper cited above, the author points out: "While in the case of Hamas, which is an Islamic religious fundamentalist organization, all the suicide bombers are males, in the other cases the picture is somewhat different. In contrast to Hamas, both the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] and the PKK are primarily nationalistic organizations lacking religious characteristics. This allows them to rely mostly on female suicide bombers. The PKK, for example, mainly uses women for such attacks. Eleven of the 15 attacks carried out by the organization (from 1995-99), were done by women; the remainder by men."

The author explains that, for the first time since the emergence of the suicide tactic in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, four women carried out such attacks in early 2002. They all belonged to the Al-Aksa battalions, the military wing of the nationalist Fatah movement.

A sociological profile of the Black Tigers, the suicide battalions of the LTTE in Sri Lanka -- conducted by Rohan Gunaratna and laid out at an international conference in Herzliya, Israel under the title "Suicide Terrorism in Sri Lanka and India" -- argues that their recruits tend to be young, unemployed, and single.

C. L. Joshi, who studied the same group for his work, "Ultimate Sacrifice," published in "Far Eastern Economic Review" in 2000, observed that the age range of Black Tiger recruits is 14-16 and the ratio between women and men is three women for every two men. "Women are preferred as recruits due to the fact that they tend to wear heavier clothes and are not subject to the same kind of movement restrictions and body searches as men," says Joshi. This cold reasoning must also have played a role in the selection of women by the Al-Aksa leadership to be human bombs in 2002.

In the case of the Tigers, the main motivating factor is nationalism, not religion. The Black Tiger suicide bombers are elevated to the status of national martyrs after their deaths and serve as an example for other, mostly younger, people to follow their steps.

Ehud Sprinzak, in his article "Rational Fanatics," published in the September-October 2000 issue of "Foreign Policy," provides some insight into the thinking of one of the leaders of a terrorist organization on the subject of suicide bombings: "Dr. Ramadan Shalah, secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, summarized the chilling logic of the new terror tactic: 'Our enemy possesses the most sophisticated weapons in the world and its army is trained to a very high standard.... We have nothing with which to repel killing and thuggery against us except the weapon of martyrdom. It is easy and costs us only our lives.... [H]uman bombs cannot be defeated, not even by nuclear bombs."

Sprinzak notes in his article: "Since suicide terrorism is an organizational phenomenon, the struggle against it cannot be conducted on an individual level. Although profiling suicide bombers may be a fascinating academic challenge, it is less relevant in the real-world struggle against them than understanding the modus operandi and mind-set of terrorist leaders who would never consider killing themselves, but opt for suicide terrorism as a result of cold reasoning."

Thomas Friedman notes in "The New York Times" of 3 April: "Let's be very clear: Palestinians have adopted suicide bombing as a strategic choice, not out of desperation."

Sprinzak also calls attention to the fact that the institutionalization of suicide terrorism is temporary and conditional: "Leaders who opt for this type of terrorism are usually moved by an intense sense of crisis, a conviction in the effectiveness of this new tactic, endorsement by the religious or ideological establishment, and the enthusiastic support of their community."

This conclusion seems to fit the available evidence on the attacks of the kamikaze pilots of World War II, as well as most of the Palestinian and other suicide bombers of today -- who are first and foremost members of organizations, whether the Imperial Army or Hamas, which train them, select their targets, buy the explosives, and issue orders for when to launch a suicide attack.

The mastermind behind the kamikaze attack is not known with any certainty, but it is often thought to be Admiral Takijiro Onishi, who commanded the first squadron of kamikazes, known as Shinpu Tokubetsu Kogekitai. The reasoning was that Japan was nearly defeated, short on resources, and had nothing to lose by sending its young pilots on cost-effective suicide missions in the hope of deterring the enemy. Mako Sasaki provides the following statement, made by Onishi after the plan to use kamikazes was approved by the Imperial War Ministry: "If they [young pilots] are on land, they would be bombed down, and if they are in the air, they would be shot down. That's sad... Too sad... To let the young men die beautifully, that's what Tokko is. To give beautiful death, that's called sympathy." Onishi is also the author of the following haiku, which provides some insight into his thinking:

"In blossom today, then scattered / Life is so like a delicate flower. / How can one expect the fragrance / To last forever?"

Kamikazes, as well as contemporary Palestinian and Iraqi suicide bombers, were most commonly younger people. The youngest of the Kamikaze pilots in the Japanese Imperial Army was 17 years old, and the oldest 35. Most were in their late teens, or early twenties. Thus the "fragrance" about which Admiral Onishi wrote did not last long for the pilots that he trained.

Mako Sasaki, in her paper about kamikaze pilots and their attitudes toward their mission, describes the last letter to his parents of 20-year-old Corporal Masato Hisanaga of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron: "He thanked his parents for the years that he was alive, and reported to them how he had been doing, and informed them of the kindness of the people where he had been. After asking his parents to say 'Hi' to various people, he says that he will take revenge for his older brother [who, it appears, must have been killed in the war] by sinking the enemy's battleship and killing its soldiers. He too asks that his younger brothers follow their brother [himself]. 'All of the [Japanese] population is the tokkotai' [tokkotai is a reference to all the organized suicide attacks]. He added, 'I have no nostalgic sentiments.'

Appearing on the Public Broadcast Service's "Frontline" program on 19 March 2002, Dr. Iyahd Zaquout, a Palestinian psychiatrist, said: "Many, many children identify with these martyrs, and they try to simulate these people and do the same actions.

"And we have many children, unfortunately, actually trying to do this at an early age. And we had to talk with the parents and the families."

Zaguout continued: "You know, these people are fed each and every day with this anger and this aggravation. And when it comes to a certain point, they feel the only thing to do -- is to bomb himself or to kill as many people as he can from the Israel side.

"Now, what makes this person reach this decision? In this case, the person goes and kills himself for the sake of the society as a whole. He has a strong relationship with the society and a strong relationship with the community; and he provides, or he gives his soul, as a gift to this society. And he tries to empower this society by this killing of the self."

A glaring example of this anger and frustration was broadcast on Palestinian television as reported by "World Net Daily" on 13 December 2002 during an interview with a mother who prayed during a pilgrimage to Mecca that her son might die fighting Israel. The mother also launched into a warning to Israelis, expressing her desire to become a shahid herself: "I have one wish for all Israeli mothers, for all Israelis. They should not relax, they should not sleep peacefully, they should always have nightmares, night and day." The unidentified mother went on: "No Israeli of any kind should live in comfort. Even in their sleep, they will have nightmares. We will blow them up day and night, wherever they go. And I, as the mother of two shahids, if I see an Israeli, I will blow up among them."

The deadly wishes of this unidentified mother are arguably similar to those of a serial killer. As a definition of a serial killer on the Uplink Productions online law library ( states: "What distinguishes killers from 'normal' civilians is that the aggressive day dreams that have been developed as children, continue to develop and expand through their adolescence right into manhood, where they are finally released into the real world. Through the use of murder and mayhem, the serial killer literally chases his dream. With each successive victim, he attempts to fine tune the act, striving to make his real life experiences as perfect as his fantasy."

Similar scenes were reported by AP on 4 April to have appeared in videotapes broadcast by Al-Jazeera television of two Iraqi women vowing to commit suicide attacks. "We say to our leader and holy war comrade, the hero commander Saddam Hussein, that you have sisters that you and history will boast about," said one woman. In a separate video, another woman who identified herself as Wadad Jamil Jassem, assumed a similar position: "I have devoted myself for jihad for the sake of God and against the American, British, and Israeli infidels and to defend the soil of our precious and dear country."

Regardless of whether these televised scenes from Palestine and Iraq were staged or genuine, they were clearly bound to elicit very different reactions from different viewing audiences. In the propaganda warfare of terrorism, suicide attackers are most often referred to as "martyrs," which is a misnomer. A martyr is someone who dies for his or her faith. The word actually means "witness." It was seen by survivors as a powerful testimony of faith. Martyrs came to be revered by the Christian faithful -- their days of death remembered and the places of their deaths declared sacred. The terrorist use of the term "martyr" is a cynical deception meant to sway public opinion and elicit sympathy for a cause by alluding to the Islamic concept of martyrdom, which is in fact far from condoning suicide. Paying families of suicide bombers money, as the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein practiced and as Saudi Arabian charities still do, seems to have little in common with true "martyrdom."

And while the examples of frustration and anger that Dr. Zaguout mentioned, along with those broadcast on television, sadly, are true in many cases, they ignore the fact that most of these angry young people find an alternative society with which they form a strong relationship -� the terrorist group that recruits them and orders them to commit murder by killing themselves and in so doing further the terrorist organization's strategic plans. In a sense, they are merely a weapon in the group's arsenal whose deployment is decided by the organization. In order for that weapon to function, the frustration and anger already instilled in the future bomber must be reinforced by the organization and ultimately ordered into deployment. Instead of seeking an alternative strategy for the liberation of Palestine in Gandhi's teachings of passive resistance (as one example) the leadership of these organizations uses the human bomb.

Furthermore, in order to justify the use of such tactics, the human weapons are glorified as "martyrs," something akin to conferring sainthood on a "smart bomb."

The lesson for counterterrorism forces is clear: In order to eliminate the suicide attacker, one first must defeat the organization to which he or she belongs. Profiling potential suicide attackers is thus a waste of resources, and ultimately would have little or no impact on the outcome of a war on terrorism.

The entire structure of terrorism -- from the leadership of an organization on down -- as well as the suicide attacker to be used as a weapon in an operation, comprises individuals guided to varying degrees by rage and frustration. This, however, does not affect their ability to precisely plan and execute operations of great complexity, including those on 11 September 2001 and so many other suicide attacks.

In his portrait of Hamas member Hassan Abdel Rahman Salameh (a.k.a. Abu-Ahmed) which appeared in the Israeli newspaper "Yediot Ahronot" on 19 May 1996, author David Regev shows how Abu-Ahmed made the transition from throwing stones to dispatching suicide bombers: "Salameh, alias Abu-Ahmed, was born 25 years ago in Khan-Yunis to a large family, and joined the ranks of Hamas at an early age. It started with throwing stones, and escalated to the murder of those suspected of aiding Israel. Israel's security forces arrested Salameh in 1992 due to his membership in Hamas. Following his release he managed to go to Jordan and, from there, on to Sudan and Syria where he passed through a series of training courses.... In 1994, he returned via Egypt to Gaza, and began operating in the framework of the Iz a-Din el-Kassam group. His primary work involved shooting at IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] and on settlers in the Gush Katif region. In some of the incidents, he wounded soldiers.

"Early this year [1996], he joined Muhamed Dief, head of Hamas' military arm. It was Dief who instructed him to go to the West Bank and set up a squad of suicide attackers who would carry out their attacks in the heart of Israel. Armed with intelligence, instructions and apparently with supplies, Salameh departed for the West Bank. He contacted Jamil Abu-Warda, a student living in Al-Fawr, and assigned him the task of setting up a suicide cell. Within a short time, Abu Warda recruited three suicide bombers, among them a family member, and convinced them to carry out suicide attacks: at Ashkelon junction and two on Jerusalem's No. 18 bus. 45 people were killed and 91 wounded in these attacks. Salameh gave the bombers their final instructions before they departed on their missions."

"The Wall Street Journal" of 4 April notes: "Suicide terrorism is as old as the Zealots, who 2,000 years ago mounted suicide attacks in Roman-occupied Judea, and as new as human bombs in the West Bank.... As researchers probe the genesis of suicide terrorists, it's clear that it will be some time before we disprove Dostoevsky's sad observation: 'While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, nothing is more difficult than to understand him.'"