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Probing the minds of the bombers

Abridged and compiled by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj



Professor Robert A. Pape who teaches international relations at the University of Chicago carried out a research study on what the US State Department calls ‘Suicide Terrorism’ for two years between 2003 and 2005. Pape headed the ‘Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism’ as its director.

Funds for the study

The study was funded by Carnegie Corp., the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the University of Chicago and the Argonne National Laboratory.


The study was based on the US State Department’s presumption that suicide terrorism is mainly a product of an evil ideology called ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and that this ideology will produce campaigns of suicide terrorism wherever it exists and regardless of US military policies.

Regions studied

Palestine/Israel, Lebanon, entire Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Sri Lanka,

Size of the Study, age, ideology and gender of the bombers:

* Pape established 462 individuals in his “universe” of suicide terrorists available for analytical purposes.

* Hezbollah suicide bombers in the period 1982-1986 were 71% Christian, 21% Communist/Socialist, 8% Islamist.

* In general, the study says, suicide terrorists are in their early 20s. Females are fewer in Islamist groups: “Islamist fundamentalism may actually reduce the number of suicide terrorists by discouraging certain categories of individuals”. Female suicide terrorists tend to be older than male.

* The survey in Lebanon identified 38 of the 41 attackers. Thirty of them were affiliated to groups opposed to Islamic fundamentalism. Three were not clearly associated with ideology. All 38 were native Lebanese. The book contains pictures of four women suicide attackers; all are dressed in Western clothes with stylish haircuts and even make-up.

* There is no documented mental illness in any case of suicide terrorism, though there are 16 cases of personal trauma (e.g. the loss of a loved one). Arab suicide terrorists are in general better educated than average and are from the working or middle classes. “They resemble the kind of politically conscious individuals who might join a grassroots movement more than they do wayward adolescents or religious fanatics”


Pape’s statistics “definitively show that people are attacked by suicide car bombs not because of who they are or what they believe, as Presidents Clinton and Bush have been saying to the American people.” Instead, “people use car bombs to attack occupying powers. This war is about what we do in the world, not who we are.”

Motivation for the suicide bombers:

The study says ‘the taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism’ and “at bottom suicide terrorism is a strategy for national liberation from foreign occupation by a democratic state”. In 1978 the United Nations General Assembly recognised “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence ... from ... foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle”

Since September 11, 2001, the United States has responded to the growing threat of suicide terrorism by embarking on a policy to conquer Muslim countries - not simply rooting out existing havens for terrorists in Afghanistan but going further to remake Muslim societies in the Persian Gulf. To be sure, the United States must be ready to use force to protect Americans and their allies and must do so when necessary. However, the close association between foreign military occupations and the growth of suicide terrorist movements in the occupied regions should make us hesitate over any strategy centering on the transformation of Muslim societies by means of heavy military power.

It is deep sense of injustice in Palestine that propels Palestine youth to sacrifice their lives. They blame foreign occupation of their land by Israel which is the stooge of British and American imperialism.

In Iraq and Afghanistan American occupation of their land is pivotal to suicide bombers blowing themselves. The study says there were no jihadists in Iraq prior to American invasion. Now there are jihadist galore who are willing to lay down their life to oust the ‘American liberators’.

Sense of humiliation among Iraqis who were detained, tortured, photographed in nude and even women were detained to obtain confessions by the US forces.

Statistical analysis fails to corroborate Salafism-terrorism connection, but it does corroborate a connection to U.S. military policies in the Persian Gulf

The study says: ‘The notion that Islamic fundamentalism is bent on world domination is “pure fantasy’.

US Doublespeak

The study says while the US dubs the resistance against occupation as ‘terrorism’, conveniently ignores that the state of Israel was itself the product of sustained terrorism by Jewish groups such as Irgun and Haganah.

Richard Norton-Taylor’s report in The Guardian on disclosures from declassified MI5 files reads: Jewish terrorists planned to assassinate members of Clement Attlee’s post-War British Labour government. Menachem Begin, then leader of the extremist Irgun Zvai Leumi resistance group and a future Prime Minister of Israel, had tried to trick it by having cosmetic surgery to disguise his identity. In 1946, Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and attacked the British embassy in Rome. A year later, MI5 received a report about a rumour that Begin (who later became Israel’s prime minister and even shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yasser Arafat) had “undergone a plastic facial operation and that his appearance is totally different from that displayed on police photographs”.

Michael Scheuer, former CIA analyst and author of Imperial Hubris

There were no jihadists in Iraq before we invaded. There are now thousands, Iraqi and foreign, and they are going to be enduring problem because many have embraced the global jihadist agenda:

David Benjamin, former member of the Clinton’s National Security Council

Suicide terrorism is not so much committed by religious fanatics looking for a quick trip to paradise as it is by a variety of secular and religious individuals who fear that their societies will be unalterably transformed by a religiously motivated occupier.

Washington Post.

Strategy suggested
Pape’s policy prescription is:

* Withdrawal of U.S. troops from the entire Gulf while ensuring the maintenance of the “critical infrastructure” for their rapid return, if need be.

* He urges “off-shore balancing” - alliances plus troops deployment on the seas to facilitate return. It is doubtful if this will suffice given the inflamed wrath in the region.

* Besides, author hints, amends are called for in Palestine. Unless the peace process is invigorated, there is little hope for peace. The Palestine question has an appeal that moves the entire West Asia and spreads far beyond it.

Abridged and compiled by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj, Graphics by Sayeeda Tabassum




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