Sociological Profile of Suicide Terrorists

My first post helps detail the sociological profile of suicide terrorists, taken from my essay “A Martyrs Cause: The Logistical and Sociological Reasons for Suicide Terrorism”

Sociologically, the mindset of a suicide bomber is very important when considering who could be radicalized and trained to be martyrs for their cause, both by intelligence agencies and terrorist groups themselves. Looking at suicide terrorism through the lens of ordinary suicide is the wrong way to handle the topic, as well as the even broader topic of terrorism. While ordinary suicide is egoistic, that is, a greater concern for one’s self, suicide terrorism is primarily altruistic, that is, a greater concern for the community as a whole and forgoing your own self interests.

Following previous research on the social factors of suicide terrorists, Joshua Goss concludes that “a majority of suicide bombers are typically younger males. They are educated and experienced with social networking, and all are attached and prideful to their local communities.” [1] Poverty stricken individuals are not the likely suspect for future suicide attacks. Robert Pape echoes this sentiment and adds further information, saying that in general, “suicide attackers are rarely socially isolated, clinically insane, or economically destitute individuals, but are most often educated, socially integrated, and highly capable people who could be expected to have a good future.” [2]

Most suicide terrorists tend to be young males, with the majority 55% being between ages 19 and 23 years old, and 85% being male, with most female suicide terrorists being amongst Chechen groups and the PPK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Arab suicide terrorists mostly held secondary and post-secondary education with the exception of the Palestinians who mostly hold less-than-secondary education. Income levels are diverse amongst suicide terrorists, but they tend to group together mostly at the working and middle class group. [3] One of the most prominent examples of suicide terrorists is Saeed Hotari, who blew himself up outside a disco in Tel Aviv on behalf of Hamas, killing 21 Israelis.

Far from lamenting his son’s death, Saeed’s father, threw a party to celebrate his heroic act and was jealous that one of his other sons, or he himself could not do the same (at least until he lamented his son’s death nearly two years later). Recruited in a mosque, Saeed went through the general training of a suicide terrorist from Hamas: reading the discussing parts of the Quran, and most importantly, tested for strength and will by going into a cemetery, donned in a burial shroud and lying between grave sites and in a grave itself. [4] An observant Muslim in prayer, fasting, and other religious obligations and born from a poor Palestinian family, Saeed’s wishes and the wishes of his family was hope that the Israeli occupation would stop, giving themselves up for the sake of the Palestinian cause of not being occupied and being left alone. [5]

One additional thing, why suicide terrorism? What gives someone the logistical reasoning to conduct such an act?

Hamas leader Sayeed Siyam provided this logistical reasoning when he said “We in Hamas consider suicide bombing attacks inside the 1948 borders to be the card that Palestinians can play to help resist the occupation […] We do not own Apache helicopters ourselves, so we use our own methods.” [6]

Robert Pape points out that Hamas’s “discourse on martyrdom strongly reinforces the altruistic purpose of the group. Like Hezbollah, the main argument is that martyrdom is justified by its instrumental value in protecting the local community from a foreign occupation, not an ends in itself. Statements by the Hamas Political Bureau routinely follow the three-part logic that suicide operations are a response to occupation, mandated by weakness in conventional force, and justified by Israel’s vulnerability to coercive pressure.” [7]

[1]: Goss, Joshua Daniel, “Suicide Terrorism: Understanding the Mindset and Motives” (2013). Online Theses and Dissertations. Paper 173.
[2]: Pape, Robert Anthony. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. (New York: Random House, 2005.) Kindle. Chapter 10, Locations 3336-3351.
[3]: Ibid., Chapter 10, Locations 3443-3484.
[4]: Ibid., Chapter 11, Locations 3782-3824.
[5]: Ibid., Chapter 11, Locations 3824-3848.
[6]: Ibid., Chapter 3, Location 461.
[7]: Ibid., Chapter 9, Location 3207.


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