The Phenomenon of Suicide Bombing
Posted on April 24th, 2019

Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

On Easter Sunday Sri Lanka suffered suicide bombers attacks which resulted over 300 deaths. At least 45 children were among those that perished. The Isis has claimed responsibility for these suicide bombings. Thesesuicide bombings are the results of religious fundamentalism. 

Suicide terrorism is not a modern phenomenon.  Suicide attack is an ancient practice with a modern history. The threat of suicide bombing attacks has escalated worldwide (Almogy et al., 2004).

As described by Horowitz (2015) a suicide bombing is an attack where the death of the bomber is the means by which the attack is accomplished. Suicide bomber could be defined as an individual carrying high explosive device, attached to his/her body and must be recognized as a separate medicolegal entity (Ruwanpura et al., 2008).

Martyrdom operations are the targeted use of self-destructing humans against noncombatant typically civilian populations to effect political change (Atran, 2003). The suicide terrorism is an operational method in which the very act of the attack is dependent upon the death of the perpetrator (Boaz, 2000). The attacker does not expect to survive the mission.

The literature on suicide terrorism has been dominated by political and social theories (Sheehan, 2014). Psychological, social and political forces contribute to suicide terrorism. Often collective identity motivates their terrorist behavior.  Indoctrination is a unique feature of suicide terrorism (Grimland, Apter, & Kerkhof, 2006). Also group dynamics play a major role (Jayatunge, 2008). Although religion is not a single, simple causal factor in terrorist violence, religious elements often feature strongly in the belief systems associated with terrorist violence(Rogers et al., 2007). Miller (2006) states that psychological and religious dynamics are often associated with suicide terrorism. In addition the cultures of martyrdom is a contributing factor in suicide operations (Hafez, 2007).

The psychology of suicide terrorism is complex. The Suicide attackers do not operate in a vacuum (Jayatunge, 2008). Suicide bombing is the result of a highly complex interaction between many forces (Grimland et al., 2006).Suicide terrorism is strategically planned, rather than randomly performed by individual fanatics (Kao & McAlister, 2018). For suicide terrorists personal identity, which has been shattered by helplessness, shame, and humiliation, is replaced by group identity (Volkan, 1997). Suicide bombing are best understood when analyzed on personality level, an organizational level, and an environmental level.

Suicide bombers have common psychological features such as isolation, feelings of emptiness, cold rationality, a lack of empathy, and a lust for martyrdom and death (Marazziti Det al., 2018). Townsend (2007) hypothesized that suicide bombers are not truly suicidal and should not be viewed as a subgroup of the general suicide population.According to Townsend (2007) suicide is associated with psychopathology, and suicide terrorists do not exhibit overt psychopathology. Furthermore suicide terrorism has murderous intent.

There are connections between mental illness and terrorism (Weatherston & Moran, 2003). Psychiatric disorders such as depression and PTSD are higher among the suicide bombers (Sheehan, 2014). Suicide bombers can commit an extreme form of violence without any remorse.

One Response to “The Phenomenon of Suicide Bombing”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    There is no evidence these or most Islamic terrorist suicide bombers suffered mental illness. They were driven by what they believe as holy and noble deeds.

    In order to stop these we must understand their dumb motivations. These are rich and educated Muslim terrorists, just like the 36 Muslims who joined ISIS to fight in Syria and 9/11 attackers.

    Their aim is to fight for Allah by killing unbelievers and gain heavenly bliss by doing so (as dumb as it sounds). However much we find it ridiculous and demonic, it is the most powerful motivator for them. It is very valuable to them (emphasised).

    This chain of thinking must be broken. Potential suicide bombers must be convinced that they will be dying in vain just to end up in hell.

    Israel buries Muslim terrorists with parts of pigs. It is believed that if their remains are associated with the pig (associated with Satan) they are denied heaven. Sri Lanka must use the same method. They would have died in vain in their own beliefs and further suicide bombers will be severely discouraged.

    Our problem is our thinking is limited to our own religions, morals, philosophies which are totally irrelevant to the thinking of Muslim extremists. We must get inside their heads to understand them and deter them effectively using whatever method that convinces them (not us).

    It will not happen in Sri Lanka where terrorists are given a decent and religious burial. Potential suicide bombers can look forward to 72 virgins in heaven (as they – not us- believe). Gates of heaven are widely opened to them (as they believe).

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