They have no face. Just a body that doubles up as a bomb. They have no fear. Just an obsession that drives them through hell, in search of heaven. How does the world tackle this new form of terror that is both death-defying and deadly? A dossier on the fidayeen, the new face of terror… • Why suicide squads? Defence analysts trace the birth of contemporary suicide terrorism to October 23, 1983 when Muslim extremists drove into the barracks of the US and the French contingents of the multinational peace-keeping force in Beirut and detonated bombs with no intention of escaping.
The toll: 241 American soldiers and 58 French paratroopers. Since then its been a regular feature in Israel, US, Kashmir… Summing up the chilling logic of the new terror tactic, Ramadan Salah, secretary general of the Palestinian Islamic Jehad states: ‘‘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….Human bombs cannot be defeated, not even by nuclear bombs.’’
• Who are they?
After profiling more than 50 Muslim suicide bombers serving in the Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ariel Merari, Tel Aviv University psychologist concluded there is no single psychological or demographic profile of suicide terrorists. ‘‘Intense struggles produce several types of people with the potential willingness to sacrifice themselves for a cause. Their motives range from religion, patriotism, hatred of the enemy to a profound sense of victimisation.’’ A BBC report states suicide bombers are typically unmarried men in their late teens and 20s.
They act on the belief they will go straight to paradise after the deed is over. Recruits are picked from mosques, schools and religious institutions and are reassured their families will be looked after.
An MSN survey states that 47 per cent of suicide bombers have an academic education, 83 per cent are single and 64 per cent are between the ages of 18-23. In a summer school reportedly run by the Islamic Jehad to teach boys the benefits of becoming suicide bombers, 12-15 year-olds are told to draw pictures of themselves with explosives strapped to their bodies. ‘‘We are teaching the children that suicide bombing is the only thing that makes the enemy very frightened. Furthermore, we are teaching them we have the right to do so,’’ says Mohammed el Hattab, one of the teachers. The rewards of suicide terrorism? ‘‘A place in heaven where the martyrs will be greeted by 70 virgins,’’ he adds. •
How to tackle it?
‘‘Governments do not have to invent entirely new tactics when waging war against suicide terrorists. The Achilles’ heel of suicide terrorism is that they are part of a large operational infrastructure,’’ writes Ehud Sprinzak, Dean, Lauder School of Government Policy and Diplomacy, Israel. His strategy for counter-attack: • Security services should strike against the commanders and field operators who recruit and train assailants. • Governments should create an effective network of informers. • Physical protection of potential target areas. When faced with highly-protected areas, militant organisations are unlikely to send precious suicide squads in action. • Consistent pressure on infrastructure through harassment and attacks.
Several studies, including a pioneering one by an Israeli psychologist, of 50 Muslim suicide bombers have shown that there is no single psychological or demographical profile for suicide terrorists. A more recent study by a former CIA case officer in Pakistan of 175 Al-Qaida terrorists found that 90 per cent came from a relatively stable, secure background. Three quarters of them were middle or upper class individuals while 75 per cent were married, usually with children. And 15 of the 19 hijackers in 9/11 came from wealthy families in Saudi Arabia. Suicide bombings are not the exclusive preserve of Islamic or religious fundamentalists.
The biggest instance of suicide attacks in the last century remains the kamikaze sorties by Japanese pilots in World War II. In the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945, some 2,000 kamikaze pilots rammed their planes into American ships killing about 5,000 soldiers. The primary motivation of the kamikaze pilots was not religion, but sacrifice for the Japanese nation. Hence, among the items that they carried on their death missions was the Japanese flag and a headband with the emblem of the rising sun.
he reason why religious as well as secular groups favour suicide attacks is fairly well known. Suicide bombers can cause the maximum damage at a minimum cost. But what is often missed in accounts of suicide bombings is its cold and calculated nature. Suicide bombers are driven and indoctrinated individuals, not wild-eyed religious fanatics. Thus, Pape points out that suicide terrorism is a strategic act, and that the vast majority of suicide terrorist attacks are not “isolated or random acts by individual fanatics, but, rather occur in clusters as part of a larger campaign by an organised group to achieve a political goal”.
It must, however, be acknowledged that since 9/11 the bulk of suicide attacks have been carried out by Islamic groups, particularly the Al-Qaida. What distinguishes Islamic extremists from other terrorists is their belief that martyrdom will ensure rewards in the after life.
Does that mean Islam is hardwired to produce suicide terrorists?
Obviously not. What it means is that intolerant strains of Islam – be it Wahhabi or Salafi – are fuelling much of Islamic extremism. From 2001 to 2004, Pape compiled data on 71 terrorists who killed themselves. Of these, over half were from Saudi Arabia. A recent LA Times report says nearly 50 per cent of all foreign militants targeting US security forces and civilians in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia.This actually puts a number to what is now identified as the ever-widening influence of radical varieties of Islam, which advocate a return to a pure and authentic Islam and have found a congenial environment in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have generously funded mosques and schools that preach this revivalist brand of Islam across the globe. This has changed the face of Islamic nations like Bangladesh or Indonesia, which practised a pluralist and tolerant Islam. It is also no secret that the religious schools in Saudi Arabia are a breeding ground for militancy.The supremacy of these ‘literalist’ versions of Islam has meant that other variants have been pushed to the margins. As Ziauddin Sardar, author of Desperately Seeking Paradise, points out, “By radically denying the complexity and diversity of Islamic history, Wahhabism has stripped the faith of all its ethical and moral content and reduced it to an arid list of dos and don’ts.To insist that anything that cannot be found in a literal reading of the sources and lore of early Muslims is kufr – outside the domain of Islam – and to enforce this comprehensive vision with brute force and/or severe social pressure for complete conformity spells totalitarianism”.
This coupled with the relentless peddling of jehad and martyrdom by the likes of Osama bin Laden has been one of the factors in spawning suicide bombers in all corners of the globe.
At present, it’s the Laden variety of Islamic fundamentalism that’s winning the day. Building walls and increasing security measures can only do so much to deter suicide bombers who subscribe to the world view propagated by bin Laden and his intellectual forebears such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Sayyid Qutb. The real battle must be fought in the minds of Muslims. “If Islam has been construed as the problem”, says Sardar, “then Islam is also the essential ingredient in the solution”.
The jehadis are fighting a war within Islam. Who comes out winner is crucial not only for Muslims but for everybody.
Remember in Prayers
Syed Kashif Ali