This report offers a brief overview of the growth of the suicide bomber as a weapon of war, from sporadic early attempts, to the development of the situation we see today – where there are weekly incidents of suicide bombings around the world. For a more detailed review of the history of the suicide bomber, please consider reading AOAV Executive Director’s book: ‘The Price of Paradise – how the suicide bomber shaped the modern age.’
The first bombing
On 13 March 1881, Ignaty Grinevitsky watched as his accomplice threw a small bomb at the convoy of Tsar Alexander II outside the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. Safely enclosed in a carriage made from bullet-proof material as a gift from Napoleon III, the Tsar stepped out, dazed but unhurt.
Grinevitsky saw his chance.
The young man, a member of The People’s Will left-wing terrorist group, rushed towards his target, dropping a bomb at the Tsar’s feet killing them both.
The night before the attack Grinevitsky had written: ‘I shall not live one day, one hour in the bright season of our triumphs, but I believe that with my death I shall do all that it is my duty to do.’
And in that deadly act, Grinevitsky was to make his mark on history: the first recorded suicide bomber.
Fast forward 130 years and suicide bombings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq are a regular occurrence. They have been used in over 40 different countries and territories over the last 30 years, killing at least fifty thousand people. They are, today, the weapon of choice for some of the most feared terrorist organisations.
But how did they come to be so prevalent, and why have suicide attacks emerged as the weapon of choice in some contexts but not in others?
What do we mean by ‘suicide attacks’?
Suicide bombings are those that involve the deliberate death of the perpetrator. The perpetrator functions as a sophisticated guidance system for the weapon, capable of approaching a target and detonating at the most devastating moment.
Admittedly, the word ‘suicide’ can imply a degree of choice that may not always exist. There are frequent reports of vulnerable people, like children or the mentally ill, being coerced or manipulated into carrying out attacks. In Afghanistan, child suicide bombers are even sometimes given an amulet containing Koranic verses and told that it will protect them.
For ease of reference, though, we term these attacks as ‘suicide’. But to do so is not with the intention of overstating the responsibility of all suicide bombers – it is clear that, in some cases, the perpetrator is a victim as well.
Japanese Kamikaze pilots
Despite what we may assume from the current, highly reported tactics and rationale of suicide bombers, they were not always exclusively the preserve of terrorist organisations.
Some of the first suicide bombings of the twentieth century involved the Japanese military, fighting as they were in the Second World War. Faced with the overwhelming naval aerial superiority of the Allied forces in the Pacific, they desperately resorted to the use of the Tokkotai. This ‘special attack unit’, popularly known as Kamikaze or ‘divine wind’, consisted of planes and boats loaded with bombs. The pilots were instructed to crash into naval targets. Their ranks were plucked from volunteers from conscripts or universities.
The militaristic Japanese culture at the time forbade any form of surrender, and the leap from this sense of death with honour, to volunteering as a human bomb was not such a large one.
The Tokkotai were first deployed at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. A plane struck the St Lo aircraft carrier, triggering a fire which eventually sunk the ship. Their use peaked at the Battle of Okinawa where 30 Allied ships were sunk or put out of action. In total around 3,860 suicide attacks were carried out by the Japanese before the end of the war.
Their impact in addressing the balance of naval power in the Pacific, however, should not be over-estimated. It was expensive and often the planes lacked the penetrative force to sink a ship – only around 50 ships were sunk by Tokkotai.
But the attacks did have a real and lasting psychological impact on the Allied sailors. Admiral Halsey, commander of the US Third Fleet declared that it was ‘the only weapon I feared in war’. The attacks also sent a message of fanaticism and intimidation to Japan’s enemies.
Unlike modern suicide bombings, the Tokkotai attacks were directed exclusively at military targets. That said, the themes in the Japanese tactics of a military imbalance, indoctrination, and psychological intimidation can be seen years later – and are today seen in suicide bombings by non-state groups.
It is hard, then, not to see the dark foreshadows of the September 11th 2001 attacks in the tactics of the Tokkotai.
Lack of suicide bombings during the Cold War
There were no reported incidents of suicide bombings after the Second World War until the 1980s, despite conflicts between insurgent groups facing a larger and better armed opponent (such as in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Angola, Northern Ireland, and Nicaragua).
Partly this reticence to use suicide bombers by non-state actors, may have been due to the relatively easy access to conventional weapons supplied by the two dominant super powers of the time – the US and Russia. It may also have been down to the lack of a successful precedent to inspire copycat attacks.
During this period, though, there were developments that would be important influences in the emergence of suicide terror at the end of the 20th century. After the Second World War, the US and UK encouraged and strengthened radical Islamic movements in the Middle East to contain the spread of the Soviet Union and to suppress nationalist movements hostile to the West. It was also during the 1970s that Saudi Arabia began to spend billions of dollars to promote Wahhabism, an ultra conservative reading of Islam, around the world. Today Wahabbist or Salafist groups are among some of the most prolific users of suicide attacks.
The first large suicide bombing campaign after the Second World War occurred in the 1980s, during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. The largest bombings happened on 23 October 1983, when a truck was driven into a US Marine base in Lebanon, using 2,000 pounds of explosives. The bomber killed himself, along with 241 military personnel. Seconds later, another bomber struck the operations building of French paratroopers and killed 58 more.
These bombings were blamed on Shiite militant groups supported by Iran. They eventually became the militant group Hezbollah. They went on to be responsible for a series of around 20 suicide attacks directed at the Israeli and Lebanese armies in the 1980s.
Car bombs in Lebanon were already a regular occurrence but suicide attacks added a new dimension to the threat. They required a broad range of security measures and their novelty captured widespread media attention.
Muhammad Hussein Fadalallah, a spiritual guide of Hezbollah, described under what circumstances suicide bombers were to be deployed: ‘We believe that suicide operations should only be carried out if they can bring about a political change in proportion to the passions that incite a person to make his body an explosive bomb.’
These attacks were, then, not seen to be – on the part of the users – pointless acts of brutality but were carefully considered and believed to have a real political impact. In some ways this thinking was borne out by realities. The bombing of the military bases successfully undermined US public support for continued involvement in the Lebanese war, and the Multinational Force withdrew from Lebanon. Similar suicide attacks on Israeli military bases persuaded the Israelis to move out of population centres.
At this stage, for the most part, suicide bombings were directed at military targets, though civilians were sometimes part of the collateral damage.
The highly organised campaign in Lebanon was a breakthrough moment in the history of suicide bombings. The strategic successes helped to popularise the tactic and raise the profile of Hezbollah. They were the first Islamic group to carry out suicide attacks and the group would go on to play an important role in exporting their knowledge to Palestinian militant groups.
(Data from the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism)
The Palestinian territories
In 1994, around 10 years after suicide attacks began in Lebanon, Palestinian groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad began using suicide bombers against Israeli targets to disrupt talks for a potential peace process. Many of these attacks were deliberately targeted at civilians. Over time, at least 742 civilians were killed and 4,899 were wounded by suicide bombings in Israel and the Palestinian Territories according to data from the University of Chicago. In Lebanon a further 88 civilians were killed by suicide bombings and 160 were wounded.
The first attacks occurred in April 1994, when eight people were killed in a car bomb attack on a bus in Afula in Israel. Hamas claimed responsibility. Bombings continued sporadically in the 1990s with seven in 1995, three in 1996, five in 1997, two in 1998 and two in 2000.
An upsurge in Palestinian suicide bombings followed in the next three years decade with 103 bombings. The increase corresponds with the second intifada following the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations. As violence intensified, the military wing of Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, also began to deploy suicide bombers.
Many of these attacks were deliberately aimed at civilians. In part this reflects a broader decline of the taboo on targeting and killing civilians over the last century. But it is also a specific feature of the campaigns of the Islamic militant groups involved.
Attacks against Israeli civilians were justified by claiming that two things. First, that they are non-believers who are an extension of the Israeli occupation, and therefore legitimate targets who do not qualify as civilians. Second, that Israel had killed many innocent Palestinian civilians and this was therefore a justified act of revenge.
Mahmoud Ahmed Marmash, a twenty-one-year old suicide bomber who blew himself up near Tel Aviv in May 2001 explained such a decision on a video before his mission: ‘I want to avenge the blood of the Palestinians, especially the blood of the women, of the elderly, and of the children, and in particular the blood of the baby girl Iman Heijo, whose death shook me to the core…. I devote my humble deed to the Islamic believers who admire the martyrs and who work for them.’
His argument captures the mixture of religious and personal motivations which fuel suicide bombings. On the one hand his death was part of a wider religious Jihad, on the other it is motivated by a very personal desire for revenge.
For the first time suicide bombings began to be used as a means of transmitting fear throughout a whole population. These attacks were no longer unorthodox tactics in a guerrilla war against a state military, but a horribly effective means of terrorising civilians.
Popular support for suicide bombings in the Occupied Palestinian Territories remains high. A 2013, Pew survey of global attitudes found that 62% of those questioned in the Palestinian Territories believed that suicide bombing can often, or sometimes, be justified. In Pakistan, though, that figure is just 3%.
Such figures are important for those who seek to reduce the spread of suicide attacks. Groups carrying out suicide bombings are hoping to win public support; if the bombings do not resonate in a positive way then their cause will fail. And so long as support for bombings remains, there may well be a resurgence of the tactic among Palestinian militant groups in the future.
Not all groups that have deployed suicide bombers have a national-religious ideology. In Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a secular guerrilla movement, began using suicide bombings in the late 1980s, as part of their campaign to create a separate state for Tamil people in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka.
The group was led by Velupillai Prabhakaran. He developed a cult of personality around himself and played a pivotal role in the recruitment of suicide bombers known as the Black Tigers. LTTE members training at Hezbollah terrorist camps were convinced by the successes of the Beirut bombings in 1983.
To join the Black Tigers, LTTE members had to write application letters to Prabhakaran who would decide whether they were worthy. There were so many applications that a lottery for martyrs was created.
The first suicide bombing in Sri Lanka had strong similarities with the Beirut bombings four years previously. On 5 July 1987 an explosives-laden truck was driven into a Sri Lankan Army Barracks, killing 55 soldiers. The perpetrator of the attack was commemorated with a statue in the Tamil occupied town of Jaffna. Even in this secular campaign there existed a kind of martyrdom for those prepared to give their lives.
The Black Tigers were the world leaders in suicide terrorism from 1980 to 2003. Time Magazine describe the LTTE as ‘the most successful terrorist organization in the world.’ Of the 137 suicide bombings carried out by the LTTE, two were high profile assassinations: the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranasinghe Premadasa, and the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Five further Sri Lankan cabinet members were assassinated by suicide bombings. The Black Tigers also invented the suicide belt which would go on to be used regularly in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Black Widows
Female suicide bombers have also been used in a wide range of conflicts. The University of Chicago recorded 125 attacks involving female suicide bombers between 1981 and 2010 – just over 5% of those they recorded.
Among the most famous group of female suicide bombers are those referred to as the ‘Black Widows’ by the Russian media. Fighting for independence in Chechnya, they were often women who had lost husbands and brothers to the conflict.
Attacks carried out by women have a range of tactical advantages. Firstly, they attract significant media interest, sending a message that the cause has spread beyond a radical male youth. Secondly, the bombers attract less suspicion than their male counterparts, and are able to access areas which men cannot. Female suicide bombers are still used today for these reasons, particularly by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.
Al Qaeda and suicide terror
In recent years, suicide bombings have become the most high profile weapon of a global jihad.
Al Qaeda was formed in Pakistan in 1988 with the stated mission of implementing Sharia law and ridding the world of non-Muslim influences. They carried out their first suicide bombing in 1995 at a US military base in Saudi Arabia, killing five people. In 1998, the Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden issued a fatwa which declared all American citizens legitimate targets. On 7 August that year, they launched twin suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 223.
Then came 9-11. Al Qaeda became infamous, almost overnight, around the world after hijacked airliners were used in attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11 2001. Nearly three thousand people were killed in the most deadly suicide bombings ever carried out.
The attacks led to complete overhauls in US domestic security and foreign policy and involvement by the US in lengthy military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond. The US’s response, in turn, was to severely damage US standing in the some parts of the Muslim world. As such, bombing campaigns against the US and its allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have some of their roots in the rubble of the twin towers.
Over the following years attacks by Al Qaeda and their offshoots spread throughout the world, including the bombings in London in 2005 and in Bali in 2002. Disturbingly, Al Qaeda quickly developed a reputation for sophisticated attacks designed to inflict the largest number of civilian casualties, and today they are responsible for three of the five most deadly suicide bombings ever carried out.
The most deadly country for suicide bombings over the last decade is Iraq by some distance. A Lancet study found that at least 1,003 suicide bombings caused civilian casualties in Iraq between 2004 and 2010. Around 12,000 civilians were killed in this time period.[i] There were around 60 times more civilians killed than soldiers. Civilians were not merely ‘collateral damage’ but were being deliberately targeted.
Many of the attacks were part of sectarian violence. In particular, Shiite Muslims have been repeatedly targeted by Sunni insurgents dissatisfied at the political regime following the Anglo-American occupation.
Suicide attacks began in Iraq in 2004, following a dispute over the number of Sunni Arabs appointed to the Iraqi Governing Council. The targets included a Shiite mosque, the UN headquarters, and the Red Cross headquarters. Further upsurges in the violence occurred following events like the killing of Abu Masab Al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and increases in US troops. Many of those carrying out bombings were from outside of Iraq, with Saudi Arabia contributing the highest number of fighters.
Suicide attacks in Iraq have continued despite the withdrawal of US troops and attempts to make civilians more secure seem to be failing. Efforts by the government included the establishment of hundreds of checkpoints.
The rise of the Islamic State (IS) – an al Qaeda offshoot – in Iraq is largely behind this continuation of suicide attacks in Iraq. This has meant that Iraq has retained its unenviable position as being the country most impacted by suicide bombing. Between 2011 and 2015, AOAV recorded just under 350 suicide attacks in Iraq that resulted in the death and injury of over 12,000 people. Of these, over 75% were civilians. Most were committed by IS.
Another 3,000 people have been killed and injured by suicide bombers in Iraq in 2016 alone, as IS strategically use them as part of their offensive and counter offensive efforts.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
Two forms of violence dominated the Taliban insurgency against the Western presence in Afghanistan. One was the use of victim activated IEDs to target troops and the other was the use of suicide bombings in populated areas to undermine any sense of security. Suicide bombing played no role against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s; it only began to be used as a tactic in 2004, perhaps inspired by the success that such bombings were having in Iraq.
Many of the attacks in Afghanistan were carried out by children; those as young as nine have been intercepted on suicide bomb missions. Often trained at Pakistani madrassas, such minors are particularly vulnerable to indoctrination. ‘These kids might disappear at 12 and come back at 15 fully militarised and conscious of their own bodies as weapons.’
Pakistan is also highly impacted by suicide bombers, where government forces and minority groups are the targets. Shia communities in particular are targeted and Human Rights Watch have criticised the Pakistani government’s failure to protect them.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the psychological effects of suicide bombing
In 2015, 9,109 civilians were reported killed or injured in suicide attacks around the world – lives shattered in 248 incidents in mosques and markets, checkpoints and restaurants. It was a year where 21 countries saw men and women blow themselves up in a rising tide of violence that seems to be spreading by the day.
In this way, suicide attacks are getting steadily worse. In 2011, when AOAV started our monitor of global news reports, 5,107 civilians were reported killed or injured by suicide bombers. In 2015, that was up 78%.
Admittedly, it was not the worst year for suicide attacks on record – 2007 was. That year, according to the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, some 20,400 people were killed or injured in suicide attacks. But in 2007 the vast majority of these were in Iraq and Afghanistan and suicide bombs were recorded in just 12 countries.
By contrast, in 2015 – for instance – places previously untouched by suicide attacks were hit. Chad was targeted for the first time (459 civilians killed or wounded), as was Cameroon (431). And Nigeria’s civilian death and injury rate (which, at 2,062, was the highest from suicide bombings) was 14 times that of 2011.
In 2015, according to AOAV’s data, suicide attacks were behind 56% of the 16,180 civilian deaths or injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) worldwide – including car bombs and roadside bombs. In 2011, it was just 38% (5,107 of 13,336).
What is clear is that the people suffering most are Muslims. Most of the 21 countries hit were majority Muslim, and most of the perpetrators were doing so in the name of Islam. So while the use of suicide bombing may have roots in nationalist agendas, today it is more often the use of Salafi-Jihadi (believers in an ultra-conservative political-religious strand of Islam that emphasise the importance of military struggle) groups.
There are no easy fixes. When Mozambique declared itself free of landmines, you saw the remarkable result of a coalition of states and charities at work. But improvised explosive devices which are triggered by the user are not prohibited under the Mine Ban Treaty.
There are no legitimate suicide vest factories that can be shut down by governments. The materials used in suicide bombs often have additional, legitimate uses – such as fertiliser – so it is often impractical to ban the precursor explosive materials that make up suicide vests.
But Governments still need to fund a coordinated response. They need to ensure that explosive munitions stockpiles are properly regulated; they must help the civilians whose lives have been shattered by this pernicious weapon, and engage with religious leaders, charities and other groups to find ways to stigmatise their use. They must ensure a co-ordinated response to transnational smuggling networks.
82 facts about suicide boming
1. Since the first suicide bomber killed the Tsar of Russia in 1881, they have killed over 72,000 people and injured at least twice that.
2. Of the 10 worst explosive incidents the world witnessed between 2011 and 2018, seven were by suicide bombers.
3. In 1976 there were no suicide bombs anywhere in the world. Forty years later, 2016 saw 28 countries witnessing 469 attacks.
4. There have been over 13,500 recorded suicide attacks since their first use.
5. Where known, well over 90 per cent of suicide attackers were men, and nine-tenths of their victims were men also.
6. Fifty-five countries have seen a suicide bombing.
7. The youngest suicide bomber has been just four years old – barely strong enough to carry the lethal burden strapped to him. The oldest was a 72-year-old Japanese man.
8. Suicide bombers have been Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Shintoists and Hindus (and one Jewish bomber whose bomb didn’t detonate).
9. The first suicide bombing was on March 1st, 1881. The victim was the Tsar of Russia.
10. The Tsar of Russia survived seven assassination bids before he was killed by a suicide bomber.
11. French anti-parliamentarian, Paul Brousse, is credited with coining the phrase “propaganda by deed” – the intellectual justification for terrorism.
12. The site of the world’s first suicide bombing is now a church – Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood – in St Petersburg
13. The world’s first suicide bomb – that killed the Tsar of Russia – weighed only five pounds and had a blast range of one metre.
14. Count Leo Tolstoy asked Alexander III to spare those who had supported the suicide bomber who killed his father, offering them “another ideal, higher than theirs, greater and more generous”. Alexander III refused.
15. The world’s first failed suicide bomber was the Russian poet Ivan Kalyayev, whose explosion killed the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, but not the bomber.
16. The inventor of the world’s first suicide bomb was Nikolai Ivanovich Kibalchich. He also designed a solid-fuel rocket engine that was so admired by later Soviet rocket scientists that a crater on the far side of the moon was named after him.
17. Between October 1944 and August 1945, over 3,000 Japanese army and navy kamikaze pilots died in their attempts to sink the Allied fleet.
18. In the battle for Okinawa alone, 1,465 kamikaze attacks damaged 157 Allied ships, causing hundreds of deaths.
19. The first US naval vessel to be sunk by a kamikaze pilot was the USS St Lo.
20. Within weeks of the first kamikaze attack, at least 1,000 army flying graduates had signed up to join their ranks.
21. Kamikaze planes were often given names imbued with naturalistic nostalgia: ‘Ume Blossom’, ‘Autumn Water’ and ‘Wisteria Blossom’ among them.
22. As many as 12,700 different Japanese aircraft were adapted for suicide attacks.
23. On October 30, 1980 a 13-year-old Iranian boy killed himself and oncoming Iraqi soldiers using a hand grenade. In Iran, streets, hospitals, and schools were named after him. Even a golden monument was erected in his image.
24. After the “sacrificial martyrdom” ideal arose in the Islamic World around 1980, 52,000 young Iranian men joined ‘martyrdom units’ across the nation.
25. Between 1980 and 2017, 3,000 suicide attacks have occurred in the Middle East, killing 32,000 and wounding 76,000; these make up half of global suicide attacks.
26. Nearly all suicide bombings in the Middle East in the 1980s occurred in Lebanon. These include over 40 bombings that killed 934 people and injured 891.
27. A plaque in Tyre, Lebanon commemorates the first Lebanese suicide bomber to attack Israeli troops, a 15-year-old child, reading: “Martyrs create life.”
28. A suicide bomber in a pickup truck carrying 1,000kg of explosives killed 17 Americans at the US Embassy in Beirut on April 18th, 1983, including the CIA’s chief intelligence officer.
29. The suicide bombing in Beirut on October 23rd, 1983 was at the time the “largest non-nuclear explosion ever detonated on the face of the Earth”. It killed 305 people, including 241 American peacekeepers, 58 French and six civilians.
30. Between 1982 and 2000, Lebanese militant groups deployed 17 suicide bombings against Israeli Defence Forces, killing 565 and injuring 979.
31. An average of 52 people have been killed in every Shia suicide attack.
32. Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussain Fadlallah “compared suicide attacks to a soldier fighting a battle that he cannot win, yet he fights nevertheless”.
33. Between 1987 and 2001, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka were responsible for between one third and one half of suicide attacks around the world.
34. Attacks by the Tamil Tigers have targeted religious shrines and relics and have killed two world leaders: the former prime minister of India and the former president of Sri Lanka.
35. The deadliest terrorist act of 1996 was a suicide attack in Colombo by the Tamil Tigers. Hundreds of pounds of explosives killed 91 people, injured 1,400, and destroyed 9 buildings.
36. The first suicide bombing specifically targeted at civilians occurred in Israel in 1994 near two junior high schools in Afula. Eight civilians were killed and 55 were injured.
37. 114 suicide attacks have targeted Israel since 1994. 721 people have been killed and 5,098 injured, most of them Israeli Jews.
38. 95 per cent of people killed by suicide bombs in Israel have been civilians.
39. Saddam Hussein was known to pay families of Palestinian suicide bombers up to $25,000.
40. After 9/11, “images of civilians being killed [by suicide bombers] – their bodies penetrated by the bones of their killers, by table legs, by cutlery – shown on the evening news shocked the world”.
41. To some suicide bombers, death through suicide killing is not a price. One Palestinian suicide bomber said it was a “gift God allowed me to kill myself”.
42. September 11th, 2001: “the most-witnessed mass death in the history of the world”.
43. Leading up to 9/11, al-Qaeda carried out suicide attacks against Americans in Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen and killed a total of 240 people.
44. For Salafi-Wahhabists, the suicide bomber is “the equivalent of a medieval knight who throws himself valiantly into the enemy’s lines, knowing he is very unlikely to survive”.
45. In the floors above the site where the plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Centre on 9/11, only four people escaped. 200 people in the towers leapt to their death, forced to take their own lives.
46. More than 1,100 survivors and first responders of the 9/11 attack were diagnosed with cancer due to exposure to toxins such as asbestos. 410,000 civilians were exposed to asbestos in the New York streets.
47. Since 9/11, 115 militant groups have conducted suicide attacks in 51 countries, the majority of which have been carried out by Salafi-jihadist groups.
48. In the decade before 9/11, there were 151 suicide attacks worldwide. In the decade following 9/11, there were 3,155.
49. Civilian harm caused by suicide bombings nearly doubled between 2011 and 2016.
50. Before 9/11, al-Qaeda comprised 400 men. Today, it has 20,000 followers in Syria, 10,000 in Somalia, and 5,000 in Lybia and Yemen, among others in Sahel, Maghreb, Indonesia, and South Asia.
51. In 2002, there were 54 suicide bombings around the world; in 2004, there were 116, 51 of which were in Iraq alone.
52. In 2007, 291 suicide attacks were carried out in Iraq – nearly one every day – and 60 per cent of victims were civilians. The year was dubbed “the Bloody Circus”.
53. In his death video, one Syrian suicide bomber showed no fear, claiming that, “The prophet told us the martyr only feels an ant bite”.
54. In July 2015, Isis targeted Shia civilians in two suicide bombings in Iraq, one at a market in Khan Bani Saad and another at a bazaar in Baghdad, killing 121 and 325 people, respectively.
55. Isis’s predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq, launched over one hundred suicide attacks in its first five years, killing 2,200 and injuring 6,000, half of them civilians.
56. Three of the four suicide bombers responsible for killing 52 people in London in July 2005 came from the town of Dewsbury in northern England, where Muslim families are more impacted by poverty, unemployment and depression than the rest of the town’s population.
57. 15 of Europe’s 22 suicide bombers did not finish higher education or go to college; 17 were unemployed at the time of their attacks.
58. “The ultimate reason someone turns to suicide bombing is a combination of the external factors of the group and the world, and the inner, psychological drives that lead them to their terrible, violent deaths.”
59. “Is there, indeed, a personality type of a suicide bomber?” Successful suicide bombers cannot be interviewed, but factors such as socio-economic status and level of education may exacerbate existing religious and psychological motives.
60. Suicide bombers often come from impoverished backgrounds and have existing suicidal or violent tendencies: “if you have decided you wanted to die, anyone who tells you something that would make that more comforting – you would latch onto that.”
61. In some cases, it has been speculated that suicide bombing could be a “loophole” for those Muslims who wish to die by suicide without breaking from Islam tradition.
62. Isis propaganda videos share many parallels with the video game Call of Duty, where death is simply a chance to reboot and start again.
63. There have been reports of psychoactive and anti-anxiety drugs such as Captagon, Zolam and Pentothal being administered to ISis suicide bombers and fighters before carrying out operations.
64. The surge of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin that comes from selfless acts has been marked as a possible reason why some might die so willingly for others.
65. Boko Haram has used more female suicide bombers than any other militant group. They first used a female suicide bomber to attack the 301 Battalion in Gombe, Nigeria on June 8th, 2014.
66. Female suicide bombers can hide bombs more easily than men, concealing them under loose clothing and pregnancy outfits. Using female suicide bombers also means a lessened impact on the population of potential male soldiers.
67. The death toll from suicide bombing is greater than that of the Battle of Gettysburg, the first day of the Somme, Pearl Harbour and the Battle of Khe Sanh combined.
68. In the 19th century about 10 per cent of war casualties were civilians; in WWII it was about 50 per cent. Today, it stands anywhere between 75 and 90 per cent.
69. So extensive is the impact of a blast that US Homeland Security says you are only safe from a suicide bomber’s vest 110ft away – about twice the length of a bowling lane.
70. Improvised explosive weapons have been found to be more injurious than manufactured explosives such as rockets or mortars.
71. For every person physically harmed in a terrorist attack, up to 50 times the number of people will display signs of psychological trauma: 35 per cent of people who saw 9/11 unfold up-close developed PTSD.
72. In the last seven years, 14 per cent of all suicide bombings – one in seven – have been by children.
73. Since 2001, over 29 countries have witnessed suicide attacks on military or security units: over 3,385 strikes harming about 75,000 soldiers and bystanders.
74. The Joint IED Defeat Organisation says of suicide bombing: “No other widely available terror weapon has more potential for mass media attention and strategic influence.”
75. Between 2006 and 2015, in Afghanistan the counter-IED force spent $17 billion combating suicide bombers who were using inexpensive homemade devices.
76. Before 9/11, fewer than two dozen full-time officers were working on counterterrorism in the NYPD. Now there are more than a thousand.
77. In October 2017, the European Union announced it was to spend €118.5 million on projects to “better enhance the protection of public spaces”.
78. IEDs (largely suicide bombings) are the weapon that has killed the most people in the 21st century, apart from guns.
79. English-language media reported on 256 suicide bombings in 2016, causing 9,680 civilian deaths and injuries. No global money was made available for any attempt to address specifically the spread of suicide bombings.
80. In 2017, ISIS carried out dozens of drone strikes with disturbing accuracy. A shift away from suicide bombings?
81. In Morocco, a new school for imams from across the world focuses on “inner jihad” – the personal struggle – and not the “glory of terrorism”.
82. In 2018, over 1,800 Pakistani clerics from different schools of Islam issued another fatwa that said suicide bombings were “haram”, or forbidden under Islamic law.
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