Understanding the rising cult of the suicide bomber

Although suicide attacks have been carried out for hundreds of years, suicide bombings have only been a permanent feature of conflicts since the 1980s. In recent years, though, their use has dramatically escalated. AOAV, which collects data on explosive violence, has recorded a total of 1,191 suicide bombings globally between 2011 and 2015, resulting in 31,477 civilian deaths and injuries.

The vast majority of suicide bombings within these years have been carried out by international Salafi-Jihadi terrorist organisations.

In light of this, AOAV’s extensive report Understanding the rising cult of the suicide bomber investigates what makes individuals give their lives, and take others, for causes propagated by these transnational terrorist groups.

It also looks at what effect such attacks have had on local and regional conflicts, as well as on the communities exposed to them.

Furthermore, the report proposes how states and other actors in the international community might seek to prevent their use and further escalation based on the reports’ findings.

The report is based on extensive field-work, as well as a thorough mapping and investigation of specific suicide bombings and the individuals that perpetrated them.

Below you can find each section of the report in chronological order. To read the report as a whole, please click here.

A brief history of SIEDs  
Types of SIEDs
SIEDs as a strategic weapon  
Suicide bombings and martyrdom in Islam  
Spinning suicide: a look at IS media operations  
Does the cult work? The wills of suicide bombers  
SIEDs in the context of International Law  
Social drivers of suicide bombing  
Economic drivers of suicide bombing  
Psychological drivers of suicide bombing  
Stemming the tide- Combatting suicide bombing  
Current threat zones – Iraq  
Current threat zones – Syria  
Current threat zones – Nigeria  
Current threat zones – Af-Pak region  
Current threat zones – Saudi Arabia  
Current threat zones – Yemen  
Current threat zones – Tunisia  
Current threat zones – Europe  
Looking ahead  
Preventative measures  
Appendix 1 – Individual case studies  
Appendix 2 – Suicide bombers from Europe (Brussels attacks)
Appendix 3 – Suicide bombers from Europe (Paris attacks)
Appendix 4 – Suicide bombers from Europe (Others)  
Appendix 5 – Suicide bombers from Europe (UK)  
Appendix 6 – Suicide bombers in Syria and Iraq  
Appendix 7 – Transcripts of the wills of Syrian Suicide Bombers  
Appendix 8 – Transcripts of the wills of Iraqi Suicide Bombers  
Appendix 9 – Yemeni suicide bombers  
Appendix 10 – Tunisian suicide bombers  

Iain Overton

Aman Bezreh
Chris Hitchcock
Jacob Berntson
Jen Wilton
Jennifer Dathan
Khalil Dewan
Leyla Slama
Michael Hart
Namir Shabibi
Shaza Alsalmoni
Sophie Akram
Tim Hulse

This research was undertaken with assistance from the NATO Counter-IED Centre of Excellence.