Suicide Bombers Don't Fit Psychological Profile

Article excerpt

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Psychological profiling of suicide bombers will not work because they are a heterogeneous population and do not fit any diagnostic criteria for mental illness, Dr. Jamshid A. Marvasti said at the annual meeting of the American College of Forensic Psychiatry.

"There is no real psychopathology for these people. They are not mentally sick," said Dr. Marvasti, a psychiatrist in Manchester, Conn., who has recently completed a study of the psychiatric literature on suicide bombers. His findings are to be published in a book, "Psycho-Political Aspects of Suicide Bombers, Terrorism, and Martyrdom: A Critical View From 'Both Sides' in Regard to Cause and Cure" (Springfield, Ill.; Charles C. Thomas, in press).

"You cannot profile them. You cannot index them," he said. "They are a heterogenous population and can be from any race or nationality."

Although many Americans associate suicide bombers with Islamic fundamentalism, suicide bombers come from virtually every religious group, said Dr. Marvasti, who was born in Iran. Most are young, single men from stable families, but more women are becoming suicide bombers--especially among the Tamil Tigers, a predominantly Hindu group that has made extensive use of suicide bombing in Sri Lanka.

The one common thread that Dr. Marvasti saw that connected suicide bombers was the occupation of their homelands. Many had a family member who was persecuted, tortured, and/or killed, he said; a few had been tortured themselves.

Rage, revenge, and a need for self-worth are factors that drive people to become suicide bombers, Dr. Marvasti said. For some, it is a practical choice; they see no alternative that will correct injustice. In virtually all cases, these people are rational, he said; terrorist groups would reject as unreliable anyone who appears to be mentally ill.

While many suicide bombers quote from holy books, Dr. Marvasti did not see religious beliefs as a driving force. Religion, he said, is just a tool used to justify the action. …