Magazine article The Middle East

Cult of the Kamikaze: Coming to Grips with Suicide Bombers as a New Wave of Attacks Is Threatened in Iraq. (Regional)

Magazine article The Middle East

Cult of the Kamikaze: Coming to Grips with Suicide Bombers as a New Wave of Attacks Is Threatened in Iraq. (Regional)

Article excerpt

Israel's Foreign Ministry has just completed a rough draft of a proposed international convention against suicide attacks and is expected to begin distributing it soon to other governments in an effort to win support to enshrine it in an international treaty. There seems a certain symmetry to that, since around 2,000 years ago, when the land now known as the West Bank was under the rule of an earlier occupier, imperial Rome, Jewish fanatics known as Zealots carried out suicide attacks against their oppressors.

The Israeli effort may find some resonance in the US and elsewhere, but Israel's track record on international counter-terrorism conventions is hardly exemplary. According to Haaretz, it has refused to ratify several such conventions because these would impede its military and intelligence operations. It did not even sign a 1979 convention against hostage-taking because it contained a clause specifying that the ban would not apply to "armed conflicts ... in which people are fighting against colonial domination, alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right to self-determination."

With a threatened upsurge in suicide terrorism following the US invasion of Iraq, the Israeli effort to outlaw the phenomenon that has been savaging them for the last 20 years or so, may find a sympathetic ear. The Israeli draft calls for defining incitement to suicide attacks, or assisting in their planning and execution, as crimes under international law. It also demands banning financial support from states or organisations to the families of suicide bombers, and establishing an international organisation, in coordination with the United Nations, to combat the deadly phenomenon.

The carnage of 9/11--which gave a whole new catastrophic dimension to suicide attacks and demonstrated western society's vulnerability to them--together with skilful Israeli propaganda--have made headway in persuading the West of the need for collective action to counter such operations, which have become the most feared weapon in the arsenal of political activists.

World opinion has undeniably witnessed a shift against the cause of the Palestinians post-9/11. But at the same time the culture of suicide attacks has grown among Islamic fighters in Kurdistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, China, Turkey and across Southeast Asia.

After Iraqi suicide bombers claimed the lives of four US servicemen at a military checkpoint north of Najaf, in late March, American troops were put on high alert. Iraqi dissidents say Saddam Hussein has opened a training camp for Arab volunteers willing to carry out suicide bombings against invading US forces.

The daily Asharq Al Awsat reported that Al Qaeda is training women for suicide missions and says some have joined male comrades from Osama bin Laden's organisation and the Taliban in Afghanistan in preparation for carrying out "human bomb" attacks against the West and Israel. How true that is remains to be seen.

The threat of a new wave of suicide attacks by Arabs and their allies should be taken seriously. Whether Saddam Hussein, after more than two decades of brutalising his own people, can command the degree of fanatical loyalty among his forces that would persuade men or women to carry out suicide operations on his behalf is questionable. But the Palestinian Intifada has shown over the last two-and-a-half years that it is not only religious fervour that motivates suicide bombers.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are still the most active in this type of operation, but the secular groups that have joined in the suicide attacks have radically transformed the profile of the kamikaze bomber the Israelis had built up, of young Muslim men, poorly educated and religiously zealous. Groups like the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, largely recruited from Fatah, Yasser Arafat's mainstream group, have sent Christians, young women and middle aged men on suicide missions. …

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