The Psychology of Suicidal
University of Leicester, UK
Suicidal terrorism is not a new phenomenon. It has a history which can be traced back for thousands of years. For example, in the twelfth century an Islamic sect, the Ismal'ili Shi'ites, launched a 200-hundred-year-long campaign of terrorism using suicide attackers. Killing with daggers, lone assassins sacrificed themselves in ruthless attacks against the leaders and nobility of the age (Rapoport, 1990). Appalled at the Ismal'ilis' relentless willingness to sacrifice their own lives, observers argued that such behaviour must be unnatural. The belief quickly spread that the Ismal'ili used copious amounts of mind-altering drugs before launching their attacks, and in Arabic the sect came to be known as the Hashiyan ('those who eat hashish'). But the stories of drug use were untrue, and merely the malicious rumours and propaganda of enemies and onlookers who could not understand the willingness of the attackers to sacrifice their own lives in the effort to kill.
Today, rumour and innuendo still dominate public perceptions of suicide terrorists. Indeed, in Israel some elements of the popular press continue to push the idea that Palestinian suicide bombers take drugs or alcohol before they are sent to carry out the attacks. Just as with the Hashiyan, however, such stories are untrue. Extensive tests are carried out on the remains of suicide bombers by Israel's Institute of Forensic Medicine, and