Reading Minds of Suicide Bombers; Attackers Found to Be 'Willing,' Not Poor, Crazy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 24, 2005 | Go to article overview

Reading Minds of Suicide Bombers; Attackers Found to Be 'Willing,' Not Poor, Crazy


Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

They are not crazy. They are not coerced. And in most cases, researchers believe, the suicide bombers attacking U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies in ever greater numbers aren't even Iraqis.

A startling surge of deadly attacks across Iraq - with hundreds killed in recent months - has U.S. officials and private terrorism specialists scrambling to identify and understand the motivations of the suicide bombers.

Given the grisly nature of most of the attacks, forensic evidence has been hard to find: A 20-year-old Saudi medical student is believed responsible for the attack last year in a U.S. Army mess tent that killed 22 and a Yemeni national was captured when his bomb failed to explode. But the vast majority of attackers have not been positively identified.

Terrorism scholars say the attackers in Iraq mirror many of the patterns seen in other suicide terror waves, from Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers to Palestinian Islamist groups targeting Israel.

"These are willing volunteers. I have yet to find a single case of true coercion among suicide attackers," said Robert A. Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and a leading scholar of modern suicide terrorism movements.

"They're working within a defined organization with political goals, and most are socially well integrated - technicians, ambulance drivers or some other midlevel occupation," he said.

Suicide terrorists as a group are "rarely ignorant or impoverished," according to University of Michigan psychologist and anthropologist Scott Atran in a study last year published in the Washington Quarterly. "Nor are they crazed, cowardly, apathetic or asocial."

The bombers benefit from a sophisticated network of handlers who offer safe houses and weapons, U.S. officials in Baghdad say. Repeated security sweeps have been unable to penetrate networks bringing militants from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere to blow themselves up in Iraq.

Contradicting another stereotype, suicide bombers in Iraq are in their late 20s or early 30s, many from the Arabian Peninsula or North Africa with families and well-established ties in their communities. As in the July 7 subway bombings in London, the bombers typically have little or no history of violence or religious activism. …

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