The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
Suicide Terrorists, Incorporated
by James F Dunnigan
Ever wonder how suicide bombers are recruited? There's method to this madness, and the methods have been around for centuries. The oldest recorded suicide terrorist organization existed a thousand years ago.
A radical Islamic sect, it was established in the 11th century in modern day Iran. Hasan, the founder, was the son of a noble family. He had a grudge and a genius for organization and persuasion. Using religion, sex and drugs (a formidable combination), capable young men were persuaded to become assassins. But these killers, unlike your average medieval hit man, were not bothered about being killed in the act. And this made the "ashishin" (from "users of hashish") not just killers, but highly effective terrorists.
The sect maintained a number of mountain fortresses and over the two centuries it existed, came to control considerable territory in Iran and Syria. Terror was its main weapon, for its assassins were known to be virtually unstoppable. Finally, in the 13th century, Mongol and Arab armies went after the "assassins," destroyed their castles and killed their leaders. The sect continued as a religious organization, but gave up the use of assassination and terror. Some 150,000 sect members still live in the Middle East, where the methods of the medieval suicide terrorists continue to be practiced by other groups.
Recruiting suicide terrorists is difficult, but obviously not impossible if you set up an organization devoted to it. First, you need a cause to attract and motivate recruits. Suicide terrorists don't pop up just anywhere. You need a group of people, preferably poverty-stricken, and feeling oppressed by neighbors. Thus we find suicide terrorists in the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Chechnya.
Religion is not essential. The Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka don't use it, and the Chechens don't use it as much as their Moslem allies would like. But oppression and a well-run organization to channel the resentment are essential. In Israel and Afghanistan (Osama Bin Laden's organization), religious students are recruited. The suicide terrorists must be volunteers, but there is a certain amount of brain washing going on to persuade the prospect that getting oneself killed for the cause is a worthwhile effort. Some of the attractions are material. The family of the terrorist is rewarded with money and public praise after the attack. This is important as it makes future recruiting easy, at least among the poor young lads who have few economic prospects. Poverty, resentment, religious and nationalistic zeal, even bitterness over a relative killed by the enemy, all are used to successfully recruit, motivate and train suicide terrorists.
In Chechnya, suicide terrorists are relatively new The Chechens received several million dollars last year to finance a suicide bomber unit (the Shahid - suicide attacker - battalion.) The Iranian-backed Hizbollah provided advice on how to set up and run the operation. There were a few differences from the usual Islamic suicide bombers. Chechens are not as religious so other angles had to be exploited.
Locals who had lost a limb or an eye proved to be a good source of recruits. As with Hizbollah, people with mental problems are also usable, as long as their disability does not make them incapable of learning how to handle the explosives and follow instructions
Widows or unmarried women who have lost their parents are another source of recruits. In Chechen culture, such women face bleak prospects. People who have been condemned to death by religious courts are given the option of being a suicide bomber to atone for their crime and provide some cash for their families.
Men who have lost many family members to Russian troops and are keenly aware of the Chechen tradition of revenge comprise another source of volunteers. The region is cursed with many blood feuds and the Shahid battalion offers a pretty certain way for anyone to settle a blood debt against the Russians.
As an added inducement for all volunteers, the rebels provide cash payments ($500-$1,000) and promise to take care of surviving family members. There are also some volunteers from Arab countries, but these are more expensive.
These payments eat up a lot of cash, as does the expense of setting up training camps and providing support and equipment. False documents have to be obtained to get the suicide bombers through Russian checkpoints. Vehicles have to be provided for car and truck bombs. There is also the staff of the training camp and other specialists to guide the bombers to their targets, and scout them beforehand.
Even with all this preparation, there is sometimes a shortage of volunteers. The Russians suspect that in some cases non-suicide bombers, especially people who aren't too bright, are given bombs with timers that go off prematurely and escape routes that do not work.
Historically, there are only two ways to eliminate the suicide terrorists. One is the "Mongol method" (kill most of the population from which the terrorists are recruited). The other is to address the grievances that generate the suicidal volunteers. That isn't easy, as there are usually grievances and resentment on both sides. But there's the choice you face; mass murder or a lot of diplomacy and deal making.
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