Terrorism: May 20, 2002


There are currently at least a dozen terrorist groups using suicide attacks (some more than others); the Islam Resistance Movement (Hamas) and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad of the Israeli occupied territories; Hizbollah of Lebanon; the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and Gamaya Islamiya of Egypt; the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) of Algeria; Barbar Khalsa International (BKI) of India; several Kashmiri separatist groups in Pakistan and India, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka; the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) of Turkey; and Al Qaeda. This form of attack is nothing new, it has been used for thousands of years. But heavy of use of this tactic comes and goes like any other trend. The current trend began in the 1980s, largely in Lebanon and Sri Lanka. Since then, there have been over 300 suicide attacks in 14 countries. Seventeen organizations planned and carried out these attacks. Seven of these organizations have since been destroyed or have stopped using suicide attacks. The first attacks were made in 1983 in Lebanon, organized by the Iran sponsored Hizbollah. In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers (or LTTE) carried out their first suicide attack in 1987. Until the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990, at least 50 suicide attacks were made there. Through the 1990s, the Tamil Tigers were the most frequent user of suicide attacks. Attacks also began to show up in Central America, Africa and the Balkans, all committed by Iranian backed terrorist groups. In 2000, Palestinian organizations (influenced by the success of Hizbollah) began to use suicide attacks more frequently, staging at least 21 attacks through the end of 2001. Early in 2002, the number of Palestinian suicide attacks increased, until Israel began military operations against terrorist bases in the West Bank, after which the number of suicide attacks declined. 

In both Lebanon and Sri Lanka, the terrorist organizations took advantage of religious beliefs that honored extreme sacrifice. Added to this was exploitation of economic and political grievances, thus making the suicide attackers into heroic characters. In addition, families of the suicide volunteers received generous (by local standards) economic rewards. Currently, families of Palestinian suicide bombers receive some $33,000 (from various sources, mainly Iraq and Saudi Arabia). Willingness to make a Faustian bargain is an ancient human trait and the terror organizations exploit it to recruit their bombers. Even without recruitment, it is not uncommon for young men to commit horrible crimes, "to become famous." What began as a Shia influenced tactic, suicide attacks have been adopted by Sunni (mainstream) Islamic groups. So far, most senior Sunni clerics have gone along with this, although there is growing resistance to the religious acceptability of suicide attacks by Islamic scholars. Historically, such destructive terror tactics last about a generation, then fall out of favor. This process is speeded up by the fact that most governments condemn the practice. Distaste for suicide attacks will grow, in the current situation, as more teenagers are recruited for the duty. The younger kids are, as with most trends, eager to outdo their elders. But suicide attacks are a tactic of despair, the last grasp tactic of a spent force facing inevitable defeat. 


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