Suicide Bombs Favorite of Terrorists

Dan Eggen and Scott Wilson analyze the emergence of suicide bombing as the favorite tool of terrorists.

Suicide Bombs Potent Tools of Terrorists (WaPo, A1)

Unheard of only a few decades ago, suicide bombings have rapidly evolved into perhaps the most common method of terrorism in the world, moving west from the civil war in Sri Lanka in the 1980s to the Palestinian intifada of recent years to Iraq today. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide attacks in the United States, suicide bombers have struck from Indonesia to India, from Russia to Morocco.

Now governments throughout the West — including the United States — are bracing to cope with similar challenges in the wake of the deadly July 7 subway bombings in London, which marked the first time that suicide bombers had successfully mounted an attack in Western Europe.

The pace of such attacks is quickening. According to data compiled by the Rand Corp., about three-quarters of all suicide bombings have occurred since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The numbers in Iraq alone are breathtaking: About 400 suicide bombings have shaken Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003, and suicide now plays a role in two out of every three insurgent bombings. In May, an estimated 90 suicide bombings were carried out in the war-torn country — nearly as many as the Israeli government has documented in the conflict with Palestinians since 1993.


The bombings in London, which killed 55 people, illustrate the profound difficulty of preventing such attacks, experts say. Intelligence officials believe the bombers, in a common pattern, were foot soldiers recruited for the occasion, young men of Pakistani and Jamaican backgrounds reared in Britain who had recently converted to radical Islam. The four bombings required no exit strategy and were pulled off with devices that apparently were made in a bathtub and were small enough to fit in backpacks.

“With the exception of weapons of mass destruction, there is no other type of attack that is more effective than suicide terrorism,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert who heads the Washington office of Rand, a California think tank. “The perception is that it’s impossible to guard against.


The use of suicide attacks is not new. Japanese kamikaze pilots in World War II tried to cause maximum damage by crashing their fighter planes into U.S. ships. Walter Laqueur, an expert in the history of terrorism, also says that, for centuries, any attack on military or political leaders was a form of suicide because the act usually occurred at close quarters and brought swift and certain death for the killer.

The article makes a big point to show that non-Muslims invented the technique and that there are motivations beyond religious extremism that might cause people to use it. These are undoubtedly true. It nonetheless remains the case that those perpetrating these attacks against Western targets are exclusively Muslim.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    Suicide bombers are no doubt the most cowardly of any form of “warfare” I credit the modern day suicide bombing threat we face today to Europe’s hero, Yassar Arafat. The fact that Muslims carry out almost 100 % of suicide bombings today make this a Muslim exclusive. The world must recognize this and let the Muslim world know that the remains of any suicide bomber will be buried in a vat of Pig Fat. This maybe, will put a stop to the “religious” excuses we have heard from the Muslim world.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Arafat pioneered airline hijacking. Suicide bombing was never really a PLO thing, being pioneered by the Tamil Tigers and brought to the Middle East by Hamas.

  3. Greg says:

    I’ve heard enough!.A “Suicide Bomber” would strap a C4 knapsack on and sit in a field to meet his fate.If you put the same backpack on and ride the subway–then you are a “Homicide Bomber”. Got it?