The 11 Markers of a Suicide Bomber


Here is the first of three installments on Suicide terrorism. The statistics and sources can be found at

Suicide attacks are the new normal in armed conflicts around the world. This was not always the case. From 1945-1980 there were zero suicide attacks anywhere in the world. From 1980-2003 there were 315 such attacks around the world. With so many attacks in such a relatively short amount of time this begs the question: “why hasn’t a model been established to predict such events.”

Once the suicide bomber is among the crowd, the likelihood of a peaceful ending has passed. The challenge is not in indentifying the circumstances that lead to the decision to die and kill. That mistake has been made by experts in the past (and currently) in getting caught up in the despair and poverty that most believe is the primary cause of the decision to become a suicide bomber. Then according to misinformed experts once the level of despair has been reached then religious fanaticism takes over driving one to kill self and others. Nothing could be further from the truth. Religion often has very little to do with the decision to become a suicide bomber. This is not conjecture; the most comprehensive statistics available for suicide bombers back up this assertion. The process of executing a suicide attack is much like any other crime–such as robbing a bank or conducting a successful kidnapping for ransom. All along the way there are steps and procedures that the criminal must follow in order to be successful. Suicide bombers are no different in that respect. They may be spectacular and vicious, but they are all in fact just another crime.

Suicide bombers in today’s environment can be identified with a few simple markers and then interdicted. This list is by no means inclusive or written in stone. This is just a starting point for the discussion, or how to find the needle in a stack of needles. The eleven markers below are not listed in order of importance.

1.Most bombers are from countries or nationalities that are fighting to remove what they see as an occupying force. Such as Palestinians, Chechens, or Tamil Tigers or in Saudi Arabia, Iraq. Of “the seventy one individuals who actually killed themselves on missions for al-Qaeda from 1995-2003 research shows that the presence of American military forces for combat operations on the homeland territory of the suicide terrorists is stronger than fundamentalism in predicting whether individuals from that country will become suicide terrorists.” “Although the Lebanese Shia community initially welcomed Israel’s decision to eradicate the PLO presence in southern Lebanon, in the early 80’s any Shia euphoria soon developed into resentment and militancy following the realization that Israel would continue to occupy southern Lebanon.” This problem only worsened as more western troops from France and the United States began arriving in the fall of 1982 even though these forces were there to help stabilize the country and ultimately help to reduce violence. The situation got dramatically worse in 1983 as Israel began arresting Shia leaders. This coupled with the formation of Jewish backed committees in 30 villages in southern Lebanon. This further convinced the Shia majority that they were losing their self-determination. As Israel’s control grew so did Hezbollah which mounted 36 suicide attacks from 1982 to 1986. “The stationing of tens of thousands of American combat troops on the Arabian Peninsula from 1990 to 2001 probably made al-Qaeda suicide attacks against Americans, including the horrible crimes committed on September 11, 2001, from ten to twenty times more likely.” All of the research suggests that the United States will continue to make Muslim Terrorists groups stronger by pursuing military policies that are a replica of what they believe America is already doing. Since every conflict needs an enemy, America is the foil to every wrong that Muslims endure.

When Bin Laden said repeatedly “that the American military presence in Saudi Arabia was the number one threat to the holy city at Mecca,” we ignore that belief at our own peril. As early as 1998 Bin Laden said: “The same applies to the land of the two mosques where there is a plan to divide it into a state for the two mosques, and another state for the oil. This would make the people of the two mosques always busy trying to earn a living, and would leave a few people in the oil region who can be easily controlled.”

2.Most bombers are from middle class families with degrees, most likely in engineering. Mohammed Atta had a degree in urban studies and was working on a graduate degree in urban engineering in Hamburg Germany. His family was middle class with his father being a lawyer. Mahmoud al-Obeid, a college student in Gaza committed a suicide attack in 2002. “One of the drivers in the attacks on the embassy in Tanzania was Abdul Rahman, an engineer.” When approached about a suicide mission as part of an overall strategy an engineer or someone with advanced education can understand the geo-political struggle in which they are engaged. If you asked an uneducated but happy teenager they would be less likely to understand their role in the greater conflict. Just as kamikaze pilots were from special schools with advanced training, like engineers They believed that they were simply human torpedoes, part of the campaign rather than someone with no future.

Please come back for the second installment….

(dr) Phil Kiver
After graduating from Eastern Washington University, Kiver joined the Army, serving overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chile, Kyrgyzstan and Germany. While stationed at Fort Hood Texas, Kiver anchored an Army news show on KCEN NBC in Waco, Texas. During this time, he received a master’s degree in Military History from American Military University. Currently, he is working on his PhD in Terrorism Studies. He has spoken at the Library of Congress, Ronald Reagan Library and Hillsdale University. Kiver is the author of “182 Days in Iraq” and “Iraq in Pictures," His books may be purchased directly from the publisher at
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