Counter-Terrorism: Suicidal Tendencies

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April 23,2008: It was 25 years ago that the first suicide bomber attack was directed against Americans, with Islamic terrorists hitting the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. Since then, there have been nearly 1,900 such attacks worldwide, killing and wounding over 70,000 people (nearly 40 casualties per attack, about 30 percent of them fatalities). But some 86 percent of these attacks have occurred since September 11, 2001. This increase was partly because of the Palestinian terror campaign in Israel (which began in late 2000), and the invasion of Iraq. In the last 25 years, fifty percent of suicide bombing attacks took place in Iraq, and 14 percent in Afghanistan.

The remarkable thing about suicide bombing is that it almost always backfires. In Lebanon, the Shia use of suicide bombings didn't lead to victory, but to a negotiated end to the fifteen year civil war. This was seen by many as just a pause, with the Iran backed Shia group Hizbollah, still eager to take control of the country, and Israel as well. The one non-Islamic suicide bomber campaign, in Sri Lanka, saw the local practitioners (Hindu Tamils) also have the tactic backfire on them.

The Sunni Arab suicide bomb campaign in Iraq was a disaster for both the Sunni Arabs, and al Qaeda. As the death toll rose, the popularity of al Qaeda in the Moslem world plummeted. Same thing happened in Afghanistan, with the Taliban seeking to shift blame to al Qaeda "foreigners." The thousands of volunteers for these one way missions came from several Arab countries (particularly Saudi Arabia and Libya), where the rulers were happy to see their Islamic militants go off to Iraq to die, and did little to interfere with this traffic.

The Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq tried to get around the limitations of suicide bomber (recruiting and training the bomber) by using roadside bombs. These did cause a lot of U.S. casualties, but also killed and injured an even larger number of Iraqis. Eventually, the Sunni Arabs gave up, switched sides, and are hoping for the best. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been shattered and disgraced.

In Israel, the Palestinians saw their campaign stopped cold by new Israeli tactics. Some of these were adopted by the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, with similar success. The Palestinians are still seeking a new way to kill Israelis. Suicide bombing remains popular among terrorist organizations because it's often the only way they can do something that will attract some media attention. There's also the opportunity to make some propaganda among your base (of support) by promoting the suicide bomber as a hero. The Western media often falls for this as well, but eventually the word gets around that the bombers are being played. After that, the terrorists will use non-volunteers or trick people into becoming bombers. At that point, the game is up, and the bombing campaign grinds to a halt, caught up in a web of lies and distortions. But the basic concept continues to attract desperate believers, as it has for centuries.

 


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