Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Willing to Die: Palestinian suicide bombers

The Making of a "Martyr"

The view that Palestinian militant organizations are unorganized and strike at random is a common misperception. The cells are extremely well organized and choose their targets and weapons of destruction carefully. Especially if the weapon is a person strapped with explosives.

Richard Greene of JTA News stated that recruitment for suicide terrorists is a process, not an act that is often times lengthy and very difficult. The process usually begins with a recruiter seeking out potential candidates at mosques, refugee camps and universities. Sometimes recruiters look for potential candidates at the funerals of people who have been killed by Israeli forces, where there is a greater chance of finding an embittered person anxious to seek revenge. 

Once the recruiter finds someone who seems like a good candidate, an extensive background check may be carried out. They want to be sure that the person will meet their specific criteria for a suicide terrorist. Furthermore, they want to be sure that they will be physically and mentally reliable to carry out the gruesome task.

Hala Jaber wrote in Inside the World of the Palestinian Suicide Bomber   that most eligible candidates are single males at least 18 years or older, who exhibit a steely composure and have military training. Those who are an only child or the familys sole breadwinner are usually rejected. Another important feature of all candidates is that they have to be reasonably religious [and] convinced of the meaning of martyrdom and of jihad (holy war). Although a majority of the terrorist cells have similar criteria, there are sometimes exceptions made.

Once the suitable suicide candidate is selected, the person undergoes a lengthy preparation period, lasting three weeks to three months. During this period, the chosen person is often cocooned by the group and protected from outside influences, particularly the candidates family, television and radio. In confinement, the candidate is immersed in the teachings of the Koran and repeatedly told the suicide attack will   put that person in favor with God.

Often a contract is drawn up between the suicide terrorist and the militant organization leader. Greene stated that in return for the persons sacrifice, the organization will affirm his identity as a warrior martyr. That is, the suicide terrorist will be publicly presented as a holy warrior who fulfilled the organizations goals and the will of God. 

Scott Atran writes in his article, Understanding Suicide Terrorism: Genesis and Future of Suicide Terrorism, the volunteer suicide terrorist usually makes a video testament, which is considered a formal social contract. In the testament, the volunteer often quotes the Koran and states the reasons the sacrifice is being performed. It is often the final step made before leaving the protective environment to fulfill their religious duty.

Jaber stated that once the preparation phase has been completed, the volunteer is taken to the target destination to perform the assault. The suicide attacker is briefed on how to carry out the attack and a bomb is either strapped around the persons body or carried in a bag. The bomber is then given a map and told precisely when and where to detonate the device. Often the volunteer is instructed to wait until the target area is highly populated to ensure a higher casualty rate. Once the person has been completely briefed, the bomber is released to perform the murderous attack.

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