In October 2003, a 29 year old Palestinian woman, Hanadi Jaradat, walked into a cafe in the Town of Jenin, in the West Bank, Palestine, shot a waiter and then blew herself up by triggering the explosives strapped to her body beneath her clothes. At least 19 people were killed and 50 people injured. This incident made sensational headlines worldwide; the pictures of Jaradat appeared on news-websites and front pages. Later, pictures of her aged mother clutching her photograph and weeping for her deceased daughter also made the headlines.
Nothing evokes more powerful sentiments and feelings than that of the image of a young person, supposedly gone to his or her death in a suicide bombing, ostensibly for a just or religious cause. In the case of Hanadi Jaradat, it was an act in the form of a personal vendetta, to avenge the death of her brother who was killed by Israeli forces. Oddly, that the suicide bomber has engaged in an act of violence that takes, not saves lives, has incurred more sympathy from newsreaders, the general public and the international community. The media focused more on personal information about Hanadi Jaradat, mentioning how she was soon to graduate as a lawyer, her age, the reasons why she staged the suicide bombing and the grief that her mother endured.
Less attention however, was paid to the casualties in the cafe bombing, with news articles providing mere statistics on the numbers of reported dead and wounded individuals. Personal details such as the names of the deceased were never mentioned, and, the views of the relatives of the aggrieved victims never voiced. The reasons for discrepancies in reporting are complex, but, suffice to say that the attention of the public has been most riveted by the sensational element of a person giving up his or her life in an act to kill others. The morbidity of a suicide bombing has almost the same appeal to the human soul as our fascination of other expressions of gore and violence, such as, Spanish bullfighting, the study of the occult and horror, or violent movies.
Explaining the motives behind suicide terrorism
At a strategic level, terrorist organizations see suicide terrorism as an excellent tactic to wage against powerful enemies, in the absence of overwhelming numbers, advanced weapon technologies, popular support or international recognition. Suicide bombing is an excellent method of drawing attention to a political cause, usually one involving great grievances against an all-powerful state.
Regardless of the causes or the reasons behind a suicide bombing, most, if not all, suicide terrorists share similar characteristics. Firstly, the suicide bomber has to come to terms with accepting their death, ostensibly for a higher, noble cause, before an operation is even planned or conceived. Courage and the lack of fear for dying on the part of the suicide bomber cannot be denied.
Secondly, the phenomenon of self-denial and martyrdom usually accompanies the promotion of suicide terrorism. Society's sympathy for suicide terrorists, or the cultural glorification of the actions of past suicide bombers tends to breed more potential candidates. Areas rife with conflict, which pose a threat to the security and well being of their inhabitants, tend to be fertile grounds for the recruitment of suicide terrorists.
Counter terrorist tactics against suicide terrorism?
There is no effective military tactic against suicide attackers. In the military sense, a suicide bomber in effect becomes an intelligent living missile or portable bomb. Infiltration, surprise and shock are the advantages enjoyed by the suicide bomber when an attack takes place, circumventing and bypassing even the most cautious, well trained and well armed conventional forces. Suicide terrorism is inevitably closely linked with social and political issues, especially those characterized by ongoing low intensity conflicts against the state, that have no obvious signs of concluding with a victory to either party.
Suicide terrorism is a problem that will remain a major security threat for years or even decades into the 21st century. It is an ancient practice used by the weak against the strong, based on the logic that if the attacker no longer even values his or her life, the attack cannot fail.
In contemporary world, Islamic radicalism, social grievances and poverty remain the prime motivators behind the reasons why ordinary, unarmed folk become suicide terrorists. The bizarre and seductive allure of suicide terrorism also lies in part, because state governments and military strategists have not yet been able to come up with an effective counter measure, short of wholesale massacre of populations sheltering the terrorist group, as what the Mongols did to the Ismaili Assassins in the 13th century.
However, state governments certainly can take measures to prevent opportunities from arising for suicide terrorists to strike. Fighting corruption and poverty at the political and social levels are merely the first step. Careful employment of counter terrorism tactics against the population acts as another.
Hanadi Jaradat's case is merely one of many suicide attack incidents worldwide. It can be prevented, if the state and the government have the will to do so.