The Use Of Suicide Bombing To Achieve Terrorist Groups’ Goals


Why are we seeing an uptick in the use of suicide attacks among terrorist groups? Are these attacks proven to be more beneficial than traditional terrorist attacks? Given they do not happen as frequent, how have counter strategies worked? Suicide attacks- those that involve the deliberate death of the perpetrator. The perpetrator functions as a sophisticated guidance system for the weapon, capable of approaching a target and detonating at the most devastating moment (Overton and Dodd 2016). Suicide bombings started off as being somewhat a taboo style of terrorism, with the first large attack taking place in World War II. Fast forwarding to now, since 2001 the rate for suicide bombing incidents has risen to an alarming rate. During the 1980’s and 90’s suicide bombing incidents were single digit numbers, but as of 2019 incidents range in the hundreds across several countries. During my research of this topic, there were countless theories found from terrorism analyst and psychologist. This thesis has three main objectives. First, this thesis will define what goals terrorist plan to achieve when conducting suicide attacks. Second it will highlight whether this approach has helped or hindered terrorist group. Lastly, we will look at if and how suicide attacks have changed counter-terrorist strategies.

Literature Review

Although suicide terrorism has existed for centuries, there is no exact explanation for the drastic increase in suicide attacks since 1980. Throughout my research I found several theories that aim to pinpoint the increase in this style of terrorism. I will highlight four of the most popular theories that attempt to explain the rise. The theories we will concentrate on are religious extremism, psychological motivations, social and cultural environments, and finally social media’s impact.

Religious Extremist

After the United States faced one of the most traumatic experiences, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, country leaders and experts adopted the theory that religious fanaticism was the root cause of this attack. The Muslim terrorist group Al-Qaeda later claimed responsibility for 9/11. In his book Inside Terrorism Dr. Bruce Hoffman concluded that of the 35 organizations that have conducted suicide attacks since 1967, 31 of these organizations are Muslim (Hoffman, 2006, p. 131). In turn of this theory, many mistakenly associate the Muslim religion teaches religious extremism, hatred, and radicalism; by using violence to achieve its religions goals mainly against Westerners. These attacks against the West help shape the way forward when it came to the US foreign policy and how they would deal with terrorist punishment and their ability to access financial institutions here in the states and overseas. Please do not misconstrue the fact that other Middle Eastern countries have been the target for suicide attacks, but their disdain in the last several years has focused on that of Western influence. With the combination of religious extremism and hatred driving what has been deemed the ultimate sacrifice in the name of Allah, committing martyrdom appears to terrorist as glamorous as the reward of paradise motivate these radicals to commit martyrdom in the name of Islam.

Psychological Motivations

In researching this topic, you stumble upon many theories as to why suicide attackers use this method of terrorism versus any other form, but it is hard to determine what psychological approach is deemed the correct one. Several studies have examined factors such as age, marital status, social status, mental stability, and if the attacker was predisposed to violence. Robert Pape, Director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, makes the claim that suicide operations are almost always rational and strategic. Pape goes further to say, few suicide attackers are social misfits, criminally insane or professional losers”. Most suicide attackers have a deep emotional connection to their family and are connected to their communities (Pape 2011). Other sociological researchers have made attempts to classify suicide bombers into three categories: individuals acting out of religious convictions, individuals acting out of retaliation or avenging a death, and individuals being exploited by organizations in response to economic or religious rewards (Kimhi & Even, 2004, p. 820). Some terrorist groups, Hamas for example, go as far as promoting the martyrdom culture by making calendars and featuring the “Martyr of the Month”. Similarly, the LTTE and Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), both secular terrorist groups, celebrate the anniversary of their first suicide bombers every year.

Social & Cultural Environments

Across the globe, leaders have consistently stated that poor conditions breed terrorism, however there is no concrete evidence to support these claims. For individuals that decide to sacrifice themselves in suicide attacks, this act provides an opportunity to advance for what they see as the common good for their society or group. They are less invested in the status of coming from a well-to-do family, vs fighting for the cause. Surviving relatives of suicide attackers receive financial payments and the family status is elevated for the sacrifice of their love ones. Although social and cultural explanations have been able to explain some cases of suicide terrorism, these cases are not generalizable and fail to help scholars understand why suicide attacks continue to be used.

Social Media

When it comes to the power of social media and its influencers, we already understand the impact of the tool based on topics or trends that we see globally relating to anything from famous people to controversial topics. The same can be said for the power and ability terrorist organizations use to reach new prospects or communicate with existing members. There are influences in each organization that appeal to those wishing to join such organizations. The most popular social media platforms terrorist organizations use the most are Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube (Merari 2009). Social media can be used by terrorist to find supporters and keep the terrorist act relevant. Although social and cultural explanations have been able to explain some cases related to suicide terrorism, these cases are not the key connection and fail to help scholars understand why suicide attacks continue to be used.


  • In the last decade, terrorist have killed an average of 21,000 people worldwide yearly.
  • In 2017 terrorism was responsible for 0.05% of global deaths.
  • Terrorism tends to be geographically focused. 95% of the deaths in 2017 occurred in the Middle East, Africa, or South Asia.
  • Public concern about terrorism is high is high throughout the world.


Suicide attacks over the last century have been a dramatic increase throughout various terrorist organizations. This method of terrorism is still being used as a tool to control political influence in nations. These attacks destabilize and terrorize local populations while bringing widespread attention to insurgencies throughout the world. These types of terroristic act have proven to be more beneficial to terrorist as it allows for any significant plan changes to be made up until the last minute. Throughout this research paper a few categories from which these terrorists may have come from have been touched out. It is important to remember as we try to develop stronger counter measures to create strong ties with the communities from which terrorists are most likely to come from and develop a system of communication to support these communities. The best intelligence can come from the communities these terrorists seek shelter in. law enforcement should develop relationships with local businesses where terrorists can obtain bomb-making components, these relationships will encourage businesses to alert authorities if they notice large purchases of materials commonly used as bomb making material (Hoffman 2006). One of the best feelings for law enforcement or government agencies is to disrupt a planned terrorist attack. When this happens, it forces terrorists to test followers in their organization.

As we continue through the 21st century suicide attacks remain one of the greatest threats to the United States. Yes these attackers have continued a method of terrorism in which they know is feared by many, and for that they feel successful. Through tighter foreign policy restrictions, dedication to developing and or improving existing counter measures, we along with the help of other countries and continents that follow the same measures can help stop the influx of suicide attacks.  

16 August 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now