Hardwired to kill

Last year saw a decrease in the number of terror attacks worldwide, with fewer killed – 22,000 people stressed US State Department representatives. Yet these figures do not include suicide bombers who may prove to be no more criminals than victims.

­Too young to live

­Despite the difference in nationalities, gender and appearance, practically all suicide bombers have one thing in common: they are very young men and women, who are scarcely older than 30. And there are certain reasons for that. “Young people are easy to persuade and manipulate. Be they older and more experienced, they could have headed terrorist organizations themselves”, believes psychologist Olga Knyazeva from the International SOS Clinic.

Professor Ariel Merari, an expert on counterterrorism believes it is impossible to say all suicide bombers possess the same psychological and demographic traits. And of course even the organizations that consider themselves experts in recruiting suicide bombers cannot manipulate any young man they fix upon. Recruiters have to figure out who may be open to the idea of self-sacrifice and then enhance this liability. To achieve this goal recruiters make use of various motives – religious, patriotic and personal. When the future suicide bomber is found, a long process of physical and spiritual training begins.

Mikhail Taarnby from Aarkus University thinks there are two main types of suicide bombers: “The first one consists of idealists, those whom we are used to calling religious zealots. Those who make up the second group are personally motivated”.

As it turned out, it was a young university student from Pyatigorsk, a small city in the south of Russia that blew himself up in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on January 24, claiming 36 lives – or 37 if you count the student.

In the last few years, students have become chief targets for recruiters. Students form groups of suicide bombers and are ready to sacrifice their lives. Ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and representatives of many different nationalities wear hijab, take beads and prayer books to classes and listen to Koran surahs on their ipods.

­Faithful to the end

­Despite the fact that it might seem near-impossible to find people ready to die, the terrorist underworld does not seem to have any difficulties. “North Caucasus terrorist organizations who press suicide bombers, know very well whom to address. Their members visit widows or sisters of those who got killed in the two Chechen wars”, said Vladimir Ovchinsky, former head of Interpol. “Women who lost their loved ones are fantastically easy to manipulate, thus much less time and money are needed for their recruitment”, added Ovchinsky.

“If a woman hasn’t suffered any psychological injury, the injury will be specially created for her”, said psychologist Timofey Nestik. “Quite often these girls are kept in dark cellars and raped, thus becoming a suicide bomber may be the only way for her to escape”.

The number of male suicide bombers and terrorists is much higher than that of female. But the reasons that lead to such a decision are different. For men the chief motive is nationalism and religious fanaticism. Those whose sisters have illegitimate infants or whose wives were unfaithful, try to wipe out the disgrace in such a way. For others the act of killing themselves and murdering innocent people is a matter of honor and a religious heroic deed. Still others, young Russian and Ukrainian men have given up their religion choosing Islam instead. Or were simply promised their relatives would receive a big sum of money after the “successful” terrorist act. And the cash incentive works.

Jihad is an important religious duty for Muslims. A poll by Gallup showed that a “significant majority” of Muslims define the term to mean “sacrificing one’s life for the sake of Islam/God/a just cause” or “fighting against the opponents of Islam”. “Radical actions are an asset in Islam”, said Svetlana Zubanova. “Choosing radical actions is believed to be an act of bravery and sign of devotion”.

The point of view of Daniel Pipes, an American writer who focuses on criticism of Islam and Islamism, is even harsher; he believes “the goal of jihad is extending the sphere of Islam influence rather than propagation of Islam. Thus jihad is very aggressive, and its final objective is to achieve Muslim supremacy in the world”.

Mufti Jafar Ponchaev does not share such a view on jihad: “Jihad can be declared in just two cases – if it is aimed against the external aggressor or against yourself. It is important to understand that when we speak about suicide bombers we deal with people subjected to drugs and mental violence. I think they are desperately unhappy people, but they will never be welcome in heaven – they are criminals!”

­Victims or assassins?

­A number of desperate young women and men make a conscious decision to become part of a terrorist organization. For others, however, much preparatory work is needed. “Members of terrorist organizations first recruit women and men and then keep them in small groups pumping them with psychotropic medications and brainwashing at the same time”, explained Vladimir Ovchinsky.

Normally men need more time to become a suicide bomber, women hesitate less. “Women are promised money for their children or elderly parents. Sometimes they are promised their relatives will be taken care of, and women do not need blandishments when they know they can make the life of their children better”, said Knyazeva.

“Before the process of training is over, there is still a chance to talk the potential suicide bomber out of committing the act of terror. When the person is sent to the destination point the chance to stop him or her is practically non-existent”, said Nestik. “Still, there is a tiny possibility the suicide bomber may hesitate. If he sees or hears something on the way to the destination point that will evoke certain associations, he may change his or her mind in the nick of time”.

Zarema Mujahoeva may serve as a perfect illustration of the theory. On July 9, 2003, Zarema was taken to a fashionable Moscow café, Mon Café, where she was supposed to blow herself up murdering all in the café. But she did not go through with it. Instead she started to actively cooperate with the investigation, and explained she suddenly changed her mind. “Have you seen Russian women? They are so beautifully dressed! Have you seen Moscow shops? If our girls could see all that they would never kill themselves. I just understood – I can’t kill anybody”, Zarema told one of the investigators.

­Terrorist means murderer?

­Ever since terrorism turned into a global threat, terrorists, especially suicide bombers were perceived as murderers whose only desire is to kill and the more the better. Among the reasons that top the “Why are they doing it?” list are nationalism, hot temper, youth and religious conviction of jihad.

The most widespread stereotype has it that suicide bombers are psychologically challenged. But according to specialists, the only difference between suicide bombers and ordinary people is that the former have no fear of death. At the end of the 19th Century, Boris Savinkov, leader of the combat organization of the Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries wrote: “Readiness to die is the main asset of a terrorist”.

“Suicide bombers are 100 per cent sane”, Svetlana Zubanova, head of the theology subdepartment at the Russian State Sociology University told RT. “They are people driven to despair: women who lost their children and husbands, who have no money and home, men whose wives were raped and killed”.

Though there is no justification for the deaths of innocent terror victims, a question arises as to whether all suicide bombers are heartless murderers, as they have long been viewed by the world. Sometimes it might seem they are little more than victims themselves.

­Facts and figures

­From 1991 to 2010 nearly 2,500 people were killed in Russia alone as a result of terrorist acts.

1991 –  three terrorists take 178 people hostage on board a plane in the Russian city of Mineralnye Vody. No one died.

1993 – A group of terrorists under the command of Musa Almamedov take 15 children and two adults hostage. The group was disarmed and no one died.

June 14-19, 1995 –  In the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk, Chechen gunmen led by Shamil Basayev take 1,500 people hostage in a hospital. A total of 166 hostages are killed when Russian troops storm the building.                     

Terrorist Viktor Surgai captured a bus with 26 tourists in Moscow. The terrorist was killed, no one else died.

January 9-24, 1996 –  Chechen gunmen take 2,000 people hostage in Kizlyar, in the Russian Caucasus Republic of Daghestan. Most are freed quickly, but more than 100 are then taken to Pervomayskoye, on the Daghestan-Chechnya border. Between 50 and 100 hostages were killed when Russian forces launch an air assault on the town.

January 16 –  three Turkish and two Russian citizens take more than 220 people hostage. No one died.

September 1999 –  bombs destroy apartment blocks in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk. More than 200 people were killed. Moscow blames Chechen fighters who blame Russian secret services.

July 2-3, 2000 –  Chechen terrorists launch five suicide bomb attacks on the bases of Russian security forces within 24 hours. In the deadliest, at least 54 people were killed in a police-commando dormitory in Argun, near the Chechen capital of Grozny.

May 9, 2002 –  an explosion during a military parade in the city of Kaspiysk, in Russia’s North Caucasus Republic of Dagestan, left 44 dead and 133 wounded.

October 23, 2002 – some 50 armed Chechen militants seized a theater in Moscow where over 800 people had gathered for a performance. More than 120 hostages died when the security services gassed the building.

December 27, 2002 –  Chechen suicide bombers ram vehicles into the local government headquarters in Grozny, killing a reported 80 people.

May 12, 2003 –  two suicide bombers drive a truck full of explosives into a government complex in Znamenskoe, in northern Chechnya, killing 59.

July 5, 2003 –  two female Chechen suicide bombers kill 15 other people when they blow themselves up at an open-air rock festival at Moscow’s Tushino airfield.

August 1, 2003 –  a suicide bomber driving an explosives-packed truck blows up a military hospital in Mozdok, North Ossetia, bordering Chechnya. The blast kills 50 people.

December 5, 2003 –  forty people are killed and more than 100 injured when a bomb explodes on a passenger train traveling between Kislovodsk and Mineralnye Vody in southern Russia.

February 6, 2004 –  a suicide bombing kills at least 40 people on a subway train in Moscow. A Chechen rebel group claims responsibility.

August 24, 2004 –  two Russian passenger planes crash almost simultaneously, killing all 90 people on board. Female Chechen suicide bombers are later blamed for the incidents.

September 1-3, 2004 –  armed insurgents seize a school in Beslan, in the southern Russian Republic of North Ossetia, taking some 1,000 adults and children hostage. Russian security forces storm the school two days later. More than 330 people, half of them children, die in the resulting violence. Radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev claims responsibility for the atrocity.

October 13-15, 2005 –  dozens of armed militants attack government buildings in Nalchik, the capital of the Russian Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. At least 85 people, including more than 50 militants are killed in the fighting.

February 18, 2007 – a bomb explodes in St. Petersburg near a McDonald’s restaurant. Four adults and two children are injured. Four St. Petersburg citizens are blamed for the blast.

November 27, 2009 –  a bomb hits the Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St. Petersburg killing 27 people.

March 29, 2010 –  during the morning rush hour, two women suicide bombers blow themselves up at two Moscow Metro stations (Lubyanka and Park Kultury). At least 40 people were killed, and more than 100 injured.

­Anna Yudina, RT

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