Homicide Bombings

Source: CRS Report for Congress

Suicide bombers are now a central feature in the war on terror. While suicide attacks have been employed internationally for centuries, the degree to which this tactic could be used to carry out operations against Americans was more widely appreciated after 9/11. The vulnerability of the U.S. Homeland to suicide attacks was amply demonstrated: virtually all previous such attacks by foreign actors against U.S. citizens had happened on foreign soil, leading to a mistaken belief that Americans were only vulnerable when they were abroad.

Adding to the concern about suicide attacks is their potential connection to increasingly available new technologies. Although so-called "weapons of mass destruction" were not used in the September 11th attacks, the destruction was nonetheless unquestionably "massive." The prospect of combining modern weapons technology (especially chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological) with an age-old willingness to die in the act of committing an attack could be unprecedentedly dangerous. 

The degree to which Al Qaeda and other groups have recently stepped up their public advocacy of so-called martyrdom operations combined with captured evidence of their interest in these weapons is also worrisome. With increasing numbers of casualties from suicide attacks occurring globally in places such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Russia/Chechnya and post-conflict Iraq, a focus on the threat of future suicide attacks against Americans and their interests in the United States and elsewhere merits consideration.

Organization in planning, acquiring weaponry, choosing operatives and targeting is crucial in the execution of most suicide attacks.  Indeed, most terrorism experts argue that the role of the organization is a much more powerful factor than is the nature of the individual, since the individual has often yielded his/her identity to the group.  With very few exceptions suicide attacks in the modern era have involved a fairly well-developed organization and historically they have been employed by terrorist groups in times of weakness and of strength. There is a chilling logic in the choice of suicide operations by terrorist organizations. From an organizational perspective there are arguably numerous advantages in using them as part of a terrorist campaign.