Journal Article - CTC Sentinel

Shifting Trends in Suicide Attacks

| January 2009

"Suicide attacks have existed for centuries, and have been carried out by a diverse multitude of individuals, groups and communities. Historical examples ranging from the biblical Samson to the medieval Ismaili Shi`a Assassins, and from the anarchist Narodnaya Volya to the Japanese kamikaze, demonstrate that suicide attacks are carried out by a variety of religious traditions and secular groups, and by state and non-state actors alike. The inception of the modern phenomenon of suicide "terrorism" — the deliberate use of this modus operandi by sub-state actors in pursuit of political goals — is usually dated at the early 1980s. It was then, in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps successfully instilled the notion of martyrdom for the sake of God into the self-awareness of individuals who formed or joined Hizb Allah, an umbrella organization of Shi`a groups that became the first modern organization to utilize this tactic systematically. Hizb Allah's successful use of the tactic was soon copied, first by other militant Lebanese groups, and subsequently by Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and several Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). These select groups were the most prominent perpetrators of suicide attacks in the 1980s and 1990s. In contrast to the final two decades of the 20th century, however, most suicide attacks in the first decade of the 21st century have been employed by al-Qa`ida and associated movements that have adopted a Salafi-jihadi ideology....By far, the most dramatic trend related to the location of suicide attacks is the gradual shift of incidents from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Between July 2007 and June 2008, the last one-year period for which data on suicide attacks are available, 58.2% of suicide attacks struck Iraq, and 36.6% struck Afghanistan and Pakistan. This compares to a much wider gap between suicide attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan in the preceding year (July 2006 to June 2007), when 69.3% of attacks took place in Iraq, and 25.1% in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A still greater discrepancy was evident between July 2005 and June 2006, with 72.1% of all suicide attacks in that year occurring in Iraq, and only 13.5% in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is in Pakistan where the steepest increase in suicide attacks is visible: they increased from 3.14% of the global total in the period between July 2006 and June 2007 to 12.9% in the following year...."

Read the full text of "Shifting Trends in Suicide Attacks" here (see page 11).

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For Academic Citation: Moghadam, Assaf. Shifting Trends in Suicide Attacks.” CTC Sentinel, vol. 2. no. 1. (January 2009):

The Author

Assaf Moghadam