Suicide Operations 2004 : An Overview of the Year

Introduction à la lettre de l’IFAS sur les opérations suicide. Voir Études & Publications.

With a total of 163 suicide operations counted, killing 1657 people and wounding 4325 others, 2004 is the worst year since the 80s, when that kind of operations was used on a large scale by the Iranians and then by the Hezbollah.

Two major trends have characterized 2004 :

- First, an increase of the number of such operations. The trend identified since the beginning of 2001 has been worsening despite the changes of locations.

- Second, a shift from Israel to other areas : remarkably, Iraq has become the main theatre where suicide operations take place.

As a complement, Chechnya related operations are also on the rise. But in this case, reliable data are difficult to obtain from both sides.

The spread of SOPs in the Arabic peninsula in 2004 has confirmed that there will not be any sanctuary.

1. Israel : why did SOPs stall ?

After a disastrous year 2002, Israel has known in 2004 the lowest level of SOPs since the beginning of the second Intifada with 9 suicide operations recorded. If 2003 has been characterized by a significant fall (22 from 34 in 2002) 2004 has steadily confirmed this stabilization (15+4 -Taba operations-) : more, among the 19 suicides operations targeting Israeli interests, only 9 were conducted on Israeli soil.
Four reasons light this trend :

- a better intelligence obtained by all means available ;

- a better protection including the security wall/fence ;

- a decapitation strategy : leaders and “engineers” (Sheik Yacine, Rantissi) ;

- political turbulence and confusion among the Palestinians.

Besides, there are two related points :

- First because of the difficulties in Israel, SOPs may take place all over the world against Israeli interests.

- Second, in such a situation, it will be difficult to clarify the relationship between those who conduct SOPs overseas and the Palestinian situation.

Do the Palestinian extremists subcontract SOPs in Egypt ? Or is it an initiative from Al-Qaeda related people who pretend to fight Israel in the name of the Palestinian cause ?

2. Iraq

The intensification of such operations in Iraq creates a new component of the war against Americans forces and their allies outside and inside.
Suicide bombers have penetrated Iraq and use its territory for preparation, education and training.
Few years ago, the PKK and Ansar-Al-Islam have used suicide bombing in Kurdistan. But such operations were limited in number and magnitude. Today, suicide attackers have perpetrated several major slaughters. According to officials in the Kurdish Authority, a large number of SOPs have been stopped (but no figures have been provided).
A close study lightens a puzzling phenomenon : many operations in Iraq do not necessarily require a suicide attacker. Of course a human bomb brings more precision on target and provides timely delivery. But the Iraqi situation suggests an additional factor : there is also a willingness to use such a device.
It suggests that there is an abundance of militants who want to sacrifice themselves : so many ammunitions that you can waste them !

Exaltation has always been a major psychological component in the building of suicide-strategy. Enthusiasm because of the hatred against the enemy : America and its “puppets” traitors to real Islam and their indigenous community. Enthusiasm because of the reported or alleged success. In Iraq, nurtured by the messages of the “spiritual leaders” there is a strong belief that the United States will be defeated and will have to leave Iraq.

Such a phenomenon coincides with an emerging new generation (age of the suicide bombers in Iraq ?).
However, it does not imply that it will continue overtime : on the contrary. We may contemplate the peak of a human availability generated in the past by education, ideological influence and other related activities which have created the psychology of a suicide bomber. It is difficult to know precisely if the present attackers will be able to produce a third generation or if their example will disappear with them. It is one of the major challenges of the coming years.
The development of SOPs in Iraq on a large scale does not seem to be followed and nurtured by a culture of martyrdom and the celebration of the shaheed like in Iran and Palestine.

Closer scrutiny is needed to verify if it is true and, if it is really the case, why the phenomenon does not appear.

It has a great importance for the future and for the strategy to deal with SOPS in Iraq.

3. Quality of Protection and Reaction

In Iraq, the ability to counter such activities is extremely poor and suggests an appalling neglect. When it is clear that lines of volunteers to enlist in Iraqi security forces have become one of the most favored targets, it is hard to understand why such lines continue to form without efficient protection.
It neighbors the Russian lack of organization against such attacks.
In none of these situations the respect of the rule of law and human rights has put significant breaks upon the possible counter action.

The failure to build an efficient retaliation-protection system may proceed from four categories of explanations :

- structural incompetence : administrations and services in charge of prevention-protection-repair are not properly organized and connected. They do not cooperate. They may compete.

- Lack of resources both human and technical. The government cannot or do not want to allocate the necessary resources to cope with the danger. Corruption of low-paid employees adds to the failure of the system.

- Political neglect can explain the flaws identified above. This neglect is related to the degree of cohesion inside the society.

- Political manipulation. The fear, resentment and increasing demand for protection at any cost may be used by authoritarian regimes in order to reinforce their power.

By contrast, the way the Israelis have dealt with the problem is striking and suggests two temporary conclusions : one is related to the relationship between countering SOPs and the respect for democracy ; the other addresses the ultimate goals of SOPs.

  • The rule of law and democratic constraints

Because of its democratic nature, the Israeli government is much more constrained.
To cope with problem a kind of scale of values has been established :

- first, the Israeli citizens,

- Second, the Israeli soldiers.

- Third, the Palestinians civilians.

- Finally, Palestinian militants are considered legitimate targets.

Even if it is significant to get intelligence from prisoners, facing potential suicide operators, Israeli soldiers are ordered to protect themselves first.

In order to make all these difficulties acceptable, the IDF has developed an intense psy-ops campaign to rally the Israeli society and avoid internal disruption.

  • Political/versus religious terrorism : SOPs sheds light on the debate

Today, Sunni suicide operations are much more frequent than Shiite. In Iraq and Pakistan Shiites are targeted but seem, so far, to refrain from retaliation. This phenomenon suggests that the problem is more political than religious. Shiites are targeted in order to exacerbate the tensions and create a political chaos. In the Islamic world, Religion may be manipulated by Politics and conversely.

Therefore, it would be a major mistake to consider that SOPs are perpetrated mostly by religious groups because of their beliefs. The culture of sacrifice and martyrdom can apply to religious or secular groups as demonstrated in Sri Lanka, by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and others. Politics and religion are very much intertwined : the goals, the strategy and the balance of military capabilities are decisive criteria. SPOs are nothing but means.

Conclusion 1 : Suicide bombing remains a local/regional device

Yes it has struck the United States but 9/11 is not relevant. It has been a remarkable suicide operation without any continuity.

It differs from the almost permanent use in Israel or nowadays in Iraq.

But like all the components of SOPS, the problem of the interdiction to target access must be related to intelligence capabilities.
The notable success of Israel is related to the combination of several counter-actions but the key factor remains the development of intelligence. Information has been obtained from various sources, using all means. Penetration of the enemy organization seems to stand as a major factor of efficiency.
Poor intelligence in Iraq and in Russia explains the inability to prevent and thwart suicide operations. The Beslan attack (which had a suicide component) is a conundrum of all deficiencies. Such an important operation has been planned, prepared well in advance without any detection.

Conclusion 2 : The ratio between men and women deserves a special care

The media may amplify an exotic aspect of SOPs. Statistics allow a more sensible approach.
The media have emphasized the engagement of women in such operations : this is true for Sri Lanka and partly for Chechnya but not for the other areas. Indeed, even in Palestine there have not been so many women and we have no indication of female suicide bombers in Iraq.

What could explain that phenomenon ?
Nationalism seems to be more willing to enlist women. Religious traditional societies and particularly, in the Muslim world, are more reluctant, if not opposed. They prefer to use women as an instrument of leverage to promote the martyrdom ideology. The operational recruitment of women appears to be a last resort and, to some extent in the case of Palestine, an initiative from highly motivated individuals.

Introduction à la lettre de l’IFAS sur les opérations suicide. Voir formulaire & présentation en page Études & Publications.