"Military suicide" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Veteran § Suicide.
A suicide attack is any violent attack in which the attacker expects their own death as a direct result of the method used to harm, damage or destroy the target. Suicide attacks have occurred throughout history, often as part of a military campaign such as the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II, and more recently as part of terrorist campaigns, such as the September 11 attacks.
While there were few, if any, successful suicide attacks anywhere in the world from the end of World War II until 1980, between 1981 and September 2015, a total of 4,814 suicide attacks occurred in over 40 countries, killing over 45,000 people. During this time the global rate of such attacks grew from an average of three a year in the 1980s, to about one a month in the 1990s, to almost one a week from 2001 to 2003, to approximately one a day from 2003 to 2015.
Suicide attacks tend to be more deadly and destructive than other terror attacks because they give their perpetrators the ability to conceal weapons, make last-minute adjustments, and because they dispense with the need for remote or delayed detonation, escape plans or rescue teams. They constituted only 4% of all terrorist attacks around the world over one period (between 1981 and 2006), but caused 32% of all terrorism-related deaths (14,599). Ninety percent of those attacks occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Overall, as of mid-2015 about three-quarters of all suicide attacks occurred in just three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.
Suicide attacks have been described as a weapon of psychological warfare to instill fear in the target population, a strategy to eliminate or at least drastically diminish areas where the public feels safe, and the "fabric of trust that holds societies together".
The motivation of suicide attackers varies. Kamikaze acted under military orders and were motivated by obedience and nationalism. Before 2003, most attacks targeted forces occupying the attackers' homeland, according to analyst Robert Pape. Anthropologist Scott Atran states that since 2004 the overwhelming majority of bombers have been motivated by the ideology of Islamist martyrdom.
Main article: Definitions of terrorism
Suicide attacks include both Suicide terrorism—terrorism often defined as any action "intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants" for the purpose of intimidation—and suicide attacks not targeting non-combatants. An alternative definition is provided by Jason Burke, a journalist who has lived among Islamic militants, and suggests that most define terrorism as 'the use or threat of serious violence' to advance some kind of 'cause', stressing that terrorism is a tactic. Academic Fred Halliday, has written that assigning the descriptor of 'terrorist' or 'terrorism' to the actions of a group is a tactic used by states to deny 'legitimacy' and 'rights to protest and rebel'.
The definition of "suicide" is another issue. Suicide terrorism itself has been defined by one source (Ami Pedahzur) as "violent actions perpetrated by people who are aware that the odds they will return alive are close to zero". Other sources exclude from their work "suicidal" or high risk attacks, such as the Lod Airport massacre or "reckless charge in battle", focusing only on true "suicide attacks", where the odds of survival are not "close to zero" but required to be zero, because "the perpetrator's ensured death is a precondition for the success of his mission".
Also excluded from the definition are '
It may not always be clear to investigators which type of killing is which. Suicide attack campaigns sometimes also using proxy bombers (such as alleged in Iraq) or manipulating the vulnerable to be bombers, and at least one researcher (Adam Lankford) arguing that the motivation to kill and be killed connects some suicide attackers more closely to "suicidal rampage" murderers than is commonly thought.
The usage of the term "suicide attack" goes back a long way but "suicide bombing" dates back to at least 1940 when a New York Times article mentions the term in relation to German tactics. Less than two years later that newspaper referred to a Japanese kamikaze attempt on an American carrier as a "suicide bombing". In 1945 The Times of London, referred to a kamikaze plane as a "suicide-bomb", and two years later an article there referred to a new British pilot-less, radio-controlled rocket missile as originally designed "as a counter-measure to the Japanese 'suicide-bomber'".
Sometimes, to assign either a more positive or negative connotation to the act, suicide bombing is referred to by different terms.
Main article: Istishhad
Islamist supporters often call a suicide attack Istishhad (often translated as "martyrdom operation"), and the suicide attacker shahid (pl. shuhada, literally 'witness' and usually translated as 'martyr'). The idea being that the attacker died in order to testify his faith in God, for example while waging jihad bis saif (jihad by the sword). The term "suicide" is never used because Islam has strong strictures against taking one's own life. The terms Istishhad / "martyrdom operation" have been embraced by the Palestinian Authority, and by Hamas, Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Fatah and other Palestinian factions.
- Homicide bombing
Some efforts have been made to replace the term "suicide bombing" with "homicide bombing", on the grounds that since the homicide is a more apt an adjective than "suicide", since the primary purpose of such a bombing is to kill other people.
The first to use the term for a wide audience was White House Press SecretaryAri Fleischer in April 2002. The only major media outlets to use it were Fox News Channel and the New York Post (both of which are owned by News Corporation and have since mostly abandoned the term).
Emeritus Professor Robert Goldney, of the University of Adelaide, has argued in favor of the term "homicide bomber", arguing that studies show that there is little in common between people who blow themselves up, intending to kill as many people as possible in the process, and actual suicide victims. Fox News producer Dennis Murray argued that a suicidal act should be reserved for a person who does something to kill themselves only. CNN Producer Christa Robinson argued that the term "homicide bomber" reflects only that you have killed other people, but not that you have also killed yourself.
- Genocide bombing
"Genocide bombing" was coined in 2002 by Irwin Cotler, a member of the Canadian parliament, in an effort to focus attention on the alleged intention of genocide by militant Palestinians in their calls to "wipe Israel off the map".
- Sacrifice bombing
In the German-speaking area the term "sacrifice bombing" (Ger. Opferanschlag) was proposed in 2012 by German scholar Arata Takeda. The term is intended to shift the focus away from the suicide of the perpetrators and towards their use as weapons by their commanders.
The 1st Century AD Jewish Sicarii sect are thought to have carried out suicidal attacks against Hellenized Jews they considered immoral collaborators. The Islamic Hashishiyeen (Assassins) sect of Ismaili Shi'a Muslims assassinated two caliphs, and many viziers, sultans and Crusader leaders over the course of 300 years, before being annihilated by Mongol invaders. Hashishiyeen were known for their targeting of the powerful, their use of the dagger as a weapon (rather than something safer for the assassin such as a crossbow), and for making no attempt to escape after completing their killing. However, this is disputed by non-orientalis scholars who claimed that unlike the Ninja or Shinobi, the Assassins always avoided suicide unless it was absolutely necessary, and preferred to be killed by their captors.
Arnold von Winkelried became a hero in the Swiss struggle for independence when he sacrificed himself at the Battle of Sempach in 1386.
The earliest known non-military suicide attack occurred in Murchison in New Zealand on 14 July 1905. A long-standing dispute between two farmers resulted in a court case, and the defendant (Joseph Sewell) had sticks of gelignite strapped to his body. When Sewell excitedly shouted during the court sitting about the other farmer "I'll blow the devil to hell, and I have enough dynamite to do just that", he was ushered out of the building. Sewell detonated the charge when a police officer tried to arrest him on the street, and his body was blown to pieces, but nobody else died from their injuries.
To counter the superior numbers of the Chola dynasty empire's army in the 11th century, suicide squads were raised by the Indian Chera rulers. This helped the Cheras to resist Chola invasion and maintain the independence of their kingdom from the time of Kulothunga Chola I. These warriors were known as the "chavers".[page needed] Later, these suicide squads rendered service as police, volunteer troop and fighting squads in the region. Now their primary duty was to assist local rulers in battles and skirmishes. The rulers of the state of Valluvanad are known to have deployed a number of suicide squads against the ruler of Calicut.[page needed]
In the late 17th century, Qing official Yu Yonghe recorded that injured Dutch soldiers fighting against Koxinga's forces for control of Taiwan in 1661 would use gunpowder to blow up both themselves and their opponents rather than be taken prisoner. However, the Chinese observer may have confused such suicidal tactics with the standard Dutch military practice of undermining and blowing up positions recently overrun by the enemy which almost cost Koxinga his life during the Siege of Fort Zeelandia.
Muslim Acehnese from the Aceh Sultanate performed suicide attacks known as Parang-sabil against Dutch invaders during the Aceh War. It was considered as part of personal jihad in the Islamic religion of the Acehnese. The Dutch called it Atjèh-moord, (literally "Aceh-murder"). The Acehnese work of literature, the Hikayat Perang Sabil provided the background and reasoning for the "Aceh-mord"- Acehnese suicide attacks upon the Dutch. The Indonesian translations of the Dutch terms are Aceh bodoh (Aceh pungo) or Aceh gila (Aceh mord).
Atjèh-moord was also used against the Japanese by the Acehnese during the Japanese occupation of Aceh. The Acehnese Ulama (Islamic clerics) fought against both the Dutch and the Japanese, revolting against the Dutch in February 1942 and against Japan in November 1942. The revolt was led by the All-Aceh Religious Scholars' Association (PUSA). The Japanese suffered 18 dead in the uprising while they slaughtered up to 100 or over 120 Acehnese. The revolt happened in Bayu and was centred around Tjot Plieng village's religious school. During the revolt, the Japanese troops armed with mortars and machine guns were charged by sword wielding Acehnese under Teungku Abduldjalil (Tengku Abdul Djalil) in Buloh Gampong Teungah and Tjot Plieng on 10 and 13 November. On May 1945 the Acehnese rebelled again.
Main article: Juramentado
Moro Muslims who performed suicide attacks were called mag-sabil, and the suicide attacks were known as Parang-sabil. The Spanish called them juramentado. The idea of the juramentado was considered part of jihad in the Moros' Islamic religion. During an attack, a Juramentado would throw himself at his targets and kill them with bladed weapons such as barongs and kris until he himself was killed. The Moros performed juramentado suicide attacks against the Spanish in the Spanish–Moro conflict of the 16th to the 19th centuries, against the Americans in the Moro Rebellion (1899–1913), and against the Japanese in World War II.
The Moro Juramentados aimed their attacks specifically against their enemies, and not against non-Muslims in general. They launched suicide attacks on the Japanese, Spanish, Americans and Filipinos, but did not attack the non-Muslim Chinese as the Chinese were not considered enemies of the Moro people. The Japanese responded to these suicide attacks by massacring all known family members and relatives of the attacker(s).
According to historian Stephan Dale, the Moro were not the only Muslims who carried out suicide attacks "in their fight against Western hegemony and colonial rule". In the 18th century, suicide tactics were used on the Malabar coast of Southwestern India, in Atjeh (Acheh) in Northern Sumatra as well.
The first known suicide bomber was Russian. The invention of dynamite in the 1860s presented revolutionary and terrorist groups in Europe with a weapon nearly twenty times more powerful than gunpowder, but with technical challenges to detonating it at the right time. One way around that obstacle was to use a human trigger, and this was the technique that assassinated Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1881. A would-be suicide-bomber killed Vyacheslav von Plehve, the Russian Minister of the Interior, in St Petersburg in 1904.
Chinese suicide squads
During the Xinhai Revolution (the Revolution of 1911) and the Warlord Era of the Republic of China (1912–1949), "Dare to Die Corps" (traditional Chinese: 敢死隊; simplified Chinese: 敢死队; pinyin: gǎnsǐduì; Wade–Giles: Kan-tse-tui) or "Suicide squads"[excessive citations] were frequently used by Chinese armies. China deployed these suicide units against the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
In the Xinhai Revolution, many Chinese revolutionaries became martyrs in battle. "Dare to Die" student corps were founded, for student revolutionaries wanting to fight against Qing dynasty rule. Dr. Sun Yatsen and Huang Xing promoted the Dare to Die corps. Huang said, "We must die, so let us die bravely." Suicide squads were formed by Chinese students going into battle, knowing that they would be killed fighting against overwhelming odds.
The 72 Martyrs of Huanghuagang died in the uprising that began the Wuchang Uprising, and were recognized as heroes and martyrs by the Kuomintang party and the Republic of China. The martyrs in the Dare to Die Corps who died in battle wrote letters to family members before heading off to certain death. The Huanghuakang was built as a monument to the 72 martyrs. The deaths of the revolutionaries helped the establishment of the Republic of China, overthrowing the Qing dynasty imperial system. Other Dare to Die student corps in the Xinhai revolution were led by students who later became major military leaders in Republic of China, like Chiang Kai-shek, and Huang Shaoxiong with the Muslim Bai Chongxi against Qing dynasty forces. "Dare to Die" troops were used by warlords. The Kuomintang used one to put down an insurrection in Canton. Many women joined them in addition to men to achieve martyrdom against China's opponents. They were known as 烈士 "Lit-she" (Martyrs) after accomplishing their mission.
During the January 28 Incident a dare to die squad struck against the Japanese.
Suicide bombing was also used against the Japanese. A "dare to die corps" was effectively used against Japanese units at the Battle of Taierzhuang. They used swords. They wore suicide vests made out of grenades.
A Chinese soldier detonated a grenade vest and killed 20 Japanese soldiers at Sihang Warehouse. Chinese troops strapped explosives like grenade packs or dynamite to their bodies and threw themselves under Japanese tanks to blow them up. This tactic was used during the Battle of Shanghai, to stop a Japanese tank column when an attacker exploded himself beneath the lead tank, and at the Battle of Taierzhuang where Chinese troops with dynamite and grenades strapped to themselves rushed Japanese tanks and blew themselves up, in one incident obliterating four Japanese tanks with grenade bundles.
During the 1946–1950 Communist Revolution, coolies fighting the Communists formed "Dare to Die Corps" to fight for their organizations, with their lives. During the Tiananmen Square Incident of 1989, protesting students also formed "Dare to Die Corps", to risk their lives defending the protest leaders.
Main articles: Japanese Special Attack Units, Kamikaze, Kaiten, Banzai charge, Fukuryu, and Shinyo (suicide boat)
Kamikaze, a ritual act of self-sacrifice carried out by Japanese pilots of explosive-laden aircraft against Allied warships, occurred on a large scale at the end of World War II. About 3000 attacks were made and about 50 ships were sunk.
Later in the war, as Japan became more desperate, this act became formalized and ritualized, as planes were outfitted with explosives specific to the task of a suicide mission. Kamikaze strikes were a weapon of asymmetric war used by the Empire of Japan against United States Navy and Royal Navyaircraft carriers, although the armoured flight deck of the Royal Navy carriers diminished Kamikaze effectiveness. The Japanese Navy also used piloted torpedoes called kaiten ("Heaven shaker") on suicide missions. Although sometimes called midget submarines, these were modified versions of the unmanned torpedoes of the time and are distinct from the torpedo-firing midget submarines used earlier in the war, which were designed to infiltrateshore defenses and return to a mother ship after firing their torpedoes. Although extremely hazardous, these midget submarine attacks were not technically suicide missions, as the earlier midget submarines had escape hatches. Kaitens, however, provided no means of escape.
During the Battle for Berlin the Luftwaffe flew "Self-sacrifice missions" (Selbstopfereinsatz) against Soviet bridges over the River Oder. These 'total missions' were flown by pilots of the Leonidas Squadron. From April 17–20, 1945, using any available aircraft, the Luftwaffe claimed the squadron had destroyed 17 bridges, however military historian Antony Beevor when writing about the missions thinks that this was exaggerated and that only the railway bridge at Küstrin was definitely destroyed. He comments that "thirty-five pilots and aircraft was a high price to pay for such a limited and temporary success". The missions were called off when the Soviet ground forces reached the vicinity of the squadron's airbase at Jüterbog.
Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff intended to assassinate Adolf Hitler by suicide bomb in 1943, but was unable to complete the attack.
North Korean tanks were attacked by South Koreans with suicide tactics during the Korean War.
American tanks at Seoul were attacked by North Korean suicide squads,
Balochistan’s capital city bleeds again after 9 people were killed and more than 50 were injured in an attack on Quetta’s Bethel Memorial Methodist Church on Sunday, leaving many questions swirling in the minds of the people as Pakistan once again blames foreign infiltration and neighboring countries for supporting and harboring terrorists.
Responding to the terrorist attack on the church even before an investigation was conducted, Minister of Home and Tribal Affairs Sarfraz Bugti tweeted:
“Till the safe haven of terrorists prevail in #Afghanistan, menace of terrorism shall continue to plague #Balochistan, #Pakistan.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Credit for the attack has been claimed by the Islamic State. But one wonders how ISIS would get support from Afghanistan when the Islamic militant group is currently in a war with the country. Wasn’t the immediate response and blame coming from the minister the same diversionary tactic we’ve come to expect from the establishment?
In response to Bugti’s tweet, Mariam Ispahani (an entrepreneur and writer, as noted on her profile) replied:
“Minister Saab, the terrorist problem is also inside #Pakistan and must be dealt with first. So… let’s not throw all the blame on #Afghanistan please.”
While a number of extremist militant groups are active in Balochistan, Pakistani authorities have repeatedly failed to crack down on them, and instead blame attacks on foreign meddling.
Since 2016, ISIS has been very active in Pakistan, and specifically in Balochistan. There have been five major attacks in Balochistan claimed by ISIS, including the latest one on the church. The other four involved Shah Noorani, the Quetta Police Academy, the Civil Hospital, and the Pir Rakhel Shah Shrine in Jhal Magsi, in which almost 220 were killed and some 450 were wounded. Despite the fact the Islamic militant organization has been taking responsibility for the attacks, Pakistani authorities have rejected the strong presence of ISIS in the country. Just this past September, the local police removed an ISIS flag in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, after a citizen reported it to the police.
When ISIS claimed responsibility for the August 8, 2016 attack on the Civil Hospital in Quetta which killed 100 people, including 64 lawyers, and injured more than 160, the top civil-military leadership rushed to the city. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif then declared, “No one will be allowed to disturb the peace in the province that has been restored thanks to the countless sacrifices by the security forces.” Pakistani leadership blamed RAW, India’s intelligence agency, for that attack. A similar response came after the attack on the Quetta Police Academy – the prime minister and army chief strongly condemned the attack, then convened a high-level meeting to discuss matters related to counterterrorism. One year later, what transpired during those high-level meetings has still not been made public.
This blaming of hostile countries is not new. Hours after the attack on the Police Academy, the top official of the Frontier Corps of Balochistan put the blame on “terrorists who belonged to Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) militant group… communicating with their handlers in Afghanistan.” It is possible that other countries might be involved in sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan, but the question that arises here is this: If the Frontier Corps official was aware of this communication, why were the terrorists not prevented from attacking? If he was unaware of it before the incident, how could the investigation be completed in just two or three hours?
Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, a senior Pakistani defense analyst, lamented the remarks by Balochistan government spokesman Anwar Kakar during a BBC Urdu debate last year when the spokesman blamed the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies. When contacted, Siddiqa responded, “I still stand by what I said. However, Sarfraz Bugti’s context is a bit different. Bugti wants to use the argument to label the entire Baloch nationalism as a case of violent extremism which then can be targeted by the state.”
Pakistan often claims support of Baloch nationalists comes from its neighbors in the region, not extremist groups like Islamic State.
“Didn’t you guys just say that the Indians and Afghans were supporting the Baloch nationalists?” Siddiqa asked, referring to the Pakistani authorities. “How come supporters of the Baloch nationalists now become supporters of the Islamic State?
There has always been a tendency in Pakistan to shift the blame onto RAW or Afghan intelligence to placate the public and divert their attention from questioning the security establishment. However, to date, no investigation has come to a logical conclusion.
Ms. Siddiqa believes extremist forces have infiltrated the Baloch nationalists since insurgents seem to always seek help from other groups.
One reason for the unrest and terrorist activities in Balochistan is that most decisions related to the province have always been made by the federal government and the establishment, whether it involves security, politics, or the economy. There has really been no power sharing despite the fact that 18th Constitutional Amendment ensures the devolution of power to the federating units from the Pakistani central authority. This amendment has not been implemented in letter nor in spirit. Last year the Balochistan government urged the federal government to share power with the province to keep terrorist activities in the province in check under the pre-1958 powers given by the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).
Speaking to the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights last year soon after the attack on Police Academy in Quetta, Balochistan Home Secretary Mohammad Akbar said: “The provincial administration has no legal power in Balochistan, which has become a war zone.” Akbar further added, “Balochistan has become a cocktail of insurgencies, religious extremism, and other criminal activities. We cannot hide that the system has failed in Balochistan.”
The Balochistan chief minister’s secretariat, surrounded by many checkpoints, is not more than one kilometer away from the church where the blast on Sunday occurred. Somehow the terrorists made it through the high-security zone.
Pakistan needs all its major political parties to sit down together and devise a plan for defeating terrorism, and then put forth that plan on the table of the security establishment.
But rather than working together to defeat the menace of terrorism and questioning the security establishment over security lapses, most of the Pakistani political parties have been maligning one another. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), targeted the prime minister of Pakistan in his recent tweet:
“Outraged, frustrated and saddened by the terrorist attack in #Quetta. Cowards attack the weak, innocent and vulnerable. Adding insult to injury this attack comes a day after our PM declared his government had defeated terrorism. The apathy of the state sickens me.”
Terror is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. The war against religious extremism cannot be won by shifting the blame to others and covering one’s own blunders. The convening of high-level security meetings will not achieve peace until the state stops making distinctions between good and bad terrorists. It is high time the state takes responsibility for its ill-conceived policies and starts fresh by eliminating all safe sanctuaries of terrorists, like the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, and refrains from using extremists to counter Baloch nationalists or any other forces.
For sustainable peace under a so-called democracy, there must be power sharing between the provinces and the Federal Government as stipulated by the 18th Amendment, especially on issues involving provincial security, politics, and the economy. Unless and until these rights are enforced, peace will only be a distant dream for a province plagued by poverty and insurgency.
Lastly, but equally important, I have two questions.
To all political parties in Pakistan:
Is it not your obligation to unceasingly demand answers for the lapses in security which enable the ongoing deadly attacks against Pakistani citizens? Unless, of course, you are a member of a party that condones such attacks or offers assistance to the attackers.
To the Pakistani law-enforcement agencies:
Rather than afterwards blaming “foreign conspiracies,” shouldn’t you be reporting your successes in thwarting attacks, and the arrests of those plotting those attacks? Effective security agencies in other countries do not target those who publicly protest injustices; rather, they are using their highly trained operatives to actually prevent attacks against their country’s citizens.
Shah Meer Baloch is a former Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, a fellow of the Swedish Institute and the Institute for Foreign and Cultural Relations (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen/IFA), and a freelance writer. His research focus is on Asia-Pacific politics, Balochistan issues, extremism and human rights. He is from Pasni, District Gwadar.
*This article has been updated with a disputed quote removed.