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A Look at Suicide Bomber Networks

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A Look at Suicide Bomber Networks


A Look at Suicide Bomber Networks

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

After years of attacks in the Middle East, after 9/11, after London, Bali, and especially after Iraq, suicide bombers are now the subject of cultural, journalistic and academic inquiry;. There are two new movies about it, including Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad's new film, "Paradise Now," which takes us through what may be the last 48 hours in the lives of two Palestinian suicide bombers.

Last week, Time magazine featured a rare interview with a member of the Iraqi insurgency who handles suicide operations and at the University of Chicago, Robert Pape directed the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism which concluded that suicide attacks accounted for just 3 percent of all terrorist casualties between 1980 and 2003, but nearly half the fatalities.

Through all of these sources, we learn more about how these networks plan and execute their attacks. Director Abu-Assad based his film on stories of failed suicide bombers and on interviews with people close to those who succeeded. Time magazine's senior Baghdad correspondent Aparisim Ghosh interviewed an active operative within the Iraqi insurgency. Robert Pape's project takes a broader view and gleans information from a day-to-day that includes every suicide attack from 1980 until today.

Later in this hour, the indictment last week of White House aide Lewis Libby leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Some of them were asked today at the White House briefing. But first, who builds the bombs? Who picks the targets? Who recruits the bombers? And why? We'd like to hear your thoughts on this. Our number here is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is

We begin with Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad. His new film, "Paradise Now," opens in theaters around the country later this week. He's with us here in Studio 3A.

Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. HANY ABU-ASSAD (Palestinian Filmmaker): Thank you, too.

CONAN: Your film follows two Palestinian men chosen to conduct a suicide bombing mission. According to your film, it's not the individual who decides on this but a well-organized network that makes it happen. How represent--how does this work?

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Well, it's not just--indeed, you can't do it by your own. You need an organization. Well, I try also to show in the film that it's not really well-organized. It's also, you know, a militaristic organization but it's also a complex thing. It's--you need a lot of things in order to do that.

CONAN: To begin with, you need to be recruited. Recruiters need to find the right people.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Well, you know, I don't want to make mix between Palestinian suicide bombers and outside of the--outside of Palestine because I don't know about other cases. I didn't make a research...

CONAN: We'll be talking some of the distinctions later on in the show.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Yeah.

CONAN: But just tell us about from what you know.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Well, what I know from, let's say, from my place, there is almost more than 30 years of occupation and people are fed up with the occupation. And there is a lot of things being done to end the occupation and some people, they think, this is the start. Like, they think there is no other option than to do that. This is the start. Then you need, you know, an organization. You need religion. You need the personal motivation but the umbrella who keep this going on is injustice and occupation.

CONAN: But there are also organizations which conduct these attacks. They're not done at random. Targets are selected.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: No. Well, in Palestine, both. Like it's mostly the people who are fed up, they go to the organization and say, `We want to have--to make a suicide attack.'

CONAN: To be a martyr.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Yes. Mostly they come as a volunteer, mostly, the last year, you know. Before the second intifada was indeed more that people, like, being recruited. But after the intifada, after they know that the wall--like all these--the checkpoints, the daily humiliation, people become more easy to take this decision.

CONAN: How easy or difficult was it for you to get people to tell their stories?

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Well, I am Palestinian. I am not a reporter who go and, you know, with pen and writing things. It's--you hear wherever you go the discussion and you hear the stories. Wherever you go, because, you know, you are one of them and not an outsider that come and when you are an outsider you hear different stories because immediately you are aware that the stories cannot be for others. I had easy access to them because I am one of them.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, was it difficult to make this movie?

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Very difficult--to make this movie? It was a hell. It was like we risk our lives to make it. It was--we shot it in the occupied territories in Nablus, a city under siege for more than five years. It's--there is no law inside the place. You know, it's surrounded by the Israeli army, but inside there is a chaos, and you could be killed for any reason, mostly from the bullets of the army, but sometimes also from the bullets of the factions.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Were any of the Palestinian organizations opposed to what you were doing or curious?

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Yeah. They were divided. The one...

CONAN: Hard to imagine that.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Yeah. They were saying, like, `Whatever you will do, we are fighting for freedom and justice and for this reason we cannot protect you.' And the other, after they rode--they read the script, the thought was that this was against suicide bombing and we have to stop him. And then there was a clash between factions and I was in the middle. But then--how it was, and they kidnapped one of my location managers in order to stop us. But then we called the office of Mr. Arafat at that time and they helped us a lot to free him.

CONAN: You also got some permission from the Israeli government. That could not have been easy either.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: No. But it was also the funny thing, we had to sign a paper that if something happened to us inside, they are not responsible. Even if we are being killed by their bullet, they are not responsible. And we have to sign this, you know, you have to sign that paper that if anything happens to you, they are not responsible. Which is funny, like, OK, you have permission to go in, but you go into a place that there is no law.

CONAN: The film has--well, opened in New York and Los Angeles, I think, last Friday. It's been out in other parts of the world since. I wonder, what's reaction been in Israel and the Palestinian territories to the release of the movie?

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: I was surprised. Mostly very good from the Israeli side and from the Palestinian side. Mostly they felt it's an honest movie. It's a movie that give you opportunity to know more. And--but some, you know, from the both sides--and they have always the same arguments--they didn't like that there is human face there. And the one side want to see it as a superhero and the other side want to see it as a superevil. And both, they have the same arguments. Like, `No, reality.' `It's superhero.' `No, it's reality.' `It's a superevil.' And which is funny for me because they are--I mean, they are human beings making extreme decisions under extreme circumstances and my research supported that. Not just my research, though, there is a lot of research that supporting that. But then, I mean, funny that the two extreme sides, they have the same argument.

CONAN: About the casting of the suicide bombers in this film, people--well, tell us a little bit about the character, there's one of them called Said.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Well, in order to make a good movie, you have to have first of all different characters and conflict and character development. The main character, you know, it's a character that you have a history, very tense history that his father was a collaborator. And he blamed the occupation for that because, you know, to misuse the--let's say to misuse the weakness of somebody in order to let him collaborate against his own interest, it's a crime.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: And he find that he has to--but at the same time, the society see him always as the son of a collaborator, which is both. Like he blamed the occupation, but at the same time, society's not like--looking to him as a...

CONAN: It's almost like wearing the red A of--you know, a red letter on his forehead.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Yeah, which is...

CONAN: He's being named as the son of a collaborator.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Yeah. Because it's in angry times. In general, there is--in the Palestinian society, I have to admit, it's not--it's still--they are not letting them really paying the price. But still, you know, an angry, angry conflict, they tell him, `Well, you are the son of collaborator. You can't be good.'

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Which is always a kind of guilt inside him and he has to finish this guilt, somehow, someway. And he decides that--you know, it's a complex thing. It's not just that. But one of his motivation is to protect his family from the guilt.

CONAN: From the?

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Guilt that his father was a collaborator.

CONAN: So this would expiate his family's guilt about his father's collaboration and in a way give his whole family a new start.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Yes. Exactly.

CONAN: Because--one thing that people from the outside have a hard time figuring out is that suicide bombers who sometimes attack military targets but other times attack bars, restaurants, markets, kill people on a bus, that they are celebrated as heroes.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Well, don't forget that when you are under enormous pain, you always become unhealthy--you have unhealthy behavior, according to the healthy society. For sure when you are more than--let's say your whole life you was under occupation, don't expect suddenly that this society will become very healthy and civil and condemning killing civilians. It's an unhealthy society. But, again, what you want from them when they are--all their life being living under occupation. I mean, it's very--I think it's a very normal reaction. But anyhow not everybody also celebrating that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: There is inside the Palestinian street discussion about it and divided discussion. It's not like--it's 50-50 almost. There is a huge amount of people who are against this, not celebrating this. But we don't hear about them. And this is why I try to make in the film a kind of balance between the two sides.

CONAN: Shades of gray; it's not just black and white.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: No, no. Exactly. This is--I mean, you know, politics try always to tell us--to explain to us things in black and white, because it's easy for them in order to rule. But art and films have the opportunity to show you the complexity of things, and this is what I tried to do in the film.

CONAN: Now obviously you're telling a fictional story. But in the metaphorical sense, do you believe your story is true?

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: No, based on--in true stories.


Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Not one story, true stories.


Mr. ABU-ASSAD: But anyhow, it's not the truth. I don't believe that any film could tell the truth. It's my own point of view as an artist on a complex issue that I try to allow myself to experience this from a safe place. At the end, you go to the cinema from a safe place, you go to unsafe place. And we do it always--not with this film--not just with this film, with any film. You allow yourself to follow characters that the reality that you can follow or you don't want to follow. And this is what I did.

CONAN: Hany Abu-Assad, thank you very much for being with us and good luck with the film.

Mr. ABU-ASSAD: Thank you.

CONAN: Hani Abu-Assad is a Palestinian director. His new film about Palestinian suicide bombers is called "Paradise Now." As we mentioned, it opens to larger audiences around the country this weekend. And he was kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A.

When we come back, we'll look at other recent studies of terrorism and suicide bombings in Iraq and a study that looks at every suicide bomb attack around the world for the last 25 years. I'm Neal Conan. If you'd like to join us it's (800) 989-8255. E-mail at

Back after a break. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking today about suicide bombs. How the bombers are recruited, who builds the bombs, who picks the targets? You're invited to join our conversation. It's (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. E-mail is

And joining us now is Aparisim "Bobby" Ghosh. He's the Time magazine senior Baghdad correspondent. He joins us now from Singapore where it's the middle of the night and he's interrupted his vacation to speak with us.

Thank you very much for taking the time. We know it's a--it's an impossible time of day for you.

Mr. APARISIM "BOBBY" GHOSH (Time): Oh, it's not a problem, Neal.

CONAN: In last week's issue of Time magazine you focused not on the suicide bomber but on one of the people who helps make suicide operations happen. A fascinating interview with someone who's pseudonym is al-Tamini. First of all, who is he? How did you get his trust?

Mr. GHOSH: Well, we've been working on the theme of suicide bombing for nearly a year now. We've been in touch with various different groups in the Iraqi insurgency. Earlier this year, in the summer, we interviewed a suicide bomber in training and generally we put the word out through our extensive contacts that we were interested in the subject; we wanted to know more. We wanted to understand the motivations and the mechanisms by which suicide bombings took place. And this man basically responded to those queries and came in to meet us.

CONAN: Now he was, I guess, at least originally, one of those who might have been accurately described by Secretary of State Rumsfeld as a dead-ender, a Baath Party member, former member of the Republican Guard in Iraq who was a supporter of his president, Saddam Hussein.

Mr. GHOSH: Yes. He still is. And he still is all of those things, but he's a little more--he's a lot more deadly than that because he now helps make suicide bombings possible. He works as a handler who takes charge of a suicide bomber in the final few days and weeks of his mission.

CONAN: It's fascinating that you say, according to the article, that in fact he works for several different groups in the insurgency with different religious and ideological backgrounds.

Mr. GHOSH: That's right. He's a bit of--he's something of a free-lance subcontractor. He is himself a member of one group called Jaish Muhammad or the Army of Muhammad, which is essentially a Baathist-slash-nationalist group, but various other groups come to him. They send him their suicide bombers, and that does include religious fanatical groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq. And he's happy to provide those services to all of them. He does not take payment from any of them, or so he told us, and we have verified this with other groups as well. He receives his salary from his original group and the services that he provides to these others are gratis.

CONAN: He charges them nothing for the services, which include setting up these would-be martyrs in safe houses and arranging to get the explosives for them.

Mr. GHOSH: Yes. He--basically what happens is when a group sends him a suicide bomber, his services extend from providing safe houses, food and shelter to target information, picking the targets, picking the time, doing the reconnaissance, arranging for the explosive, doing test runs and, separately from that, providing the bomber with spiritual sustenance, opening him up with religious authority if necessary, and essentially holding the bomber's hand right through until the last few minutes of his life. And quite often he will be the last living person that the bomber speaks to before going off to his doom.

CONAN: You say even picking the targets sometimes. Wouldn't the groups involved have a pretty good idea of what kind of target they would at least prefer?

Mr. GHOSH: Sometimes they do. Sometimes they're specific. They say that they want a particular target and then his job is to go out and make sure that that target is doable. But oftentimes they will ask his advice because he keeps intelligence on various different likely targets and that means mainly police stations, military recruiting stations, markets and general public places--restaurants which are favored by the Iraqi police and security services, checkpoints manned by American and Iraqi forces--targets like that.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. Again: (800) 989-8255. And we'll begin with Joe. Joe calling from Milwaukee.

JOE (Caller): Hi there. About a year ago, Bill Clinton said on "The Charlie Rose Show" that if there was a fair and equitable resolution to the Palestinian situation that it would destroy the philosophical underpinning for all Middle Eastern terrorism. I assume he meant that which was going on in Iraq as well. And I'm interested to know what the guest feels about how much that plays a role as a philosophical underpinning for helping convince people to do this? That is to say, they're not just striking at the situation in Iraq but, you know, the people that are talking them into doing this are saying that they're helping prevent what--you know, what went on in the West Bank from going on in Iraq.

CONAN: Bobby Ghosh?

Mr. GHOSH: Well, that's a good question. That was--that might have been true a year ago, certainly two years ago. But now that train, I'm afraid, has long since left the station. In Iraq, bombers come and participate in the jihad for its own sake, and there's very little reference to Palestine at all. And, in fact, I have a suspicion that elsewhere in the world, Iraq is now replacing Palestine as one of the clarion calls for jihad.

CONAN: You say that at least according to this man, al-Tamini, the majority of the people he meets who want to become martyrs are foreigners, or as he describes them as Arabs, people from outside, as opposed to Iraqis.

Mr. GHOSH: That's correct. Most of the groups that send him suicide bombers, they tend mainly to send him foreigners. He has handled more than 30--he had, when I met him, handled more than 30 bombers and he said very few of them were Iraqi. But that does not suggest that Iraqis are not up to this. He said repeatedly that there were lots of Iraqi volunteers, but for strategic reasons, insurgent groups and terrorist groups tend not to use Iraqis. Iraqis are good for many different things. Since they're local people, they have local intelligence. They have local personal networks of friends and family that they can use. They are--insurgent commanders see them as valuable assets and that they don't want to waste in one single suicide operation when they could be using them for several different bombing raids at--hit-and-run attacks on military positions and so on.

CONAN: Joe, thanks very much for the call.

Let's turn now to Lou, and Lou is calling us from Staten Island in New York.

LOU (Caller): Thank you. My question is: Is it hard for you to not turn somebody like this over to the US government who might be plotting to kill Americans? Is it hard, as a reporter? 'Cause there's a whole issue of reporter confidentiality, and I'm just curious to know how he might feel about it.

Mr. GHOSH: Should I answer that?

CONAN: Yes, please.

Mr. GHOSH: Yes. Yes, it's very hard. But these are people who are extraordinarily paranoid about their own personal security. So when they meet us, they take precautions to make sure that that doesn't happen and we are not in control of the timing, of the location. I couldn't go into all the details here, but basically when a person like that comes--or decides to meet a journalist, he or she makes sure that the journalist has no recourse to the police or to the security forces. And that was the situation here.

CONAN: You describe, though, the young man, the next martyr, if you will, that this man al-Tamini was preparing as a young Saudi who he said was wreathed in smiles, couldn't wait for the day. Do you wonder what that man may have done already?

Mr. GHOSH: I certainly do, and every time I see a report about a suicide bombing in Iraq--and the Lord knows there's plenty of those--I have to wonder whether it was the handiwork of this man or indeed of the young man that I met in the summer. In his case, I know now what he did and how he met his end. And it's something that--it's a burden I have to carry with me.

CONAN: Lou, thank you for the call.

LOU: Thank you.

CONAN: And let me ask you when you spoke with Mr. al-Tamini--again, it's a pseudonym--did he express any remorse for the numbers--the large numbers of civilian casualties that have been caused in Iraq?

Mr. GHOSH: He didn't express remorse at first. But he certainly was very uncomfortable with that line of questioning when I took it. He describes himself as a nationalist. So I asked him to explain how a nationalist would justify the killing of so many Iraqi nationals, civilians, non-combatants. And at first he tried to claim that all of his operations or most of his operations involved no civilian casualties at all. And I pointed out to him that that was impossible because a vast majority of suicide attacks have taken place in public places and have involved civilian casualties. In fact, there are very few instances of suicide attacks directly at, say, American military targets, for instance. And when I pressed him on that score, he began to get defensive and angry and finally he sort of cut the conversation short by saying that, `Well, this is a freedom struggle and this is a struggle for Iraq and sometimes innocent people will die and that's regrettable, but that's what it is.'

CONAN: And in this same conversation--or I think you had two meetings with him--he also talked about his siblings who mentioned to him that they might want to become martyrs, even his nine-year-old son.

Mr. GHOSH: Yes. That sort of exposed an interesting aspect to his character. He's had a brother and a sister and his own nine-year-old son come to him and ask him to help them participate in suicide operations. But when it comes to his own family, he applies different rules to--than those young men that are sent to him by other groups. To his own family he says, `Well, suicide bombing is not something for everybody. It's not something for you. There are many ways of fighting jihad. There are many ways of fighting the Americans, the occupation. Let other people do the suicide bombing.'

CONAN: We are talking with Aparisim Ghosh of Time magazine. He's their senior Baghdad correspondent. In last week's issue of the magazine he published an extraordinary interview with a member of the Iraqi insurgency who goes by the name of al-Tamini, a man who says he has handled upwards of 30 suicide bombers who have come into Iraq and exploded themselves and their weapons at or against a variety of targets, including Americans, Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255. Our e-mail address is This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's introduce another voice now, Professor Robert Pape, director of the Project on Suicide Terrorism at the University of Chicago. As director, he's helped create and now presides over a database of every suicide terrorist attack from 1980 to today. He joins us now from the studios at the University of Chicago.

And, Professor Pape, nice to have you on the program.

Professor ROBERT PAPE (Director, Project on Suicide Terrorism; University of Chicago): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: I'm wondering as you're listening to this description of Mr. al-Tamini's operations in Iraq, how--in what ways are they typical and in what ways are they not typical of suicide bomb attacks worldwide in the past 25 years?

Prof. PAPE: Well, actually I think they're all too typical. You see, organizations matter, but organizations matter in a fairly limited way. Overwhelmingly since 1980, suicide terrorists have been walk-in volunteers, whether they have been in Palestine, the West Bank, whether they have come to Iraq, or the adjacent areas to Iraq or in Sri Lanka, they have tended to be walk-in volunteers with little or no experience in violence. And, in fact, for many and most, their first experience with violence is their last. It's their very own suicide terrorist attack.

Well, under those conditions, the organization plays the role of simply providing the means of violence. And as you've heard, they often provide explosives, pick targets, provide plans of how to get to a target. And they even can try to overcome this last-minute reluctance that we often see in suicide terrorists which tends to stem just from the instinct for self-preservation. Even if an individual has made a fully conscious and deliberate decision and volunteered for such a mission, there's still that last moment when they have to actually go through with it and you see in the stories we've just heard that it's helpful for the handlers to overcome that final moment of hesitation.

And this is quite typical of suicide terrorists and it's typical of suicide terrorists whether they're religious or secular. What you also hear in the conversation is almost no real discussion of the importance of religion to bringing about a suicide terrorist attack. What, in fact, you hear in both cases is the importance of foreign occupation as being the principal stimulus to a suicide terrorist attack and how that tends to increase the level of nationalist resistance that makes individuals willing to pay cost to end that presence of foreign combat forces.

CONAN: Bobby Ghosh, let me ask you about that last point. How important is religion as opposed to occupation?

Mr. GHOSH: Well, from al-Tamini's point of view, as I've said, he sees himself essentially as a nationalist fighting an occupation. But he does say that most of the bombers who were sent to him are religious extremists--of course, he wouldn't use that terminology. From his point of view, they're deeply religious people. It would seem that religion provides the underpinning, provides the rationale and the excuse for the operation. Certainly for most of the foreigners, they're not fighting an occupation; they're not even fighting for Iraq. They're looking for a short-cut to paradise, from their point of view, and the suicide operation allows them that--at least they've persuaded themselves or people have persuaded them that a suicide operation is the safest, quickest ticket to paradise.

CONAN: I wonder, though, we just have a minute with you left. Did Mr. al-Tamini talk about the difficulties of getting some of his volunteers across that last line?

Mr. GHOSH: You know, he claimed to me--and this might be a little implausible--I tend to agree with the professor here--but he claimed to me that he's never had to deal with any last-minute jitters, that the young men who are sent to him--by the time they come to him, they've already traveled long and extraordinary journeys to get to that point. They are already signed up for martyrdom and I remember he used the phrase that, `In many ways they were already dead and their minds were already in paradise,' so he claimed he had never had to do encounter a suicide bomber who changed his mind at the last moment.

CONAN: Bobby Ghosh, thank you very much for being with us, and again, particularly for staying up late on your vacation. We appreciate it.

Mr. GHOSH: Not at all.

CONAN: Bobby Ghosh is the senior Time Baghdad correspondent. He joined us on the line from Singapore. Robert Pape is going to stay with us, and we'll take more of your calls and questions about suicide bombers: how it's done and why it's done--from an organization's point of view. Again, if you'd like to join us, it's (800) 989-8255. E-mail us:

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News. President Bush has nominated federal appeals Judge Samuel Alito to succeed Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The announcement comes four days after the previous nominee, Harriet Miers, withdrew her name. Conservatives are expressing satisfaction with Alito's nomination; some lawyers have dubbed him Judge Scalito, comparing his judicial philosophy with that of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Democrats are expressing reservations and promising a vigorous examination of Alito's background. Alito currently serves on the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals. He was nominated to that post by the previous President Bush. More details on the nominee and reaction from Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, Wal-Mart has called for a higher minimum wage and affordable health care. We'll find out what that's all about tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're talking about suicide bombing networks, and our guest is Professor Robert Pape at the University of Chicago. If you'd like to join us, (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. E-mail is

And, Professor Pape, one of the results of your study of this has been that while we tend to see obviously suicide bombing as an act of individual as a run-off thing, we also need to see it in terms of an organization and in terms of a campaign and not just one incident.

Prof. PAPE: Yes. If suicide terrorism were merely the product of irrational individuals or religious fanaticism or any evil ideology independent of circumstance, we should see suicide terrorist attacks more or less as random events or isolated events possibly, sprinkled around a large part of the world, and especially since most people believe it's coming from Islamic fundamentalism, we should see it coming from the largest Islamic fundamentalists populations on the planet. In fact, we don't see that. What we see is that over 95 percent of all suicide terrorist attacks around the world since 1980 have in common a cluster--they occur in clusters, which are best thought of as campaigns of suicide terrorism, that organizations began for specific, namely political goals and actually end when they achieve those political goals or make progress towards them.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners on the line, and this is Garrett. Garrett, calling us from Wichita.

GARRETT (Caller): Yes. My question is with regards to the individual suicide bombers. I think there's still confusion in American society as to what their motive is. Is it political, or in other words, they want to exact revenge on their so-called oppressors? Or is it religious nature--in other words, they feel like that by doing so that they'll get to paradise, and if it's the latter, isn't there something paradoxically wrong with that assumption?

Prof. PAPE: I've studied 462 suicide terrorists since 1980 from all around the world who actually did the mission, actually killed themselves on a terrorist attack to kill others. Over half are secular. The world leader in suicide terrorism is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. They're a Marxist group, a secular group, a Hindu group. They've done more suicide terrorist attacks than Hamas.

What we see when we study the individual circumstances of suicide terrorists is that there are actually a variety. Some suicide terrorists are motivated by social prestige. They make martyr videos; they tend to do it in groups with friends. Some suicide terrorists are motivated by revenge; they are--they've had close family members killed by the foreign occupation forces or close friends killed, and therefore, they want to wreak revenge for direct harm to what they believe is their nuclear family or nuclear friendship circles. Others are motivated by religion. But what cuts across those three circumstances is anger at the presence of foreign combat forces on territory that the terrorists prize, and absent that anger, we don't see very much suicide terrorism around the world and haven't since 1980.

CONAN: What would that anger be in terms of--this just because people are less familiar with the political situation--for the Tamils that you were talking about?

Prof. PAPE: Well, the Tamils are in a civil war with the Sinhalese, who are Buddhists, who are the majority of Sri Lanka, and the Tamils who are Hindus who are minority, who live in the northeast region of the country. And what happened starting in the late--in the 1970s and 1980s is that the Sinhalese have been encroaching on Tamil lands. And in fact, from 1979 through the mid-1990s, 10 percent of the Tamil lands have been rezoned, if you would, or given to the Sinhalese Buddhists directly at the expense of the Tamil Tigers, a situation that's actually quite similar to the West Bank.

CONAN: Garrett, thanks very much for the call.

GARRETT: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go to--this'll be Joanne. Joanne, calling us from Newark.

JOANNE (Caller): Hi, Neal.


JOANNE: My question for Professor Pape concerns whether or not he has got any case studies from Afghanistan. I spent quite a lot of time there, and the Afghans insist that they never ever commit suicide no matter which part of the political or religious spectrum they come from. I wonder if he could comment.

Prof. PAPE: Yes. In my book, "Dying to Win," I've collected the first complete data set of every al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from 1995 to early 2004. There were 71 individuals who actually killed themselves for Osama--to do attacks for Osama during that period. Two came from Afghanistan. And what's interesting is that those two came only after United States toppled the Taliban and conquered Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. None beforehand, despite the fact that, of course, Osama was using Afghanistan as a training ground, which is actually quite compelling evidence for the view that it's really the presence of foreign combat forces on territory the terrorists prize, which is playing quite a powerful role in motivating suicide terrorists.

CONAN: And again, in your 25-year study, Professor Pape, the only solution has been a political solution: the withdrawal of the occupying forces?

Prof. PAPE: Well, there have been 13 suicide terrorists campaigns that have both begun and ended in the last 25 years. There are five that are still ongoing. But of the 13 that have begun and ended, seven have ended with gains for the territorial cause of the suicide terrorists, and six ended without that. There's only one case where leadership decapitation actually ended a suicide terrorist campaign, and that's when the Turks captured the leader of the PKK--that's a Kurdish terrorist group in Turkey...

CONAN: Turkey, yeah.

Prof. PAPE: ...and when he was captured, Ocalan actually ordered his group to stop their attacks.

CONAN: Professor Pape, thanks very much.

Prof. PAPE: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Robert Pape is a professor at the University of Chicago and the author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," and he joined us from studios at the University of Chicago in Chicago.

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