The Psychology of Suicidal Terrorism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It is being increasingly recognised that it is mistaken to view suicide bombers simply as brain-washed pawns, but attempting to place all suicide terrorists into to just one clear category is far from easy. There is growing appreciation that just as there is wide variation in the general membership of terrorist groups there can also be wide variation in the type of individuals who are prepared to carry out suicide attacks. Traditionally, the ‘profile’ of the typical suicide bomber was that he (they were almost always male) would be young, ranging in age from 16 to 28, would come from poor backgrounds and have limited education. However, this is a stereotype which has struggled to fit suicide terrorists more and more in recent years. For example, the September 11 hijackers came from generally middle class backgrounds, were older than might have been expected, and many had third level education. Within the Palestinian groups, the concept of the bombers being poorly educated young men from impoverished backgrounds has also been questioned. Certainly Hassan (2002) argues against such a view. She notes that while most of the suicide attackers are young men (with a few exceptions) they do not come from desperately poor backgrounds. In contrast, the majority of suicide bombers are from the Palestinian middle classes. Most of the bombers have successfully finished second level education and many were University students at the time of the attack (Hassan, 2002). Indeed, within Palestinian society it is the middle class and those who have graduated from University who have generally shown the highest level of support and tolerance for suicide actions (Shiqaqi, 2001).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTerrorists, Victims and Society
Subtitle of host publicationPsychological Perspectives on Terrorism and Its Consequences
EditorsAndrew Silke
Place of PublicationChichester
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781119941248
ISBN (Print)9780471494621
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • suicide terrorism
  • suicide terrorists
  • Suicide Bombing
  • kamikaze
  • terrorist psychology
  • psychology of terrorism

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