Killing to Make a Killing

Suicide terrorism may be more rational than meets the eye.

Issue: Fall 2005

Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terrorism (New York: Columbia University, 2005), 280 pp., $24.95.

Timothy Naftali, Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism (New York: Basic, 2005), 415 pp., $26.

Robert A. Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (New York: Random House), 352 pp., $25.95.

Suicide operations are not only one of the most prominent features of contemporary terrorism, but they are also increasingly the phenomenon's primary manifestation. At a time when terrorist incidents of all kinds have declined by nearly half--from a peak of 666 in 1987 to 348 in 2001, according to University of Chicago professor Robert A. Pape's count--suicide attacks have escalated sharply from an average of three per year in the 1980s to nearly fifty in 2003. Over that same period, suicide terrorism has established itself as terrorism's most lethal form: While accounting for only 3 percent of all terrorist incidents from 1980 through 2003, it was responsible for 48 percent of all victims killed by terrorists, even if the immense casualties of September 11, 2001, are not counted. Despite its significance, the phenomenon of suicide is poorly understood--at least by its intended targets.

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