Do all suicide terrorists believe they’re dying for a cause?
Understanding suicide terrorists is an extremely difficult task, since a majority of people in the world cannot fathom doing such things as these terrorists do. Are they mentally unstable? Do they truly believe they are killing themselves and others for a good cause? What are they trying to accomplish? Sometimes, it makes no sense. These are all questions that plague people around the world after tragedies such as the attacks in Paris, Orlando and Brussles (just to name a few).
Brahim Abdeslam was one of the ISIS members who attacked in Paris last November. However, during his attack at a French restaurant, he did not exemplify the usual brutal behaviors of terrorists on a suicide mission. As you can see in the footage obtained from the attack, Abdeslam detonated his suicide belt only after shamefully covering his face. He did not run into the restaurant screaming and condemning non-believers, and he did not shout in religious tongues at anyone. He did not even successfully kill anyone else during his mission after his belt was not detonated properly, only killing himself. He seemed ashamed, and only aiming to kill himself. According to Abdeslam’s former wife Naima, he could have been depressed before the attack. She stated,
“His favourite activities were smoking weed and sleeping. He often slept during the day. The number of joints that he smoked was alarming. Despite his diploma as an electrician, he found no job.”
How does his mental stability come into play when attempting to rationalize these violent actions? It’s easy to credit horrific events such as these to a “crazy person” but is that really the reason? Maybe not. A 2009 article published by Psychiatry found that suicide terrorists are usually not mentally ill. Just as soldiers and members of our U.S. military are willing to die at any cost to protect our country, these people feel the same about their organization. They are essentially a product of their environment.
However, some experts have begun to challenge this idea. Ariel Merari’s research team performed psychological testing on suicidal terrorists captured before their presumed attacks. They found that these people had evidence of suicidal tendencies, depressive tendencies, and previous (non-terrorist) suicide attempts.
It seems now that the combination of these two issues (unstable environments planting radical ideologies and mental illness) produces people who feel they have no other way out. Martyrdom has become the way for these people to escape their own mental and emotional struggles. Conventional suicide is not allowed within Islam, and the shame of taking your own life will live with your family and send you to hell. However, becoming a martyr has proven to be the way out for some people struggling with both of these issues. They can escape the world that causes them so much pain without the shame and humiliation of taking their life on their own.
We may never truly understand the motives behind some of the most disgusting terror attacks on our world. Looking into the psychology of people involved in these attacks offers some insight, but will these brutal attacks ever be put to rest?