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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Terrorist Suicide Bombings’
Question of the Day
”Terrorist Suicide Bombings” is one of the first books published on countering terrorist suicide attacks from the perspective of police officers with first-hand experience in investigating such operations. Two of the authors are retired police officers. Mordecai Dzikansky served in the New York Police Department for 28 years, with the last five years posted by the department in Israel in 2003 to serve as its first liaison with the Israel National Police, and Gil Kleiman was an Israeli police officer for 23 years, retiring in 2006. Robert Slater, the book’s “prose writer,” is an American-born journalist who has lived in Israel since 1973.
“Terrorist Suicide Bombings” is especially interesting and important because it is unusual to find a book on this subject written by police investigators who share as much of their insider knowledge about the nature of the perpetrators of such attacks. Much of the book is focused on Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, with several chapters devoted to attacks involving suicide operations against America, such as those of Sept. 11.
What are the goals of suicide bombings? As Mr. Dzikansky and Mr. Kleiman explain, they do not aim necessarily to “get rid of the enemy completely.” Rather, on the way to the “paradise” promised by their group’s dispatchers, they wish “to instill a [psychological] sense of fear and create a pervasive sense of instability among the civilian population” that will disrupt the society’s normal day-to-day routines.
Can suicide attackers be identified before reaching their targets? Yes, according to the authors, because they generally follow certain pre-incident procedures. Usually, they are part of a cell, consisting of a handler who places the explosive belt on the bomber, and a driver who drops the operative near the attack’s location. As the suicide bomber is about to reach the destination, such as a crowded bus stop, he likely will adopt a calm “trancelike stare” so as not to arouse attention.
Other suspicious characteristics worth noting: loitering for long periods without any apparent purpose, being alone, perspiring and hesitant when speaking, avoiding getting too close to security personnel, wearing bulky clothing that is inappropriate for the season (to hide the suicide belt), and constantly checking to ensure that an item (i.e., the trigger mechanism) hidden under the clothes is still there.
In cases of suicide bombers on buses, once such suspicious behavior fails to be noticed, the perpetrator will seek maximum advantage, moving to the center of the bus where detonating the suicide vest’s explosives will cause the most fatalities and injuries. The same tactics apply to attacking other targets, such as shopping malls, subway cars and other public spaces. Similar characteristics apply to female suicide bombers, who, the authors note, have become increasingly pervasive in recent years.
How can suicide bombings be defended against? The authors conclude with a set of nine deterrent policies and actions that can help mitigate casualties. These include empowering domestic intelligence agencies to monitor and arrest individuals with a nexus to terrorism, securing public facilities by installing closed-circuit television cameras, employing private security guards to detect suspicious behavior and, most importantly, educating the public to be alert to their surroundings.
Some of the key players include police officers who serve as the “eyes and ears of the general public,” firefighters and emergency medical service personnel who attempt to save the wounded and transport them to hospitals, forensic teams that can identify the blown-up perpetrator, and bomb squad technicians who can reconstruct the type of bomb used in order to identify its possible origins and the terrorist cell that built it.
In addition to proactive law enforcement, the authors point out that the way a country’s media is managed is also crucial since governments need to counter terrorists’ seeking of positive publicity for their acts and, most importantly, build up the resilience of the country’s population to avoid spreading panic and anxiety throughout society.
“Terrorist Suicide Bombings” is an invaluable and authoritative guide for understanding the phenomenon of suicide terrorism and how to defeat it.
• Joshua Sinai is an associate professor for research, specializing in counterterrorism studies, at a Virginia Tech center in Arlington.
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