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“Outside the context of an occupation or conflict zone, we hardly see suicide terrorism,” he said.

A long-running conflict provides fertile ground for attacks by creating a “sense of collective grievance, daily humiliation, massive economic and social dislocation,” said sociologist Riaz Hassan, who kept attack statistics at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

Within that context, different personal motives emerge.

In Iraq, a failed bomber told reporters last year that he tried to retaliate for the arrest and alleged rape of Sunni women by the security forces. Some Iraqi women blew themselves up at military targets to avenge the arrest of a husband or son. The desire for revenge also loomed large for many Palestinian bombers, but they also went to their deaths knowing their families would be provided for by the militant groups.


Mohammed Zaaneen’s journey to martyrdom in Syria had a peculiar twist. He found himself at odds with another Islamic militant group with a long history of suicide attacks, Gaza’s ruling Hamas.

Hamas carried out scores of suicide attacks in Israel since the mid-1990s. But it rejects global jihad, focusing on the fight against Israel. In practice, it has all but stopped suicide bombings for now — in part because of tougher Israeli measures, in part because since 2007 it is burdened with running Gaza. It has even tried to restrain Jihadi Salafis in Gaza to prevent troubles.

“We are telling people, fight here,” said Ahmed Yousef, a Gaza intellectual with links to Hamas. “We never encourage them to go to Syria.”

Mohammed was arrested three times by Hamas security forces for Salafi activities after graduating from high school in 2009. When he tried to leave Gaza for Syria in April, he was turned back, but managed to sneak out in June.

He died Sept. 17 in a suicide attack claimed by an al-Qaida-linked group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, but no details are known about the location and possible casualties.

In a farewell video posted online, he said he had “chosen death as a path to life.”

At the Zaaneen home in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, two tattered black flags, a symbol of Jihadi Salafis, still adorn the entrance gate. His mother Sharifa said they were put there by her son’s friends during the wake.

In the room he shared with his 19-year-old brother Emad, Mohammed’s side of the closet is still filled with typical Salafi attire, plain-colored robes and pants that expose the ankles. The thin mattress he slept on remains next to Emad’s on the floor.

Mohammed was the oldest and most devout of seven siblings, studying to become a religion teacher. Like Abdullah, Mohammed would argue with the family over what TV programs to watch and refused to attend his sister’s wedding because she wanted music at her party, something he considered “haram,” or forbidden by religion.

The family is still struggling with his actions. In phone calls, they had begged him to come home, and his brother Emad said he would never follow in Mohammed’s footsteps.

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