- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

A quarter century into the modern age of suicide terrorism, specialists say the grim tactic is being used more frequently than ever before.

The State Department, in its latest annual report on global terrorism, said a surge in suicide attacks — at sites ranging from the London subway to the Middle East to Afghanistan — pushed the number of attacks to record heights last year.

The report counted some 3,000 deaths attributed to 360 suicide bombings last year. That compares with 472 suicide attacks in five years from 2000 to 2004 documented in a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies; another study estimated 300 suicide attacks in all the years up to the middle of 2001.

While the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center remain the deadliest of their kind, the State Department report’s authors said they noted “indications of an increase in [the number of] suicide bombings.” Among the most lethal were the 54 persons killed in the July 2005 subway bombing in London and nearly 60 fatalities blamed on Iraqi suicide bombers targeting hotels in Amman, Jordan, four months later.

According to Robert Pape, a researcher on patterns of suicide terror at the University of Chicago, “this is a tactic that is very much still with us.”

The new report, issued on April 28, came in a week in which headlines underscored the range of terrorist groups resorting to suicide attacks.

In the Middle East, a suicide bomber at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Dahab killed at least 18 persons, and was followed a day later by twin suicide attacks targeting security forces in northern Sinai.

In Sri Lanka, Tamil separatists — considered by some the premier terrorist organization willing to recruit and use suicide attackers — killed nine persons and severely wounded the country’s military chief at a highly secure army base. The attacker was a 21-year-old pregnant woman who concealed the bomb against her stomach and was guided by an accomplice with a cell phone.

While politically inspired suicidal attacks date from the Samson story in the Bible to the Japanese kamikaze attacks of World War II, this coming Dec. 15 will mark a grim anniversary in the modern era of suicide terrorism. Twenty-five years ago, a suicide car bombing in Beirut killed 61 persons, including Ambassador Abdul Razzak Lafta, at Iraq’s embassy in Lebanon.

In a perverse twist, the government of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was the target of the attack, which was carried out by members of the exiled Islamic Dawa Party. Today, Dawa Party veterans such as Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki battle a murderous suicide bombing campaign carried out in part by Saddam’s old political allies.

Suicide attacks against U.S. and French targets in Lebanon two years later were copied by other terrorist movements, including Palestinian factions fighting Israel, Chechen rebels battling Russian troops, and Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers.

Mr. Pape, who has compiled an extensive database of suicide attacks, says the tactic has been adopted with increasing frequency by anti-U.S. forces in Iraq. Documented suicide attacks went from 20 in 2003 to 50 in 2004 to 124 in 2005, he said.

“Virtually all of the attackers that we can account for came from Iraq or the immediate surrounding countries — Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,” he said.

Counterterrorism specialists say the tactic has spread because suicide bombers are the ultimate “smart bomb.” Typically they are highly motivated, well trained, do not require an escape plan and are able to adjust their tactics up to the very last second when confronted with unexpected circumstances.

The State Department’s own data showed the grim efficiency of suicide attacks compared with other terrorist methods. While suicide bombings accounted for only 3 percent of the total number of terrorist incidents last year, they resulted in more than 20 percent of the reported deaths.

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