Suicide Bombers What Makes Them Tick
Ehab and Kittu have never met and most probably never will. After
all, they live a world apart. But they have both thought about getting
into the same line of work - being a suicide bomber.
Everyone hopes to become a martyr and I wish for it, too,
because there's nothing better than jihad for the sake of
God. . . . It is the most beautiful thing in the whole
world, in the world that we're living in. . . .
I hope one day I'll be a martyr.
- Ehab Yusef, age 17, in Gaza
We train on that jacket over and over again. . . . The
jacket has a metal base that is separating the metal
pieces and the explosive from the body. . . . We would set
off the detonator several times until we lose the fear of
- Kittu, age 23, in Sri Lanka
For Ehab Yusef, it is sometimes just a thought, other times a spoken
fantasy. Ehab is a slim 17-year-old Palestinian youth who has lived his
whole life in the Lubnah refugee camp, in the city of Rafah, in the Gaza
Strip. He is less than a year away from graduating high school and likes
to draw and paint in his spare time. He is thinking about becoming a
computer scientist sometime in the future. If he has a future. For he is
also thinking-fantasizing, really - about becoming what he calls a martyr,
following the path of three of his friends, who are dead now. If Ehab
becomes a "martyr" - and as you talk to him you will discover it is far
from certain that he will - it will be because he, too, has died in what he
sees as a religious act of trying to kill people he does not know, other than
that they are Israelis.
For Kittu, the act of killing himself to murder another was a fate that
almost became a reality. Kittu, who is 24 now, was a member of a terror
group since he became a teenager in Sri Lanka, the island in the Indian
Ocean that was once known as Ceylon. Kittu is not his real first name; it
is a fake name that will be used here for the purposes of telling his story,
which is very real. Kittu is a failed suicide bomber. He was 13 years old
when he joined the Tamil Tigers, a rebel army that fought for years to
achieve independence for the northeast corner of Sri Lanka. The Tamil
Tigers are best known for having pioneered suicide bombing as a way to
achieve their paramilitary ends. It was a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber who
assassinated India's Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The Tigers
have carried out more than 200 suicide bombings -more than any other
group - killing officials of the government and military, and ordinary people
as well. Kittu had been a member of the most elite group of Tamil
Tigers - those designated to perform suicide bombings. He was trained
in the most explicit of regimens. His mission was to kill a Sri Lankan military
officer. But his mission was compromised. It failed. Which means
he is alive to tell the story of what led him to want to kill himself so he
could kill another.
As you meet them both, you realize that they are two people from very
different places, with very different causes. Yet they use the same
phrases to explain why committing murder by martyrdom is the highest
calling. They were clearly not born feeling this way - no one is. It is an
acquired conviction they have come to embrace based on brief lifetimes
of experience and, make no mistake, certain forms of indoctrination.
Only by considering what each has to say is it possible to get beyond the
sort of flash point hatred that has become so much a part of the world's
nonstop television news these days - Arabs hating Israelis; Israelis hating
Arabs-to get the fullest possible sense of what motivates people to want
to take their lives in order to take the lives of others. And why they see
this form of killing of others and self as their highest calling.