Articles Suicide Terrorism

Al-Shabaab (Analysis by Karen Sims)

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Group Name: Al-Shabaab

Principal Ideology: Salafi Jihadism, Wahhabism, and Militant Islamism

Area of Operation: Somalia

Leadership: Ahmad Umar

Affiliated Groups: Al-Qaeda

Principal Enemy: Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the African Union Mission

Tactics: Attacks of Soft Targets, Suicide Bombings, Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Devices, Roadside Bombs, Beheadings


Al-Shabaab (the “youth”) has been able to take significant control over central and southern Somalia. What started as a small, youth militia arm of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a relatively moderate Islamist organization, rose to power in Somalia in early 2006. Al-Shabaab was radicalized and brought to prominence as a popular Islamist guerrilla movement as a response to Ethiopia’s entrance into Somalia in December 2006.[1] After Ethiopia entered Somalia, the more moderate voices of the ICU fled the country; however, the members of Al-Shabaab chose to stay and wage war.[2] Using hit and run attacks, improvised explosive devices, assassinations and bombings, al-Shabaab has been able to regain and maintain control over central and southern Somalia.[3] The Ethiopian occupation of Somalia fueled “the development of al-Shabaab’s ideology, recruitment, operational strategy, and partnerships, transforming the group from a small, relatively unimportant part of a more moderate Islamic movement into the most powerful and radical armed faction in the country.[4] Al-Shabaab was designated a terrorist group by the U.S. Department of State in March 2008.[5]

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Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (Analysis by Karrie Jefferson)

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Group Name: Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) / Al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers / Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia

Principal Ideology: Takfiri Salafi Jihadist

Area of Operation: Iraq

Leadership: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir

Affiliated Groups: Al-Qaeda Central

Principal Enemy: Jordan Monarchy, America Forces and Coalition Partners in Iraq

Tactics: Hostage beheadings, suicide bombings


Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), also known as al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was born out of a marriage of convenience between al-Qaeda Central and a group founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999, known as Jamaatal-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (JTWJ).[1] Al-Qaeda Central, led by Osama Bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had similar, but slightly conflicting goals to JTWJ initially.

While Bin Laden was focused on the “far enemy,” specifically on attacking the United States and the West before building the Caliphate, Zarqawi was focused on the “near enemy,” which meant ending the monarchy in Jordan and continuing on to unite the rest of the Levant.[2] What brought them together in 2004 was the JTWJ’s rise in fame. Bin Laden had requested that Zarqawi pledge baya, an oath of allegiance, to him multiple times between 2000 and 2001, but Zarqawi resisted.[3] He did not want to become ensnared in the fight between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in Afghanistan and didn’t think Bin Laden was focused enough on jihad.[4]

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How and Why People Become Suicide Terrorists (by Bruce Hoffman)

Monday, December 14th, 2015

There is no one path to terrorism or single means of radicalization. The reasons why someone picks up a gun or blows themselves up represents an ineluctably personal choice born variously of grievance and frustration; religious piety or the desire for systemic socio-economic change; irredentist conviction or commitment to revolution. Joining a terrorist organization or cell in pursuit of these aims is meant to give collective meaning and equally importantly cumulative power to this commitment. It is difficult, therefore, to generalize about why persons become radicalized and join terrorist groups and cells. This was precisely the conclusion of the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British House of Commons charged with investigating the 7 July 2005 suicide attacks on London transport. “The July attacks,” it observed, “emphasized that there was no clear profile of a British Islamist terrorist.”

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