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Can Suicide Bombers be Predicted?

Posted Mar 10 2011 8:00am

For years, the conventional wisdom among most scholars has been that suicide terrorists are not truly suicidal, and that much like ordinary soldiers they are motivated by a selfless commitment to their organization’s cause, rather than a desire to end their lives.  In a provocative editorial  published in Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide PreventionAdam Lankford of the University of Alabama's Department of Criminal Justice suggests that evidence increasingly indicates that some suicide terrorists do exhibit classic suicidal traits.   While it is difficult to quantify the overall percentage of suicide terrorists who appear suicidal (because the requisite biographical and motivational data on individual attackers are often missing),  the list of suicide terrorists who appear to have displayed risk factors for conventional suicide is steadily growing. One of the remaining issues that has not received sufficient scholarly attention is the interaction between social approval and suicide, with regard to how that affects our understanding of suicide terrorism. A major reason why previous scholars have largely dismissed the possibility that suicide terrorists could be suicidal is because they have failed to control for the effects of social approval. The editorial discusses the topics of comparing suicide terrorists to typical suicidal individuals and identifying suicidal tendencies under conditions of social approval. In addition, recommendations for suicide terrorism prevention are provided.

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