Not a Suicide Operation—but Suicide Ready?

“Victory or Paradise!” is the rallying cry of the Chechen suicide terrorists who took over the Beslan school and the Moscow theater (holding over one thousand and eight hundred hostages respectively).  Chechen terrorists acting from inside Chechnya launched more than 112 suicide attacks inside Chechnya and are still active spreading their movement outside Chechnya into the region.  Likewise because of the devastating wars of independence Chechens refugees dispersed all over the world—to Europe, Canada, U.S. and elsewhere.  As refugees they fled Chechnya and the surrounding region with deep traumas seared into their souls—death, torture, rapes, carpet bombings, complete and total devastation.  A few of these became terrorist instigators and actors in Belgium, in France and now it looks like also here. 

The young men identified as suspects in the Boston bombings are Chechens who came here as children fleeing two devastating wars of independence in Chechnya.  As such they likely grew up hearing stories of Russian atrocities there and may have also been exposed to stories glorifying rebel fighters in Chechnya that have been involved in militant jihadi activities.

Like the young Somalian refugees who joined the militant jihad from Minnesota they may have also been exposed to ethnic fighters or grew up with a longing for the home country alongside a deep sense of injustice over what is happening in their country and the world’s silence about it.  The global militant jihadi movement—AQ and its affiliates—recruits and motivates new members by showing atrocities against Muslims in conflicts all over the world—Kashmir, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, etc.—invoking sympathy for victims in these conflicts.  For young people it can be confusing—they can become convinced that Muslims worldwide are under attack and that they should join in order to defend Muslims.  And if they themselves grew up under attack these claims can be visceral—memories of war traumas return in full force.

While these young men grew up here and were obviously not “sent” abroad by a terrorist movement at nine years old (if they came ten years ago), this does not mean that they are true home-growns.  They most likely brought war trauma with them as refugees—they have the Chechen conflict seared into their souls and this makes them deeply vulnerable to militant jihadi movements.

Likewise as we watch the news still unfolding, we should keep in mind that the fact that these young suspects did not carry out a suicide operation does not mean that they are not suicide ready.  Like the Madrid bombers, or Muriel Deguaque’s husband—they may be carrying out one attack without suiciding hoping to fight another day—but they are probably ready to die and appear to have explosives at the ready.  If so we should expect them to rig them onto their bodies or where they are holed up into a suicide operation taking arresting officers down with themselves in a “martyrdom” operation. 

These people believe that dying in the fight takes them straight to paradise and also opens the doors of paradise for seventy of their relatives and this along with their political passion gives them the fortitude to die in this way—while they also rejoice in the killing they carry out in behalf of their “cause”.  My guess in this case the “cause” is an international one linked to the wider militant jihadi movement—and that the goal is hurting Americans not in revenge for what happened in Chechnya but in revenge for the perceived –from the militant jihadis point of view—war on Islam—and the civilian deaths that occur due to our war efforts with drones in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somali, etc.  It points again to our need to try to address and diminish war traumas that increase vulnerabilities in those who come as refugees from such areas and for us to be aware of trauma and revenge being once again awakened within them as motivators for terrorism.

By background the Chechen conflict which began as a secular independence movement in 1991 following the break up of the Soviet Union was turned from a rebel movement into militant jihadi terrorism by an influx of middle eastern money and former Afghani fighters—still euphoric over defeating the former USSR in Afghanistan.  Feeling abandoned by the west the Chechen rebels fighting for independence from Russia embraced a “martyrdom” ideology and eventually began launching suicide attacks—the first occurring in June of 2000 involving two women driving an explosive laden truck.  The Chechens went on to launch over thirty attacks using over one hundred twelve suicide bombings bombings—nearly half involving female bombers.  My colleague and I conducted psychological autopsies on half of these bombers—over sixty of them—identifying what put them on the terrorists trajectory and what moved them along it to the point of believing exploding themselves to kill others was a good idea.  I also interviewed in Belgium a militant jihadi operative who was radicalized into the movement by a Chechen living in Antwerp who radicalized not only him but many other young people into the global militant jihadi movement.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Georgetown University Medical School and author of Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & “Martyrs”  In the last decade she interviewed over four hundred terrorists, suicide bombers, terrorist supporters, family members, close associates and hostages.  She also conducted psychological autopsies with a Chechen colleague on over half of the 112 Chechen suicide bombers investigating what put them on the terrorist trajectory and what motivated them to explode themselves.

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