Tag Archives: murder

Mothers as Terrorists: When Mothers Kill and Die to Attain So-Called “Martyrdom” Status

Tashfeen MalikTwenty-seven-year old Tashfeen Malik, the wife of Syed Farook, and the female half of the California mass murder spree, is reported to have pledged her bay’ah–or oath of loyalty–to ISIS just before donning black military-style attire, taking up arms, an IED, and heading off with her husband, Syed Farook to kill fourteen people and wound seventeen others in cold blood. What would drive a woman to violate the most basic of maternal instincts–that is to protect her own child above all else, and to protect her relationship to her child, and in doing so to become a killer and die herself?

The answer lies in the sick ideologies circulating today and embraced by terrorism groups, including ISIS, who endorse a “martyrdom” ideology. Other examples of mothers who left their children to kill themselves (while murdering others), include Palestinian Reem Riyashi–mother of two children: three-year-old son Obedia and eighteen-month-old daughter Duha. Riyashi was preceded by Chechen female bombers–also mothers, who went on so-called “martyrdom” missions also leaving their children behind.

In January of 2004, during the Second Intifada, Riyash approached the Erez checkpoint leading out of Gaza while wearing a suicide bomb. According to the IDF, she thwarted security procedures there by pretending to be crippled–claiming to have plates in her legs that would set off the metal detectors, she requested a body search instead.

As with most women, she was not suspected of being a cold-blooded killer. But when taken to the private area for her check, Riyashi defied most expectations of women and mothers. She detonated her two-kilogram bomb–killing four Israelis (two soldiers, a policeman and a civilian security worker) and wounded an additional seven Israelis and four Palestinians. Riyashi and her Hamas senders took full advantage of the trust most of us put in the female gender, as well as in this instance, of Israeli decency to a purported handicapped individual–to kill as many as possible.

Riyashi’s suicide attack shocked the world, particularly as she had posed with her small children in photos taken before her attack. The appalling photos of a mother brandishing an automatic rifle with a rocket-propelled grenade in the foreground standing alongside her young children defied all understandings of normal motherhood. In one of the photos her son is clutching what looks like a mortar shell. At the time, Hamas replying to criticism for their hard-hearted and cynical use of a mother to kill and die, protested that the pictures revealed the depth of despair among Palestinian women and their strong desire to defeat the Israeli occupation.

Riyashi was the eighth Palestinian female suicide bomber. Following the attack of Darine Abu Aisha (the second Palestinian female suicide bomber), Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, withdrew his objection to using women in such actions and switched instead to lavish praise of their involvement. He applauded Riyashi’s attack, urged other women to volunteer, and warned the Israelis to expect even more female bombers.

In many ways the Chechens and Palestinian female suicide bombers, and their supporters around the world endorsements of female involvement in terrorism, opened the doors for other female terrorists acting in behalf of conservative Islamic-related terrorists groups to join in. Following them, Al Qaeda sent white European Belgian Muriel Degaque–a wife, but not a mother–to bomb herself in Iraq, and al-Qaeda in Iraq also sent a rash of female bombers from inside Iraq to detonate themselves at various targets inside Iraq. 

ISIS, thus far, has not sent females out to “martyr” themselves but has made signs of considering it. And it is now looking as if Tashfeen Malik may have been their first ISIS inspired volunteer for that dubious “honor”.

Horrifically, three years after Riyashi bombed herself, Al-Aqsa TV, the official station of the Palestinian unity government (led by Hamas), began airing a fictionalized dramatization of Reem’s four-year-old daughter following in her mother’s footsteps. In it Duha Riyashi (played by a child actress) sings as her mother readies herself for a suicide bombing while asking in the sick lyrics of her song, “Mommy, what are you carrying in your arms instead of me?” Mourning her mother’s death in the video, the young girl finds a leftover stick of dynamite near her mother’s bedside table and picks it up as she vows to carry on, “My love will not be words. I will follow Mummy in her steps.”

Clearly to these kinds of groups, fixated on winning at all costs, and engaging in terrorism to do it–mothers and children, and the bonds between them–mean nothing, compared to carrying out acts in behalf of the “cause”.

It should also be noted, that Chechen suicide bombers–male and female–were encouraged by their ideologues to marry and have children before going on suicide missions. The logic was that they should fulfill all their “life duties,” including having children before engaging on their fantasized and final trip to Paradise.

Chechens who are fighting in Syria (who according to our ISIS defector informants in our ISIS Defectors Interviews Project) head the battles as the elite ISIS forces–the Navy SEALs, if you will–of ISIS. They follow the slogan of “Victory or Paradise,” meaning that death holds no sting and “martyrdom” is victory for them.

Indeed, if Tashfeen Malik and her husband Syed Farook were inspired by the plethora of sick, ISIS ideology that is presently on the Internet, or radicalized from more personal contact–their mindset would be the same. Death holds no sting and killing innocents is glorified.

We see evidence that the couple were preparing for what appears to be a series of attacks and were likely planning to carry them out much like the Tsarnaev’s did–starting with one target and carrying on to a bloody fight at the end–ending in death for at least the elder “true believer.”

However, it seems a workplace spat somehow triggered Syed Farook to decide to jump the gun and prematurely set into motion their series of attacks. That Syed went to work alone, got into an altercation, and then returned in battle gear with his wife to carry out his massacre–but that the couple “forgot” to bring their other bombs along to carry on as the Tsarnaev’s did from one bomb site to the next ultimately ending in the elder Tsarnaev’s death OR that they thought they could return for the other bombs seems to indicate they went off half cocked–perhaps out of nerves and anger.

Nevertheless, the couple was clearly not willing to surrender. When faced with overwhelming force–just like the Madrid train bombers, the Paris attackers and now them–they fought to the death and would likely have exploded themselves and others around them had they had their other devices along with them.

What this couple’s story underlines is that despite our wish to see females as the gentler gender, females can be lethal terrorists, that terrorist groups and now even ISIS are more than willing to make use of them, and that mothers are not an exception. Sadly, we must face that for those that have drunk the poison Kool-Aid of the “martyrdom” ideology put out by such groups as al Qaeda and ISIS–that killing and dying for the “cause” overrides every other normal instinct–including that of self-preservation and maternal love.

That is the enemy we face today. We must do everything we can to discredit and destroy this ideology and the groups that espouse it.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. Her newly released book is Bride of ISIS. She has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. Website: www.AnneSpeckhard.com

Psychological Splitting and Hating the Freedom Afforded by the West—Thoughts on the Boston Bombers Possible Involvement in Murder and Terrorism

While news is still breaking over the Tsaraev brothers and their apparent vile hatred for the West, everyone is asking how did the Chechen conflict infect these young men so deeply that they struck out here against Americans who have nothing to do with the heavy handed Russian crushing of their independence movement?  The answers are still emerging, but the facts look like a profile we’ve seen before –including possibly that of the 9-11 bombers—of those Muslims who have come to the west from extremely conservative cultures, seeking its freedoms and later coming to hate the very things they at first embraced and profited from.

While we still don’t know the details of the Tsaraev brothers alleged radicalization and Tamerlan’s possible involvement in the ritualized murder of a young man he formerly introduced as a friend, it fits a pattern I’ve seen before. When a first or second generation Muslims from an extremely conservative society confronts the freedoms to drink, chase women and engage in activities that are forbidden to him in his home culture he may find that he has poorly built internal constraints to keep him within his moral comfort zone.  This is because in the society he came from these constraints are provided to him externally by a system of very strict rules requiring women to be covered, interactions across the gender divide to be strictly regulated and drugs and alcohol to be outlawed.  In the freedoms of the west—particularly if he came, like Tamerlan apparently did, from a war torn area rife with trauma, and if he has PTSD—he may turn to drugs and alcohol to self medicate his traumas or simply for the enjoyment of temporarily living a free and fast lifestyle.  But later the “fall” into the “evils” of the West may cause a deep crisis of guilt, grief and need to come to terms with what he regards as inner corruption.

Then if he engages in the psychological mechanism of splitting or disavowing the “bad” self, the “sinner” may project his anger outside of himself blaming and wanting to destroy others for his inner corruption. If this is what occurred with Tamerlan—which we have no way of knowing yet, although there is evidence that he had turned away from drinking and that his brother regularly smoked up—he would have failed to look inside himself for whatever caused him to turn to drugs and alcohol.  And he would have blamed western society for corrupting him—and in his disavowal of his “bad” self—wished to punish or destroy the community that he saw as responsible for his corruption.

This unfortunately is often the mechanism that militant jihadi ideologues take advantage of when preying upon lost young Muslims trying to make their way in western cultures they don’t understand. And we know Tamerlan felt alienated in our culture stating that he didn’t have friends and didn’t understand Americans.  We also know from an interview in Russian with his Kyrgyz teacher that he came out of Chechnya traumatized and sensitive to loud noises like firecrackers—that he appeared to have war trauma.  Indeed as a young child he may have had PTSD.

Now with the news of the friend he had being ritually murdered—having his throat slashed apparently on 9-11 with cash left in the murder site and drugs sprinkled all across his body it certainly looks like this splitting mechanism could be one of the motives if Tamerlan turns out to indeed be responsible for the murders. 

There are still so many questions to be answered but it’s clear that militant jihadi terrorist groups with their virulent ideology proclaiming that Muslims are under attack by Western powers and calling for and even providing instructions for Muslims in the west to rise up and attack, may find a resonant response in young men coming with traumas from war torn areas.  From the jihadi videos and uploads on Tamerlan’s Internet site we know that he felt sympathy for the Syrian rebel uprising and innocent civilians killed by Assad, and that he had been pulled into glorifying the militant jihadi movement.  

What we still don’t know is how the brothers if they are the perpetrators had their psychological vulnerabilities activated into taking part in terrorism and potentially murder as well—but the psychological splitting mechanism alongside a terrorist group and ideology urging such action is one potential explanation.

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.

Christopher Dorner & The Murder/Martyrdom Mentality of Terrorists

As hundreds of investigators are trying to catch former LAPD police officer Christopher Dorner in one of the hugest man hunts in South California, the country is puzzling over his manifesto and recently declared war on the Los Angeles police.  His actions remind me of the psychological framework of terrorists who adapt a murder/martyrdom mindset to address either a real or perceived grievance.

Christopher Dorner may not be a true terrorist, and if he is one—he is a lone wolf—as he is not working with any terror group and he has not signed on to any terrorist ideology.  However, he has in common with terrorists that he is a non-state actor and attacking civilians (including law enforcement officers and their family members) to create terror in the community—in this case using extreme violence, attacks on civilians and a public manifesto and using the predictable media spotlight—to try to shape public opinion and to force the LAPD to address his claimed grievances regarding what he sees as racism.  And his stance of willing to murder others knowing it will likely end in his suicide, probably in “death by cop” are all hallmarks of terrorists that follow a murder/martyrdom mentality in behalf of their cause.

Christopher Dorner’s manifesto while narsiccisitic and grandiose is largely rational versus the rantings of the insane—and reflects the thoughts of a person who perhaps due to his own lifetime of painful experiences sensitized him, maybe over-sensitized him, to the issue of racism.  Like many terrorists who go down the terrorist trajectory, Christopher Dorner appears to have an individual vulnerability—as his self reports and those of others who interacted with him on the issue of racism evidence.  He appears to have a great deal of anger, even violent responses, to encountering what he claims was racism inside the LAPD.  The LAPD deny his charges although we do know that what happened to Rodney King is not an imagined event and that “whistle blowers” often do get silenced and pay a price without justice being done.  In this case, Christopher Dorner’s perceptions of events and his grievance over them—whether real or not—when not addressed by the LAPD in a manner that worked for him—was the trigger that moved him into the martyrdom/murder mentality in which he is now willing to kill and die for his cause. 

In my research over the past decade, I interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their close associates, supporters and hostages from around the world and I found over and over again that those who were willing to kill and die for their cause had gotten into this same type of mindset that allowed them to glorify murder/suicide.  According to their perceptions, and often of the group they became involved with (via the terrorist’s ideology) they came to believe that by using violence against civilians that they were bringing justice, being heroic, standing up for a cause, becoming a religious “martyr” and bending the political process to their will by their own self sacrificing death and murder.  Of course murder/suicide is never heroic but if one becomes convinced that it is, then those beliefs may begin to move that person into a grandiose state that is truly intoxicating.

Furthermore, psychologists know that the most likely predictor of suicide is that the person is experiencing overwhelming psychological pain—sometimes referred to as psychache—that drives him to chose suicide as an escape .  And we know that when deadly serious in their suicidal intentions, individuals often go “dissociative” before they kill themselves—that is normal cognitive functions drop out, they become detached from their normal way of thinking and feeling and the horror of what they are about to do—take their own lives and perhaps the lives of others as well. And in this dissociative state they also often spontaneously enter into a state of euphoria. 

That is why family members of suiciders often recall that the depressed loved one suddenly became “happy” or seemed “at peace” just before he took his own life. Indeed the psychological reprieve of making a definite plan that will afford an escape from overwhelming psychic pain coupled with what probably is a deeply ingrained psychological defense to overcoming the self preservation instinct likely delivers an opiod response in the brain that for many is experienced as pure euphoria.  

Similarly suicide bombers often claim that when contemplating their own death and the murder of others delivers a sense of euphoria. As they step totally away from the pain, they step into a dissociative bliss that accompanies taking one’s own life.  It seems that this euphoric state empowers a suicide/murderer to go forward to die while killing others, and if the cause is religious, to also believe that he or she is “on the path of God” and doing the right thing.

Of course media involvement is crucial to those who take on the murder/suicide or “martyrdom” ideology in their attempt to bend the political will of those they terrorize by using violence to call full media attention to their cause.  And receiving attention can also contribute to a sense of grandiosity.  This is problematic for the media who have the duty to report the news but also must struggle not to become mouthpieces for terrorists.

The answer to this murder/martyrdom mindset is complex, but one issue that should be addressed  in terms of prevention is to investigate, and when possible, correct real grievances of those who become so in pain and so enraged that they are willing to murder and die for their cause.  It becomes for them a sick passion whereby they come to believe that by using violence they can bend others to address issues as they see fit.  And once on their killing path, they are—as we are seeing in the case of Christopher Dorner—extremely lethal and difficult to stop.