Monday 14 August 2017

Terrorism and Victoria Police


Terrorism and Victoria Police


Box, M. (2015). Terrorism and Victoria Police. Retrieved from


The purpose of this paper is to explore how the crime of terrorism has affected Victoria Police. Despite popular belief, Australia is not immune from acts of terrorism with the first recorded incident being the attempted assassination of the Duke of Edinburgh by an Irish nationalist in 1868 (Baker, 2006, p 63).  However the 1978 bombing of the Sydney Hilton during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is seen by many and the birth of terrorism in modern Australia. This would see the establishment of the current national security structure with the establishment of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and a legislative basis for the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) (Hocking, 1986, p 21). Moreover, the Australian Government has recognised that the national security environment radically changed from 1999 with the culmination of the East Timor deployments, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 (9/11) and subsequent wars (PM&C, 2013, p 9). The paper will begin with a short exploration of the motivations of terrorism and an outline of Victoria Police. The two poles of hard and soft responses to terrorism will be outlined with reference to Homeland Security Policing (HSP) and Community Oriented Policing (COP) respectively. The paper with then shift to the context of counter-terrorism arrangements in Victoria and the challenges faced by Victoria Police.

            It is important first to look at what terrorism is, however, according to Palmer and Whelan (2006, p 451) attempting to find a definition can be problematic and it is more appropriate to look at the motives of terrorists. Terrorists according to Cary (2009, p 13) are “. . . determent to impose their will upon others. Unlike nation states . . . terrorists resort to violence as the first and final solution.” There is significant academic literature that describes the motivations of terrorism. In a survey of academic writings, Alex Schmid and Albert Jongman found the following key elements:

  1. use of violence;
  2. symbolic choices of victim;
  3. performance by an organisation;
  4. advanced planning;
  5. operational seriality;
  6. an absence of moral restraint
  7. political motivation; and
  8. the use of fear and anxiety. (Weimann, 2006, p 21)

Susan Pinto and Grant Wardlaw (1989, p 4) argued that terrorism has two broad goals: (i) to induce widespread fear in the population; and (ii) provoke the government to overreact and thereby undermine their legitimacy. Clive Williams (2004, p 7) defines terrorism as “. . . politically . . . motivated violence, directed generally against non-combatants, intended to shock and terrify, to achieve strategic outcomes.” Strategic outcomes are usually to polarise the population, undermine the government, or cause government forces to react violently (p 9). Whilst Louise Richardson (2006, p 105) summed up the motives as to achieve revenge, renown and reaction. John Gearson (2002, p 8) argues that the essence of terrorism is the utilisation of fear, illustrating this point with a quote from the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu: “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not the supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” The ability to cause fear is an important element of terrorism as fear and panic will undermine public resolve or cause an overreaction that undermines legitimacy. As Eliza Manningham-Butler (2003 p 3) the head of British intelligence agency MI5 argues, “[n]ormal life is what the terrorist seeks to destroy and creating fear is part of their agenda.”

            Victoria Police was formed in 1853 when the then colonial government of  Victoria transferred control of policing from local magistrates and the new central body (McCulloch, 1999, p 4). As a consequence, unlike their counterparts in the United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.), Victoria would have one strong policing agency with uncontested jurisdiction over the state (Palmer and Whelan, 2006, p 82). The exception to this being the Transit Patrol Department of Victorian Railways from 1878 to 1992  (Taylor, “Highlights of Transit Policing History”), the Special Constabulary Force established to maintain order during the 1923 Victoria Police strike (Brown and Haldane,1998, p 136), and AFP patrols of Melbourne Airport and diplomatic missions (NCTC, 2012, pp 12-13). Although Victoria Police was based upon the Metropolitan Police it adopted a two pillar approach: a Peelian model in the city and a colonial model in the country (McCulloch, 1999, p 4). This was significant as the colonial model is more militaristic and confronting to the population which led to a public backlash, unrest and a lack of legitimacy: the two most notable cases being the 1854 Eureka Stockade and Republic of North East Victoria associated with the Kelly Gang in the late 1870s (Mawby, 2003, pp 23-24 and Baker, 2006, pp 53-9). It was observed by Chief Commissioner Standish that:

The Gang were secure of the good will of a great proportion of the inhabitants of these regions … Indeed, the outlaws are considered heroes by a large proportion of the population of the North Eastern district who … look upon the police as their natural enemies. (McCulloch, 1999, p 7)


The result of a Royal Commission into the Kelly affair would see the Peelian policing style adopted in rural areas. These recommendations were echoed by Chief Commissioner Nixon over 100 years later: “… we should avoid the use of terms such as ‘the war on terror’ to characterise and frame our response to the terrorist threat and instead we should focus on winning the hearts and minds of alienated communities…”(Cornelius, 2008, p 30).

            In the wake of what Firth (2005, p 6) argues as the first attack on continental U.S. since 1912,  9/11 would see what Ortiz, Hedricks and Sugle (2007, p 92) describe as a “… reorganization in policing priorities and a shift to what has been termed homeland security policing.” HSP is described has having four goals by Jones and Supinski (2010, p 2): (i) preventing and disrupting terrorist attacks; (ii) protecting people, critical infrastructure and key resources; (iii) responding to and recovering from incidents; and (iv) strengthen the foundations of national security. The main focus of this approach is the pursuit of individuals engaged in terrorist activities (Innes and Thiel, 2012, p 564). Quickly following 9/11, a legislative framework was enacted in the U.S. by the federal government under the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act 2001 (U.S.)(Patriot Act).

The Patriot Act would see the introduction of a regime of covert surveillance along the lines of the colonial model of policing: a process which Jones and Supinski (2010, p 8)have described as clearly extraconstitutional. This is a trade-off of what Kenneth Hailey of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department describes as a “… shift from the ‘individual rights’ era to the ‘greater good’ era…”(Stephens, 2005, p 55). However, Haynes and Giblins (2014, p 46) argue that the focus of HSP may be a response to a fear of victimisation rather than a justifiable risk. If one reflects upon the motives of terrorism which involve causing fear and over reaction then the adoption of a HSP model may actually assist in achieving those aims. Chappell and Gibson (2009, p 329) support this proposition in that “… when police resort to the more traditional tactics involving covert operations and intelligence gathering, the terrorists’ mission to disrupt democratic principles has been accomplished.”

            On the other end of Innes and Thiel’s (2012, p 558) counter-terrorism continuum is COP. COP emerged in the U.S. during the 1970s and 80s in response to falling legitimacy of policing agencies (Pickering, McCulloch, and Wright-Neville, 2008, p 92). Punch, van der Vijver and Zoomer (2002, p 62) argue that this was a return to the principles of 1829 Robert Peel. COP evolved as a broad and highly flexible concept Pickering, McCulloh and Wright-Neville (2008, p 92, 97)argue, that utilised soft power initiatives; furthermore, traditionally COP and counter-terrorism have been polls apart. Nevertheless, it is the openness and encouragement to share information with police Roberts, Roberts and Liedka (2012, p 726) outline which makes COP an appealing approach to counter-terrorism. This potential of COP was identified as an important element to counter–terrorism by Robert Friedmann a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP): “If someone in the community has information, you want them to provide that intelligence to you, but in order to do that you have to have developed good relationships in the community…” (Page, 2011, p 22).

This can be seen in the U.K. response following falling legitimacy when they undertook a HSP approach following 7/7: COP was embraced with the establishment of Muslim Contact Unit (MCU) within the traditionally ‘hard policing’ approach of Special Branch (Innes and Thiel, 2012, p 561). The MCU undertook overt ‘soft policing’ strategies to cultivate contacts with those who held radical-Islamic views but were not advocating violence: the usefulness of these contacts became clear in the deradicalisation of individuals who were at risk of gravitating towards extremist violence (O’Keefe, 2002, p 561). This was evident when the then U.K. Home Secretary David Blunkett (2004, p 1) announced an increase in police and Community Support Officers. Most striking in the U.S. was the response of the Dearborn Police Department in the wake of 9/11: they conducted community outreach rather than cooperate with Department of Justice (DoJ) initiatives to interview temporary visa holders from countries with a connection to al-Qaeda. This improved community cohesion and would see the department being recognised in a Human Rights Watch report as the only local agency in the U.S. to respond appropriately to the potential of hate crimes following 9/11 (Jones and Supinski, 2010, p 5 and Page, 2011, p 19).

            This paper will now move focus and examine these developments through the prism of Victoria Police; however, first it is important to understand the context in which Victoria Police operate. Australia is a federation in which the authority of the Commonwealth is expressed in the constitution and the remainder is vested in the states (Blackshield and Williams, 1998, p 218).  The Commonwealth has full legislative power over the territories which are a creature of its own legislation. Should there be an inconstancy between state and Commonwealth legislation then under s109 of the Constitution the latter would prevail (Omar, 1998, p 207). In Clyde Engineering Co Ltd v Cowburn (1926) 37 CLR 446 Issacs J. outlined what became known as the ‘cover the field test’ in which an inconsistency occurs when both state and Commonwealth legislation purport to cover the same field (Blackshield and Williams,1998, p 302).

            Australia has embraced globalisation and the linkages between countries that have been created (Firth, 2005, p 10).  The Australian Government has identified the opening to the world as part of globalisation brings both opportunities and risks (PM&C, 2013, p vi). One of those risks is terrorism in one part of the world can bring mayhem to another (Stephens, 2005, p 52). The first response of the Australian Government to 9/11 was to activate the Australia New Zealand United States defence alliance (ANZUS) – the first time the treaty had been activated – to consult and provide military assistance to the U.S. (Howard, 2013, p 452). A cooperative approach was taken with the states and territories in a leaders meeting held in April 2002 where the states agreed to vest power in the Commonwealth to enact laws regarding counter-terrorism (Duckworth, 2008, p 34). However, this was not entirely necessary as the Commonwealth could have implemented United Nations Security Council Resolution 1374 through the use of the controversial External Affairs Power to override the states. Pickering, McCulloch and Wright-Neville (2008, p 97) have characterised the response that followed as hallmarked by legislation. A regime of tough HSP style offences and powers were introduced in which ideology became part of the elements of a criminal offence and Australia went from having no specific counter-terrorism legislation (except in the Northern Territory) to a vast Commonwealth regime (McCulloch, 2008, p 23). This regime included not only direct offences of terrorism but also support of terrorism, withholding information, preventative detention and other powers mirroring that of the Patriot Act (McCulloch, 2003, p 284).

The Australian Government outlined its national security priorities as: “… protecting and strengthening our sovereignty; ensuring a safe and resilient population; securing our assets, infrastructure and institutions; and promoting a favourable international environment…”(AGD, 2013, p 5). Despite operating under a Commonwealth regime, responsibilities are shared between the Commonwealth and states and territories. As outlined in the National Counter-Terrorism Plan (NCTP) the Commonwealth is responsible for strategic elements of policy, legislation, intelligence coordination, and the national alert system (NCTC, 2012, pp 6-7). The states and territories “… have primary responsibility for the operational  response to a terrorist incident in their jurisdiction[.]” The Commonwealth, however, will take control once it declares – in consultation with the effected jurisdiction – a national terrorist situation. The only precedence of the operational of these arrangements is the 2014 Martin Place siege where New South Wales authorities maintained control with support from the Commonwealth (Edwards, 2014).

Along with their counterparts around Australia, Victoria Police established a para-military unit in the 1970s known as the Special Operations Group (SOG) along with embracing the principles of COP (Saunders, 1982, p 105 and McCulloch,  2008, p 26). In their survey of Victoria Police members, Pickering, McCulloch and Wright-Neville  (2008, p 100)outlined a perception that  “A significant majority of police considered that the changed security environment has had a profound impact on the daily work of Victoria Police members. …primarily in relation to limited resources and their understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat.” Chief Commissioner Nixon (2008, p 3) outlined the Victoria Police response to counter-terrorism must “… engage with the community, show respect, compassion, understanding of religious and cultural differences,  practice diplomacy, and utilise … legislation[.]”The organisation has adopted a counter-terrorism approach which is very much anchored to COP and sees opportunities in building relationships with the community and that those relationships are as important to counter-terrorism as increased legislation or advanced hardware (Duckworth, 2008, p 33). Promoting national security is very much in their eyes linked to neighbourhood security whilst pursuing the long term goal of reducing support for the terrorist cause (Crelinsten, 2008, p 25 and Pickering, McCulloch, and Wright-Neville, 2008, p 97). Victoria Police has split its resources between community engagement, protection of critical infrastructure and participating in the AFP-led Joint Counter-Terrorism Team in Melbourne. The approach by Victoria Police mirrors the all-hazard approach taken by the Victorian government where terrorism is treated as a subset of emergency management with the only differencing being that Victoria Police remains the primary response agency (EMV, 2014, p 1-6). Furthermore, the government and Victoria Police have partnered with Monash University to promote terrorism research (Duckworth, 2008, p38).

            It should become obvious that there would be some tension between the approach taken by Victoria Police and that of Commonwealth agencies. ASIO and AFP take a different approach to their functions in line with the HSP model (Pickering, McCulloch, and Wright-Neville, 2008, p 101). Jude McCulloch (2008, p 23) of Monash University identified the approach of these organisations may have an impact on community cohesion and community policing. This has been echoed by members of specialist units of Victoria Police who see the counter-productivity of such an approach to counter-terrorism (Pickering, McCulloch, and Wright-Neville, 2008, p 101). More-or-less the AFP and ASIO when conducting counter-terrorism activities in Victoria are operating on the ‘turf’ of Victoria Police who have much to lose in terms of community intergradation and support built up over may years of COP. Community leaders have expressed these fears that they are “… compelled to deal with unfamiliar agencies [ASIO and AFP] who have little respect for their culture and feeling and who seem to go about their business assuming that ‘all Muslims are guilty’...” (Pickering, McCulloch, and Wright-Neville, 2008, p 105). This risk has been identified by Victoria Police executive (Wright-Neville, 2008, p 6).

            Outside agencies are not the only challenge faced by Victoria Police in the counter-terrorism domain:  significant is information sharing. As identified by the Final Report on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (NCTAUS, 2004, p 416) information sharing is an essential element of counter-terrorism: “The biggest impediment to all-source  analysis—to a greater likelihood of connecting the dots – is human or system resistance to sharing information.” Nothing could be further from the truth when examining Victoria Police information technology system. As outlined in then Chief Commissioner Ken Lay’s blue paper “Victoria Police’s information technology capability does not adequately support the imperative to share information with other government agencies...” (Victoria Police, 2014, p 21). The Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) records management system does not give operational members access to intelligence and sharing with other agencies is achieved by a manual work-a-round.(p 15)

            Another concerning issue is the lack of understanding or faith in the legislative framework which counter-terrorism investigators operate. As previously outlined by virtue of s109 of the Constitution a Commonwealth offence overrides a state offence on the same subject matter. However, Victoria Police members have expressed unease with regards to the Commonwealth regime stating that they prefer the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) powers and offences which they are more accustomed. One respondent to Pickering, McCulloch and Wright-Neville’s (2008, p 98)survey stated:

… if there was a bombing at the American consulate, and two people were killed in the street and we had some offenders, we’d be charging them with murder. Cause we know that we are comfortable with the processes, technically, technically the correct offence is, assuming that we’re able to establish that it’s politically motivated, would be terrorism under 101 which would mean, it’s not that we can’t lay the charges, because we are Commonwealth police officers, for the purposes of the act. We could do it, but we wouldn’t be comfortable with the time limits, with the different things you’ve got to do, you collect evidence under a different set of rules.


The consequence could mean that the charge is deemed invalid due to the existence of a more specific Commonwealth offence and the alleged terrorist could go free as a subsequent prosecution under the Commonwealth offence would be blocked by the principle of double-jeopardy (Bronitt and Mc Sherry, 2005, p 81).

            One of the important elements of the counter-terrorism regime established in Victoria has been that although Victoria Police has been at the forefront it has not been the sole participant: a network of interdependent relationships has been developed. Palmer and Whelan (2006, p 457)define network policing as  “… a set of institutional, organizational, communal or individual agents or nodes … that are interconnected in order to authorize and/or provide security to the benefit of internal or external stakeholder.” This has been echoed by the Commonwealth which sees its “…ability to prevent, and disrupt terrorist attacks within Australia relies on continued and cooperative relationships between intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies and with international partners, businesses and communities…”(AGD, 2013, p 22). At the national level Victoria Police networks with its counterparts in other jurisdictions and Commonwealth agencies through the National Counter Terrorism Committee (NCTC, 2012, p 7).

            These networks are not entirely new and some have been in existence for many years as part of Victoria Police commitment to COP. However, in the wake of 9/11 such networks have been transformed. For instance, building upon already established community networks Victoria Police regularly engages on counter-terrorism with the Multi-faith Forum and peak ethnic and cultural representatives (Cornelius, 2008, p 32). As outlined in the NCTP Victoria Police assists organisers of major events to ensure security. For instance, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle (personal communications, 13 January 2015) commented:  “We work closely with our emergency services to plan, coordinate and monitor safety in our city, particularly when we host major events, such as New Year’s Eve, which attracted more than 450,000 people to the CBD.” Furthermore, as part of their role in the protection of critical-infrastructure, Victoria Police created the Counter-Terrorism Coordination Unit (CTCU). The CTCU acts not only as regulator but as facilitator working with the private owners (Palmer and Whelan, 2006, p459). Furthermore, Palmer and Whelan (2006, p459) see potential in utilising the Police-Private Security Partnerships (POLSEC) for counter-terrorism. Although POLSEC is primary focused on exchanging information on low level crimes of interest to the private security companies – such as shoplifting and anti-social behaviour – the Victorian Security Institute has drawn parallels with similar schemes in the U.K..

            This paper has shown how Victoria Police has built upon COP as the main philosophy of its counter-terrorism strategy. Victoria Police has developed linkages with the community so as to take them along the counter-terrorism path and avoid the mistakes of the past. This is in contrast to the HSP approach taken by Commonwealth authorities. The building of networks – with other agencies, business and community – has been a major part of this strategy. Most importantly, Victoria Police has not fallen into the trap of achieving short term goals at the expense of its legitimacy and thereby allowing the terrorists to achieve their strategic goal of undermining the legitimacy of current governmental institutions.



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Suicide Terrorism: a force multiplier that works?


Suicide Terrorism: a force multiplier that works?

Box, M. (2013). Suicide Terrorism: a force multiplier that works? Retrieved from


The purpose of this paper is to examine the phenomena of suicide terrorism. Diego Gambetta has suggested three categories where suicide is used as a weapon: (i) in warfare, (ii) for a principle without killing others, and (iii) terrorism. (White, 2009, p 110) This paper will focus solely on the latter category. In the media terrorists - in particular suicide terrorists - are portrayed as being either mentally ill or 'brain washed.' (Pape, 2005, p 218) Many academics in the 1980-90s held similar views.  However, an examination of cases from diverse locations as Sri Lanka, the Middle East, London and Bali would suggest that those who carry out such actions are not in the normal sense mentally ill and that there is not a single demographic. (Pape, 2005, p 218) It is the contention of this paper that the extent of suicide terrorism is due to its success. In exploring that contention, the paper has been broken into five parts. The first begins with an exploration of terrorist motives, followed by identifying criminological and political theories which could explain terrorist actions in a wider context. These theories will then be applied specifically to terrorism and how the taboo of suicide is overcome. The paper will conclude with an examination as to why organisations use suicide as a tactic.

Terrorist motives.

It is not a simple task to determine the motivations for using terrorism. From an intelligence perspective activities can be broken down into the strategic, operational and tactical level. (Ratcliffe, 2009, p 99) The overall objectives of the organisation are relevant from a strategic perspective: for the Tamil Tigers this would be a homeland for the Tamil people. (Bloom, 2005, p159) A tactical level relates to the individual missions undertaken: for instance an individual bombing. Operational relates to how strategic goals are to be achieved and sets the parameters for tactical decision making. It is at this level which will provide a useful understanding of terrorist motives.

In their paper on political violence for the Australian Institute of Criminology, Susan Pinto and Grant Wardlaw (1989) argued that since the ". . . notion of the global village is now commonplace. One consequence of this expansion of our traditional horizons is that images of violence from around the world tend to influence our perceptions of the nature and extent of violence in our community." (pi) They argue that terrorism has two broad goals: (i) to induce widespread fear in the population; and (ii) provoke the government to over react and thereby undermine their own legitimacy.(p4) There have been many variants on this theme: for instance Clive Williams (2004, p 7) defines terrorism as “. . . politically . . . motivated violence, directed generally against non-combatants, intended to shock and terrify, to achieve strategic outcomes.” Strategic outcomes are usually to polarise the population, undermine the government, or cause government forces to react violently (p 9). Whilst Louise Richardson (2006, p 105) argues that the motives can be summed up as to achieve revenge, renown and reaction.

Suicide terrorism is very effective in achieve these goals: increasing fear it is most effective. The 9/11 attacks led to many people believing that ". . . a cause that could no longer justifiably be denied." (Dershowits, 2002, p31) Causing governments to over react is also achieved through the use of suicide tactics. For instance the strategy of extra-ordinary rendition – capturing and moving suspected terrorists to third countries for interrogation and detention – implemented after 9/11 was partly responsible for undermining the legitimacy of the United States following the overwhelming support they received following those attacts. (Thompson and Paglen, 2006, p 183) Robert Pape has identified three elements which he suggests need to exist for the use of suicide terrorism: (i) nationalistic or ethnic group resisting the occupation of foreign or colonial forces, (ii) the occupying force has a democratic government whose voters will not routinely allow indiscriminate slaughter etc., and (iii) the protagonists are of different religions. (White, 2009, p 111) However, White argues Pape’s elements do not take account of the use of suicide by Chechens in Russia or the Taliban in Pakistan. Nevertheless, Pape and Feldman (2010, p 39) suggest that Pakistan military “. . . were simply an extension of American domination in the region.” 

From a classical crime prevention perspective you can prevent people from committing an act by making the consequences outweigh the benefits. This is normally achieved through the use of deterrence such as (in increasing severity) asset confiscation, fines, imprisonment, torture or capital punishment. (Marmo, DeLint and Palmer, 2012, p 401) However, such deterrents are not possible with suicide terrorism for the simple reason that in committing the act the perpetrator kills themselves. Alan Dershowitz (2002, p 29) argues that some governments have attempted to overcome this through either punishing the proprietor's family or collective punishments (e.g. the Israelis bulldoze the homes of suicide bombers and put in place blockades of entire towns). Although such tactics have for centuries been used by autocratic regimes they appear repugnant to a western liberal-democracy and the use of such tactics leads to a popular backlash: parallels with Pape’s second element. Through the use of the media such reactions are amplified to the wider - and even global – society. (Speckhard, 2008 p 1001)

Political and Criminological theory

This section will take a broader approach and look at some political and criminological theories to explain the motivates of people to commit suicide terrorist acts. Pape and Feldman (2010, p 43) argue nationalism is the ‘central explanation’ for the use of suicide terrorism to resist foreign occupation. The theories explored here relate to what may draw a person to a particular group or cause and what might lead them to perform such acts.

There are significant theoretical political writings regarding nationalist movements. Benedict Anderson (1983) argues that people form themselves into imagined communities based upon shared cultural background, religion and history. Paul Bass (1976) does not focus on ethnic identity; rather, his theory focused upon competing political aspirants who attempt to mobilise a base for themselves. His focus is on the leaders of movements who attract a supporter base by exploiting ethnic differences: known as ethnic mobilises. The exploitation of these differences and perceived grievances are used to motivate peoples to do acts which they would otherwise not have considered themselves capable. The radicalisation of Serbs in Bosnia is an example. In early 1992 groups in Serbia proper developed a campaign of stories and terrorism to turn the mainly peasant Serbian population in Bosnia against their Muslim and Croat neighbours: people they had peacefully lived with for generations. (Silber and Little, 1996, p 205) The speed and coordination of this uprising demonstrates that this was not a spontaneous event; rather, it was an organised campaign by ethnic mobilisers in Belgrade.

Developmental crime prevention relates to reducing the risk factors for a person committing criminal acts: social, economic, familial, educational, biological and environmental characteristics. If a person is subjected to stresses or strains in their developmental years their connectiveness and adherence to social norms will be detrimentally affected. (White & Haines, 2000) Labeling theory sees crime as a construct of those with the power to label a particular action as being criminal. This labeling has a psychological effect on those whose actions are labeled as criminal or deviant in that they are affected by the stigma of the label that directs their future. According to the Broken Windows theory (Wilson and Kelling, 1982) once social norms in an area have broken down the area then becomes vulnerable to criminalisation. This break down in social norms is caused by a rational choice that there is no ownership or guardian of property and hence the disadvantages of damaging it - of breaking a window - are minimal. (Bottoms and Wiles, 2002. p 629).

Application of theories to Suicide Terrorism

All that might seem interesting, however, the rhetorical question which might be asked: how does that relate to suicide terrorism? It is argued that the reasons for terrorism are no different to those which cause people to perform other abhorrent acts in the name of national or religious causes. For centuries people have committed acts which amount to suicide - whether that be charging at machine guns with bayonets, hunger strikes in prison or assassinating a head of state on a military parade ground - which it is argued have psychological parallels with using one's self as a human bomb (Kruglanski & Fishman, 2006, p 198). Such actions relate to Gambetta’s first and second categories for the use of suicide as a weapon. The psychological bond to the group mobilised by the charismatic leader, as explained by Bass, which can lead people to commit such acts.

For instance, in his examination of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Kumar Ramakrishna (2004) argues that Islamist are united by the desire to build an Islamic oriented society. JI is an al Qaeda affiliated organisation which uses suicide actions as one of its primary instruments. For Ramakrishna people are drawn to JI as it provides them with a sense of belonging, distinctiveness, and respect. What is important to note from Ramakrishna's discussion is the political factors which drive people to JI, are virtually the same as that for Bass. This is an identity within a society where many do not have an established identity and are drawn to an imagined community in Anderson's words. This is also the case with al-Shabaab in Somalia that also took advantage of many Somalis “. . . lack of understanding of the world.” (Fergusson, 2013, p 72)

Examples have been given of criminological theories which relate to events which can lead a person vulnerable to committing criminal acts. It is not argued here that terrorism is just another crime - as it is far more multi-dimensional than such a categorisation can provide - however, these theories do provide an excellent insight into what may lead people to commit suicide terrorist acts. In their exploration into why people who would otherwise be regarded as 'good people' commit such acts, Sam Mullin and Adam Dolnik (2009) argue that some event will have occurred in a person's past to see them engaging in suicide terrorism. These events may include mental disorders, but are generally associated with perceived isolation from the wider community and a sense of loss or not belonging. For instance, Pedahzur (2005, p 35) argues that Palestinian childhood experiences leads them to be vulnerable to charismatic leaders. The person gets a sense of belonging from the cycle of preparation for the suicide mission that overcomes their traumas. This is the strain and labeling process from the criminological theories.

In her exploration of female suicide terrorists, Anne Speckhard (2008) argues women are attracted to suicide terrorism as an interplay between emotions, political concerns, ideologies and trauma. Woman, Speckhard argues, have little options for fighting back against perceived or actual injustices in their society against the 'oppressive state' either for personal harms (e.g. rape) or collective oppression/injustices. Particularly in many traditional societies, as a woman who has been raped has little prospects of marriage and as such is an effort to redeem a perceived corrupted self. (Speckhard, 2008, p1003) The most import factors which need to be present for someone to become a suicide terrorist according to Speckhard are: (i) sense of marginalisation; (ii) need for positive identity; (iii) strong identification with the sorrows of others and need to assist them; and (iv) a sense of corrupted self. It is interesting to note that these factors correspond both with the ethnic mobilisation and criminology theories previously discussed.

Omar Nasiri (2006) provides one of the only first hand accounts of life as an al Qaeda operative and life in the training camps in Afghanistan. The use of al Qaeda in this exploration is useful due to the organisations' expansive network of affiliates and many terrorists outside of al Qaeda were trained there on the behalf of their organisation. Comparisons are made with the cautionary note that these camps were destroyed after the invasion of Afghanistan by the United States coalition forces following 9/11. However, many have since been reestablished in new locations such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and possibly Yemen and Somalia. (Fergusson, 2013, p 104 and Begen, 2012, p 67, 252 and 257)

In his account Nasiri portrays a multi-tiered training system that can be compared with Bass’ theoretical framework of ethnic mobilisation. At the camps along with training in firearms, explosives and tactics, equal - if not more - weight was given to training in the ideology of the organisation: fundamentalist Islam. As trainees proceed through the training the development of their 'spiritual' knowledge and understand of the ideology is assessed and becomes the basis for where they will be assigned. (Nasiri, 2006, p 137) The most prestigious assignments were given to the people who had the greatest spiritual knowledge. Martyrdom (suicide) was the most prestigious (p 234) and those assigned were honored with personal audiences with Bin Laden. (Pape, 2005, p 222) It was through this process the new recruits gained a sense of belonging and acceptance and in their perspective had 'found their way.' (Nasiri, 2006, p 236)

What is clear from Nasiri's account is in the camps al Qaeda was able to create a sense of community and belonging amongst those with widely diverse backgrounds. There was also a strong emphasis on what they wished to destroy: western society. (p 237) It was the inspiration of the leadership and ideology that led the recruits to fully identify with the group and being selected for martyrdom missions. This fits quite neatly within the ethnic mobilises of Bass and imagined communities of Anderson. It is not unique to the Afghan mountains: being selected to be involved in suicide operations were also very highly sought after with the Tamil Tigers and in Palestine. The Tamil Tigers is an interesting case in point as they are a secular movement without the religious connotations associated with Islamic fundamentalism. (Pedahzur, 2005, p 24)

Being accepted as part of the group is evident in every aspect of suicide operations. In almost every case, the person is handled right up to the point when they are on target to prevent them from 'opting out'. (Pape, 2005) For instance, in the Mumbai attacks of 2009, the terrorists undertaking the attack remained in contact with their controllers in Pakistan via satellite telephones. (Fergus, 2009, p 103)

This is all well; however, it does not account for the self radicalisated or lone wolf phenomena whereby an individual or group set down the path of suicide terrorism. There are many cases of this within Israel, the London, Madrid and now Boston bombings being the most famous. Here groups or individuals actively set themselves up and undertake suicide terrorist attacks with no or marginal connection to a wider organisation structure. However, although acting in isolation in the traditional sense, they are connected to the ideology of the wider group through the effects of globalisation particularly the internet. (Richardson, 2006, p 168)  Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon (2005, p 73) argue that this has created a 'cult of martyrdom' whereby the rhetoric available through the forces of globalisation - print, internet, satellite etc - are accessible anywhere in the world. Note that lone wolves may have also received training in al Qaeda camps; however, proceed to operate on their own such as with the London Bombers. (Bergen, 2012, p 68)

It is argued that these cases are demonstrative of how the criminological theories outlined at the beginning of this paper are applicable to account for why people become suicide terrorists. That is that there has been some external factor – a strain - acting upon them to make them vulnerable. In this case that vulnerability appears to be a lack of spiritual fulfillment. Many Palestinians go straight from mosques for their missions after spending days chanting scriptures. (Kushner, 2011, p 565) Fulfillment is found through the process leading to martyrdom and recognition: hence identification process as outlined by Bass.

Overcomming the tabo of suicide.

Throughout all major religions the deliberate killing of oneself, suicide, is almost uniformly a taboo. (Reuter, 2004, p 118) For instance, in Islamic teaching the hadith (the record of traditions of what the prophet said) “ . . . clearly and unequivocally speaks against suicide . . .” reflected in the Quaran phrase “. . . nor kill or destroy yourselves: for verily God hath been to you most merciful.”  (Doogue and Kirkwood, 2005, p 91) This is a major sin in which under Islam Law the person will receive “ . . . eternal damnation in the form of the endless repetition of the act by which the suicide killed himself.” (Lewis, 2003, p 130) However, to die in the “. . . genuine service to God is martyrdom, guaranteeing a place in heaven.” (Albright, 2006, p 112)

The quandary here is what is the difference between killing oneself and dying for a religion? It has been argued that the Assassins sect which operated in Iran and Syria during the period of eleventh to thirteenth centuries are an example of a long tradition of suicide as part Jihad in Islamic tradition. However, this is not as neat an analogy as it may seem. The Assassins targeted highly placed political, military or religious leaders for assassination through the use of a dagger. They did not expect to survive - waiting at the scene for their inevitable capture by authorities - although not committing suicide. (Lewis, 2003, p 123-4) Their actions are more akin to the perpetrators of the ‘hacking’ death of Lee Rigby outside of the military base Woolwich, east London, to that of the London bombers.

Psychologist Ariel Merari argues that psychologically it is totally different to undertake an operation with a very small chance of survival to one which requires one’s own mortality with no possibility of survival. (Richardson, 2006, p 136) This is a psychological separation between Gambetta’s categories for the use of suicide. Skilled theologians appear to twist and adjust the tenets of Islam so as to support suicide. For instance, al-Shabbab’s suicide mentors show Bollywood DVDs stating that they had been filmed in Paradise by those who had already blown themselves up. (Fergusson, 2013, p 116) However, there is in no way a consensus with classical Islamic law jurists making a clear distinction between facing certain death and “. . . killing oneself by one’s own hand.” (Lewis, 2003, p 33) Basim Hameed, a former senior policeman in Baghdad, argues that the “. . . bombers did not know anything about Islam – except following the order of an Emir.” (Sharpe, 2008, p140)

In what became known as ‘the feud of the fatwas’ (Reter, 2004, p 123) occurred to attempt to over come the prohibition. Proponents appear to be very close to the causes where suicide terrorism is used: for instance Sheikh Ahmad Yasim (founder and spiritual leader of Hamas) and Akram Sabri (Mufti of Jerusalem). (Doogue and Kirkwood, 2005, p 92) Sheikh Yusuf al Qardawi a Palestinian theologian has written:

Suicide bombings . . . represent one of the highest forms of jihad in the name of Allah. . . . A suicide takes his life . . . But what we are talking about is killing yourself for your religion and your people. A suicide is someone tired of himself and Allah, but a mujahidin is imbued with faith in Allah’s grace and generosity. (Hoffman, 2006, p 161).

Whilst other theologians, such as Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin-Abdullah, were against such interpretations. This conflict is not just confined to words, in Iraq those criticised the tactic have been killed or disappeared: in one case a group of armed Islamists entered a mosque dragged the Imam from the rostrum and brutally killed him. (Sharpe, 2008, p141)    

The question remains, however, why do a small group take such dramatic action? Some psychiatrists have interpreted the act of detonation as a kind of ultimate physical release of frustrations. (Fergusson, 2013, p2013) Valery Krasnev sees the individuals as being traumatised through conflict and exposed to brainwashing and special conditions where individuals find individual and group identification when they have not been able to do so through other constructive or creative means. (Sharpe, 2008, p 84-5) For Clive Williams (2008, p 97) the willingness to sacrifice oneself in such cases comes about following a 'born again' religious experience following a need for greater meaning and stability in their lives. Many of these people are professionals with good prospects of successful careers. These issues are very similar to the strains related to criminality and nationalism previously discussed.

Ofer Grosbard argues the decision to suicide needs to be seen from a cultural perspective. Arabic societies are a traditional collective society where people see themselves as part of a group rather than as individuals. To harm a part of the group is to harm the whole: shame and dishonour reflects the whole society. (Sharpe, 2008, p 145) Individual suicide is more widespread in western societies whilst altruistic and fatalistic suicide is more common in eastern communities. (Pedahzur, 2005, p 30)They receive renoun in their communities with their names published in newspapers, websites and memorials: The Tamil Tigers even established a holiday in their memory. Palestinian families hold a celebration similar to a wedding where their family and neighbours flock to recognise their actions (Richardson, 2006, p 141 and 163) and their family can rise in social standing. (Pedahzur, 2005, p 38) For instance, in a note written before undertaking a suicide mission San’ah Muheidli wrote: “Be merry, to let your joy explode as if it were my wedding.” (Kusher, 2011, p 564) Training emphasises this focusing on indoctrination into ideology, group solidarity and commitment to the community. These notions again have parallels with Bass’ theory.

Why organisations use suicide bombers?

Much of this paper has been spent outlining why people become involved in suicide terrorism, however, it is important to close the loop and look at why terrorist organisations use suicide terrorism. Although they tend to emphasis the 'self sacrifice' nature of the action rather than the deliberate killing of one's self. It is quite simple: it works and is cost effective. Once Hezbollah started using the tactic other groups quickly replicated. (White, 2009 p253) Pape and Feldman (2010, p 24) argue that suicide terrorism will not cause targets to abandon core interests but may lead them to abandon less important interests. However, what is only moderately important to the target may be a strategic goal of the terrorist group. Following the bombing of United States instillations in Lebanon during 1983 President Regan withdrew from the country stating that “we could not stay there and run the risk of another suicide attack on the marines.” (Richardson, 2006, p 83) The reason for success is linked back to the operational motives of terrorism: namely to cause fear. For instance, the Mumbai attacks were deemed by their organisers an unqualified success: “… in terms of publicity, and the fear and terror it has generated." (Fergus, 2009, p106) The cost effectiveness is evident when one looks at 9/11: for an outlay of around half a million dollars, billions of dollars damage was achieved not to mention the psychological effects. (Richardson, 2006, p 158)

The tactic also has a high recruitment value. For instance a senior al-Qassam leader has said: “Fending off the crowds who demand revenge and retaliation and insist on a human bombing operation. That becomes our biggest problem.” (Richardson, 2006, p 161) On an operational level suicide is used as a force multiplier for organisations which are faced against a tactically superior force. (Pedahzur, 2005, p 27) As a leader of Hamas has said, “We do not have tanks or rockets, but we have something superior – our exploding Islamic human bombs. In place of a nuclear arsenal, we are proud of our arsenal of believers.” (Hoffman, 2006, p 155) The weapon is able to be brought very close to its target without the complication of needing to plan for the escape of the bombers or the possibility there will be someone for authorities to capture and use as a source of intelligence. (Kushner, 2011, p 566)  


This paper has argued that the reason people become involved in suicide terrorism cannot be attributed to mental health: it is the complete opposite. There are political and criminological theories which can provide assistance in explaining why some people who have relatively normal and affluent lives get attracted to these activities. The person will have gone through a period of strain - emotional, spiritual, or sense of upheaval - which has left them vulnerable to be mobilised by an effective charismatic leader into a group where they can find identity. This is a nationalistic expression. Suicide has become popular terrorist tactic as it is an effective mechanism for achieving strategic goals and causes the target to reevaluate their interests, shedding those which are not core. Put succinctly it causes fear and reactions - it works. And as Kushner (2011, p 566) states: “The more successful the tactics appear the more likely they are to be used.”



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