Are Suicide Bombers Just ... Suicidal?
Controversial studies suggest some are simply depressed
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 10, 2010 8:32 AM CST
Pakistani soldiers walk through the rubble of a damaged building at the site of suicide bombing in Ghalanai, the main town in Pakistani tribal area Mohmand, Monday, Dec. 6, 2010.   (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

(Newser) – Suicide bombers are thought of as fundamentalists driven by ideology to make the ultimate statement. But what if they—or at least some of them—are just depressed individuals looking for a way out? In the Boston Globe, Paul Kix examines studies that have been done over the years highlighting terrorists who exhibit such traits: The terrorist who took antidepressants daily and went into the bathroom of an Internet café to set off his bomb, thus avoiding a far larger tragedy. The 9/11 hijacker whose final note to his wife expressed shame at not living up to her expectations. The terrorists who are struggling with finances, relationships, or health.

In one study, a researcher interviewed 15 would-be suicide bombers, caught moments before detonation, and 14 detained terrorist organizers. While 53% of would-be bombers showed depressive tendencies, only 21% of terrorist organizers did. And while 40% of the would-be bombers showed suicidal tendencies, none of the organizers did. This supports the theory, admitted by some recruiters, that organizers, unwilling to give up their own lives, mine poor areas for “sad guys” to recruit. Of course, not everyone is convinced, and at least one study directly refutes the idea—but it’s worth noting that the Koran specifically forbids suicide (the term “suicide bomber,” in fact, is a Western one), and that the bombers themselves consider the act martyrdom.