The price of paradise: 82 facts you didn’t know about suicide bombers

Since the first suicide bomber killed the Tsar in 1881, they have killed over 72,000 people

1. Since the first suicide bomber killed the Tsar of Russia in 1881, they have killed over 72,000 people and injured at least twice that.

2. Of the 10 worst explosive incidents the world witnessed between 2011 and 2018, seven were by suicide bombers.

3. In 1976 there were no suicide bombs anywhere in the world. Forty years later, 2016 saw 28 countries witnessing 469 attacks.

4. There have been over 13,500 recorded suicide attacks since their first use.


5. Where known, well over 90 per cent of suicide attackers were men, and nine-tenths of their victims were men also.

6. Fifty-five countries have seen a suicide bombing.

7. The youngest suicide bomber has been just four years old – barely strong enough to carry the lethal burden strapped to him. The oldest was a 72-year-old Japanese man.

8. Suicide bombers have been Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Shintoists and Hindus (and one Jewish bomber whose bomb didn’t detonate).

9. The first suicide bombing was on March 1st, 1881. The victim was the Tsar of Russia.

10. The Tsar of Russia survived seven assassination bids before he was killed by a suicide bomber.

11. French anti-parliamentarian, Paul Brousse, is credited with coining the phrase “propaganda by deed” – the intellectual justification for terrorism.

12. The site of the world’s first suicide bombing is now a church – Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood - in St Petersburg

13. The world’s first suicide bomb – that killed the Tsar of Russia – weighed only five pounds and had a blast range of one metre.

14. Count Leo Tolstoy asked Alexander III to spare those who had supported the suicide bomber who killed his father, offering them “another ideal, higher than theirs, greater and more generous”. Alexander III refused.

15. The world’s first failed suicide bomber was the Russian poet Ivan Kalyayev, whose explosion killed the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, but not the bomber.

16. The inventor of the world’s first suicide bomb was Nikolai Ivanovich Kibalchich. He also designed a solid-fuel rocket engine that was so admired by later Soviet rocket scientists that a crater on the far side of the moon was named after him.

17. Between October 1944 and August 1945, over 3,000 Japanese army and navy kamikaze pilots died in their attempts to sink the Allied fleet.

18. In the battle for Okinawa alone, 1,465 kamikaze attacks damaged 157 Allied ships, causing hundreds of deaths.

19. The first US naval vessel to be sunk by a kamikaze pilot was the USS St Lo.

20. Within weeks of the first kamikaze attack, at least 1,000 army flying graduates had signed up to join their ranks.

21. Kamikaze planes were often given names imbued with naturalistic nostalgia: ‘Ume Blossom’, ‘Autumn Water’ and ‘Wisteria Blossom’ among them.

22. As many as 12,700 different Japanese aircraft were adapted for suicide attacks.

23. On October 30, 1980 a 13-year-old Iranian boy killed himself and oncoming Iraqi soldiers using a hand grenade. In Iran, streets, hospitals, and schools were named after him. Even a golden monument was erected in his image.

24. After the “sacrificial martyrdom” ideal arose in the Islamic World around 1980, 52,000 young Iranian men joined ‘martyrdom units’ across the nation.

25. Between 1980 and 2017, 3,000 suicide attacks have occurred in the Middle East, killing 32,000 and wounding 76,000; these make up half of global suicide attacks.

26. Nearly all suicide bombings in the Middle East in the 1980s occurred in Lebanon. These include over 40 bombings that killed 934 people and injured 891.

27. A plaque in Tyre, Lebanon commemorates the first Lebanese suicide bomber to attack Israeli troops, a 15-year-old child, reading: “Martyrs create life.”

28. A suicide bomber in a pickup truck carrying 1,000kg of explosives killed 17 Americans at the US Embassy in Beirut on April 18th, 1983, including the CIA’s chief intelligence officer.

29. The suicide bombing in Beirut on October 23rd, 1983 was at the time the “largest non-nuclear explosion ever detonated on the face of the Earth”. It killed 305 people, including 241 American peacekeepers, 58 French and six civilians.

30. Between 1982 and 2000, Lebanese militant groups deployed 17 suicide bombings against Israeli Defence Forces, killing 565 and injuring 979.

31. An average of 52 people have been killed in every Shia suicide attack.

32. Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussain Fadlallah “compared suicide attacks to a soldier fighting a battle that he cannot win, yet he fights nevertheless”.

33. Between 1987 and 2001, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka were responsible for between one third and one half of suicide attacks around the world.

34. Attacks by the Tamil Tigers have targeted religious shrines and relics and have killed two world leaders: the former prime minister of India and the former president of Sri Lanka.

35. The deadliest terrorist act of 1996 was a suicide attack in Colombo by the Tamil Tigers. Hundreds of pounds of explosives killed 91 people, injured 1,400, and destroyed 9 buildings.

36. The first suicide bombing specifically targeted at civilians occurred in Israel in 1994 near two junior high schools in Afula. Eight civilians were killed and 55 were injured.

37. 114 suicide attacks have targeted Israel since 1994. 721 people have been killed and 5,098 injured, most of them Israeli Jews.

38. 95 per cent of people killed by suicide bombs in Israel have been civilians.

39. Saddam Hussein was known to pay families of Palestinian suicide bombers up to $25,000.

40. After 9/11, “images of civilians being killed [by suicide bombers] – their bodies penetrated by the bones of their killers, by table legs, by cutlery – shown on the evening news shocked the world”.

41. To some suicide bombers, death through suicide killing is not a price. One Palestinian suicide bomber said it was a “gift God allowed me to kill myself”.

42. September 11th, 2001: “the most-witnessed mass death in the history of the world”.

43. Leading up to 9/11, al-Qaeda carried out suicide attacks against Americans in Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen and killed a total of 240 people.

44. For Salafi-Wahhabists, the suicide bomber is “the equivalent of a medieval knight who throws himself valiantly into the enemy’s lines, knowing he is very unlikely to survive”.

45. In the floors above the site where the plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Centre on 9/11, only four people escaped. 200 people in the towers leapt to their death, forced to take their own lives.

46. More than 1,100 survivors and first responders of the 9/11 attack were diagnosed with cancer due to exposure to toxins such as asbestos. 410,000 civilians were exposed to asbestos in the New York streets.

47. Since 9/11, 115 militant groups have conducted suicide attacks in 51 countries, the majority of which have been carried out by Salafi-jihadist groups.

48. In the decade before 9/11, there were 151 suicide attacks worldwide. In the decade following 9/11, there were 3,155.

49. Civilian harm caused by suicide bombings nearly doubled between 2011 and 2016.

50. Before 9/11, al-Qaeda comprised 400 men. Today, it has 20,000 followers in Syria, 10,000 in Somalia, and 5,000 in Lybia and Yemen, among others in Sahel, Maghreb, Indonesia, and South Asia.

51. In 2002, there were 54 suicide bombings around the world; in 2004, there were 116, 51 of which were in Iraq alone.

52. In 2007, 291 suicide attacks were carried out in Iraq – nearly one every day – and 60 per cent of victims were civilians. The year was dubbed “the Bloody Circus”.

53. In his death video, one Syrian suicide bomber showed no fear, claiming that, “The prophet told us the martyr only feels an ant bite”.

54. In July 2015, Isis targeted Shia civilians in two suicide bombings in Iraq, one at a market in Khan Bani Saad and another at a bazaar in Baghdad, killing 121 and 325 people, respectively.

55. Isis’s predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq, launched over one hundred suicide attacks in its first five years, killing 2,200 and injuring 6,000, half of them civilians.

56. Three of the four suicide bombers responsible for killing 52 people in London in July 2005 came from the town of Dewsbury in northern England, where Muslim families are more impacted by poverty, unemployment and depression than the rest of the town’s population.

57. 15 of Europe’s 22 suicide bombers did not finish higher education or go to college; 17 were unemployed at the time of their attacks.

58. “The ultimate reason someone turns to suicide bombing is a combination of the external factors of the group and the world, and the inner, psychological drives that lead them to their terrible, violent deaths.”

59. “Is there, indeed, a personality type of a suicide bomber?” Successful suicide bombers cannot be interviewed, but factors such as socio-economic status and level of education may exacerbate existing religious and psychological motives.

60. Suicide bombers often come from impoverished backgrounds and have existing suicidal or violent tendencies: “if you have decided you wanted to die, anyone who tells you something that would make that more comforting – you would latch onto that.”

61. In some cases, it has been speculated that suicide bombing could be a “loophole” for those Muslims who wish to die by suicide without breaking from Islam tradition.

62. Isis propaganda videos share many parallels with the video game Call of Duty, where death is simply a chance to reboot and start again.

63. There have been reports of psychoactive and anti-anxiety drugs such as Captagon, Zolam and Pentothal being administered to ISis suicide bombers and fighters before carrying out operations.

64. The surge of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin that comes from selfless acts has been marked as a possible reason why some might die so willingly for others.

65. Boko Haram has used more female suicide bombers than any other militant group. They first used a female suicide bomber to attack the 301 Battalion in Gombe, Nigeria on June 8th, 2014.

66. Female suicide bombers can hide bombs more easily than men, concealing them under loose clothing and pregnancy outfits. Using female suicide bombers also means a lessened impact on the population of potential male soldiers.

67. The death toll from suicide bombing is greater than that of the Battle of Gettysburg, the first day of the Somme, Pearl Harbour and the Battle of Khe Sanh combined.

68. In the 19th century about 10 per cent of war casualties were civilians; in WWII it was about 50 per cent. Today, it stands anywhere between 75 and 90 per cent.

69. So extensive is the impact of a blast that US Homeland Security says you are only safe from a suicide bomber’s vest 110ft away – about twice the length of a bowling lane.

70. Improvised explosive weapons have been found to be more injurious than manufactured explosives such as rockets or mortars.

71. For every person physically harmed in a terrorist attack, up to 50 times the number of people will display signs of psychological trauma: 35 per cent of people who saw 9/11 unfold up-close developed PTSD.

72. In the last seven years, 14 per cent of all suicide bombings – one in seven – have been by children.

73. Since 2001, over 29 countries have witnessed suicide attacks on military or security units: over 3,385 strikes harming about 75,000 soldiers and bystanders.

74. The Joint IED Defeat Organisation says of suicide bombing: “No other widely available terror weapon has more potential for mass media attention and strategic influence.”

75. Between 2006 and 2015, in Afghanistan the counter-IED force spent $17 billion combating suicide bombers who were using inexpensive homemade devices.

76. Before 9/11, fewer than two dozen full-time officers were working on counterterrorism in the NYPD. Now there are more than a thousand.

77. In October 2017, the European Union announced it was to spend €118.5 million on projects to “better enhance the protection of public spaces”.

78. IEDs (largely suicide bombings) are the weapon that has killed the most people in the 21st century, apart from guns.

79. English-language media reported on 256 suicide bombings in 2016, causing 9,680 civilian deaths and injuries. No global money was made available for any attempt to address specifically the spread of suicide bombings.

80. In 2017, ISIS carried out dozens of drone strikes with disturbing accuracy. A shift away from suicide bombings?

81. In Morocco, a new school for imams from across the world focuses on “inner jihad” – the personal struggle – and not the “glory of terrorism”.

82. In 2018, over 1,800 Pakistani clerics from different schools of Islam issued another fatwa that said suicide bombings were "haram", or forbidden under Islamic law.
The Price of Paradise: How The Suicide Bomber Shaped the Modern Age by Iain Overton (Quercus)