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Emergence of Female Suicide Terrorists

NCJ Number
Studies in Conflict and Terrorism Volume: 31 Issue: 11 Dated: November 2008 Pages: 995-1023
Anne Speckhard
Date Published
November 2008
29 pages
This article examines the history of suicide bombing and the use of women as human bombers in various terrorist groups currently active throughout the world.
Male and female suicide terrorists tend to share a similar set of motivations for carrying out suicide terrorism that vary less by gender and more by whether they are radicalized inside or outside of conflict zones. The main differences between them are that women face some increased psychological vulnerabilities to being radicalized into the extremist role of a suicide bomber, which includes increased incidence of traumatic stress; depression; anxiety; dissociative disorders; blocked roles; and they may be more reactive to the loss of familial and intimate relationships while seeing only one way to violently revenge such losses. Groups find it to their advantage to use female bombers as they receive more media attention, increased sympathy for the terrorist cause, are able to pass security measures more easily than men, and are more dispensable because they are rarely in leadership positions. The emergence of female suicide bombers is fairly recent in the history of modern day suicide bombing. In this article, the author examines whether female human bombers differ essentially from their male counterparts and if so in which ways. Based on research interviews of terrorists, suicide terrorists, their family members, close associates, hostages, senders, and sympathizers; and radicals living in Europe, as well as on data from experts and other resources, the question is explored in terms of motivational sets for suicide bombing both on the part of the individual and the organization sending the bombers. An argument is presented that although there are marked similarities between male and female bombers, there are some essential differences. Notes and references