Female Suicide Bombers: Dying to Kill

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Did you find religious belief to be a primary motive in the cases you investigated?

The perception in the West is that these people are religious fanatics who don't care about life. In the stories we examined we found that not to be true. The families we talked to told us that their daughters werent overly pious. Although they were very upset and distraught over occupation, they were normal girls.

How did these women become involved with terrorist groups?

The parents don't really know. But most felt that their daughters most likely volunteered. [In other cases] the ones who are vulnerable are the ones who are chosen.

A Chechen woman told us her daughter had tuberculosis and was literally dying when the rebels came and recruited her. In the Chechen conflict so many have gone to fight and been killed that in some cases the women are almost the only ones left in certain villages.

Did the parents know of their daughters' intentions beforehand?

None of the parents we spoke with had any idea—and I believe that. Most people, when they commit suicide, don't alert others of their actions. It begs the question: Were these bombers committing suicide for the sake of committing suicide? Or solely trying to use it as a military tactic?

Families of suicide bombers enjoy an increased status in their communities by virtue of their relatives' perceived martyrdom. But do families also benefit financially?

We asked a number of the families, and they said no, they didn't get any money. Whether that's true or not, we don't know. But they do enjoy a certain heroic status. Wafa Idris instantly became a hero. Huge parties were thrown—these funerals that are essentially like celebrations.

Despite the best efforts of security personnel, suicide bombing can be difficult to guard against. Does being female give these bombers an added edge?

I think it does. In the occupied territories [of Israel's West Bank and Gaza Strip], for example, the Israelis have really put up some formidable barriers. They check and scrutinize everyone who comes across the border. But women [suicide bombers] are much less detectable. They are like stealth bombers. [The Israelis] often don't check them as thoroughly.

One point we're trying to make is that you can't rule anyone out these days. The stereotype of the face of terror is negligible. The people we're least likely to suspect, the givers of life, might be people who are dying to kill.

Unfortunately, it seems that this issue will be with us for some time.

There isn't a day that goes by in America these days where we're not hearing about suicide bombers. We know that, so far, a number of women have killed themselves in Iraq, and you can't rule out the possibility that others will begin doing this in different parts of the world. The whole notion of conventional war has changed. How do you deal with individuals who aren't afraid of death, but are seeking it out? Maybe it would behoove us to try to learn more about who they are and what their motivations are. That's one of the reasons why we wanted to do this piece.

For more on this subject, watch Female Suicide Bombers, tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel (U.S. only). Additional airdates: Thursday, December 16, at 2:00 p.m. ET/PT, and Saturday, December 18, at 4:00 p.m. ET/PT

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