Recognizing Imminent Danger: Characteristics of a Suicide Bomber

The signs are everywhere. Posters and public announcements warn to keep a watchful eye for suspicious people-those who might endanger lives by committing an unspeakable act of terrorism.

The signs are everywhere. Posters and public announcements warn to keep a watchful eye for suspicious people—those who might endanger lives by committing an unspeakable act of terrorism. There is one problem, however. These announcements and posters do not begin to describe the characteristics of a “suspicious person.”

Nearly everyone has, at one time or another, behaved strangely and, if the signs are taken literally, they could be pointing to just about any of us at any given time. Taking this at face value, the entire populace could become paranoid, reporting even the most miniscule deviation from the norm! While stopping short of that, EMS providers should nevertheless be aware of the characteristics of those individuals who could pose a threat to health and safety—especially the suicide bomber.

Often stationed at high-profile events where hundreds or thousands of people gather, EMTs and paramedics will wander through the crowd looking for anyone having medical difficulties. Because of that, you may be in a position to identify a suspicious person who intends to detonate him or herself—but only if you know what you’re looking for. Armed with specific information about potential terrorists, EMS providers could enhance surveillance, recognize an imminent hazard and take steps to report a suspected individual to law enforcement. Be assured, this is not a profile of any ethnic or religious group—suicide bombers can come from nearly every cultural background.

General Characteristics

Perhaps because of this country’s lack of direct experience with suicide bombings, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has released a statement claiming there is “no specific profile for those who have engaged in suicide/homicide bombings.”1

In contrast, Israel, which has experienced over 300 such bombings since 1993, with 242 of them occurring since 2000, has developed some guidelines and profiles that highlight the general characteristics of a suicide bomber.2,3 These include:

  • 32% have at least a high school education and more than 25% have some college background.
  • Suicide bombers participate in months of indoctrination training. When ready for the mission, they are in a “hypnotic state” believing that the mission will open heaven’s gates.
  • A majority of suicide/homicide bombers are unmarried. Some have spouses and children.
  • Most are male between 17–23 years of age; however, women, children and older men have been recruited for suicide bombing missions.

The first known suicide bombing by a woman (January 2002) was carried out by Wafa Idris, a 27-year-old divorcee who volunteered as a paramedic. More recently, Reem Raiyshi, a 22-year-old mother of two, perpetrated an attack at a border crossing between Israel and the Gaza strip. The media have reported recent attacks by Chechen rebels, whose suicide bombings have mostly been carried out by women. It is generally believed that the Chechen women were not acting on religious fanaticism, but rather avenging the deaths of friends or relatives in the conflict with Russia.4

Approximately a quarter of suicide bombers are between 24–48 years old. There are also reports of attacks carried out by children and by older individuals, although exact numbers are uncertain.

General Demeanor

Certain behavioral characteristics of a suicide bomber have been identified.4,5 These include:

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