Circling the Lion's Den


Yoram Schweitzer - about suicide terrorism and Al-Qaeda

Yoram Schweitzer is a researcher at the "Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies" (JCSS) at Tel Aviv University. He has lectured and published widely on terror-related issues, and consults for government ministries on a private basis (he is a head of Labat Strategic Consulting). Mr. Schweitzer worked for Israeli intelligence for ten years (until 1998) . His areas of expertise include suicide terrorism, and state-sponsored terrorism. He is co-author of The Globalization of Terror (2003).

Mr. Schweitzer is renowned expert in suicide terrorism, he has been conducting close and private conversations with failed suicide bombers and senders. The project is designed to study the mindset of those individuals who were involved in these attacks and to understand their aims and the strategy of their organizations.

In November 2005 he published the report Al-Qaida & the Globalization of Suicide Terrorism (with Sari Goldstein Ferber ). Yoram Schweitzer was interviewed by Andrei Soldatov:

- How many suicide bombers did you talk with?

- I interviewed more than 80 jailed terrorists suicide bombers, senders and regular terrorists in a structured and informed way and talked to way over 100 Palestinian convicted terrorists in unregistered conversation as side talks sometime very long conversations. I put an emphasis on the content and depth of the conversation rather than on the number of the interviewees in order to really get to the bottom of their thinking, feelings and motivations.

- What do you think how does the psychological state of terrorists change after arrest?

- It depends on the time they spent in jail. The longer they stayed in jail the more they were pragmatized their views and understanding the Israeli side . That doesn't say they became supporters of Israel or that they renounced their right as they see it to fight against their enemies but they could see some of the other side way of life and history and worries which they totally disregarded and ignored in the past.  The younger they are and the shorter term they stayed in prison the more radical they remain.

- As I understood from your report, working in the pairs is important part of suicide bombers.

- The issue of working in pairs or even in larger contingents is part of the suicde drill. The pairs could assist the perpetrators to stick to their mission and be emboldened by each other. Sometime there is a stronger partner that influence and motivate the other who may be less determined.

It is working both for Al Qaida and the Palestinians.

In Al-Qaeda we see the groups, which may consist a large quantity of people, but they work by pairs in order to support each other. The model of working in pairs was directly influenced by Bin Ladens own working style. Similarly, in every al-Qaeda attack, and particularly in the preparations for September 11, an emphasis was placed on finding a partner for every participant. The organization uses this technique in order to immunize operatives against second thoughts about suicide. The increase in operatives sense of self-worth during the experience of working in pairs, when both partners accept the idea and support each other, eases the individuals isolation stemming from the idea itself and the need to keep it secret. It also allows supervision and continued communication in the event that contact with one partner is severed. Working in pairs likewise affords an operational advantage. As example, in the case of the attack on the American embassy in Kenya Awhali, one of the suicide operatives, was forced by circumstances in the field to leave the car-bomb in order to pursue the embassy guard, and his partner activated the detonation mechanism and completed the mission.

- As I understand, the working in pairs is a trademark of Al-Qaeda, and I do not see this practice in Chechnya.

- Certainly, if you speak on Beslan or Dubrovka, there were required larger groups, but it was simply because of the larger scale of assault.

- We have the point of view, that drugs can be used for training of suicide bombers...

- I heard there was people in Beslan under the action of drugs. But I cant verify this information. However, in Israel we dont see this practice. The intoxications are done by other means .

- Whats the role of family in the selection a potential suicide bomber?

- Again, it is a more complicated. Unfortunately, frequently the influence of brothers, cousins is important for the future suicide terrorists. From other side, in Palestine the parents are mostly against their son to go to blow up. Thus the part of the family, for example the brother, recommends his brother as potential bomber, and at the same time elder generation attempts to avoid this situation. Besides that, it is necessary to distinguish suicide bombers and terrorists, who go on self-sacrifice.

- Whats the difference?

- Suicide bombers are those who are with explosive belts and self sacrifice can be those who wished to dies as martyrs but used AK47 or M16 and there fore are not "regular" suicide bombers .

-  Now we see temporary decline of the activity of suicide bombers in Russia. What is the reason, what do you think?

- It is necessary to remember the role of public opinion. Im not sure Chechen society supports suicidal terrorism. But I think, this will continue.

- If think you are right, I dont think Chechen society supports more the capture of children in Beslan, than the suicide attacks in Moscow .

- Yes, but there is a distance between two groups of terrorists, for example, Al-Qaeda does not so worry about public opinion as Palestinians.

- When you talked with the Palestinian terrorists, can you estimate the influence of Chechen propaganda?

- I dont see the tracks of this propaganda in Israel. They do not need a support from the Chechen scenes as they have their own horror stories and propaganda.

- But the tracks of the Chechen propaganda are revealed in European muslim extremists.

- There is large distance between by Palestinian martyrs and by European islamists. To the Islamic young people in Europe actually has an enormous effect the video cassettes about the fight of Russians with the Chechens, this is important part in the recruiting and the training by the Muslim brothers.

- As I know, you dont agree with the estimates of Al-Qaeda in Rohan Gunaratnas interview, published at Agentura.Ru. Whats the main point?

- The discussion deals with the views on the globalization of terrorism, future of Al-Qaeda and the response of the international community. My main disagreement is that not only Gunaratna, which I highly value, but and other experts believe, that Qaeda has transformed from a group into a movement. In fact Al-Qaeda is still the terrorist group, which uses suicide terrorists, personally selected and trained. Al Qaeda succeeded in delegating it doctrine to many youngster who have been trained in their sponsored training camps in Afghanistan and by that dispersed their ideology and practices. Some experts   atated that modus operandi of Al-Qaeda was changed after 11 September. But all that changed, was in fact that until 11 September Al-Qaeda could send people for training into Afghanistan,and taight them directly what they thought was the right path  and now they have problems there. The center of gravity is moved. But this occurred independently of Al-Qaeda. Simply now others who were qualified by AQ or their alumni prepare the attacks, using the Spanish, Turkish, English networks. This kind of networks existed before the 9-11 and operated or try to operate on behalf of the same ideology and the same cause with the same autonomy, may be with slight assistance of AQ's headquarters as  they do today and I can give some examples which I elaborated in my book The Globalization of Terror published in 2003: The Milani group in Strasburg (Dec 2000), The Beghal network in France, the Netherlands and Belgium (July 2001), the Millenium cell in LA and in Jordan (December 1999) etc.

- However we see Al-Qaeda can't organize another attack similar to 9/11 in US, and it let us suggest what it may be changing of tactics

- Al Qaeda had done only few attacks by its hard core members as they perceive themselves as a role model. They do not need to do so many. Still they have encouraged some of the deadliest attacks performed by others. They definitely wish to do another 9-11 in other forms meaning to kill thousands and I wouldn't be too relaxed about their capability to pull out another stunt like that.

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