After 19 years of conducting research on suicide attack terrorism, CPOST researchers have identified three characteristics that make suicide attacks particularly important to study:

  • Lethality: Suicide attacks are five times more lethal than ordinary terrorist attacks.
  • Diffusion: In the last 5 years, suicide attacks have been used in 40% of all conflicts, up from 4% in the 1980s (as reported by the UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset).
  • Combat Effectiveness: Militant groups are increasingly using suicide attacks as a tactic, often in conjunction with conventional military tactics, during combat against stronger military forces.

Other Important Effects

Researchers not affiliated to CPOST have identified a number of variables and stakeholders that are affected by suicide attacks. The following list is not meant to be comprehensive.

  • Conflict intensity: Conflicts where suicide attacks are employed tend to be more intense. These conflicts usually spark counterterrorism efforts that lead to higher levels of violence.
  • State repression: Suicide attacks increase pressure on governments to protect civilians from violence, leading to higher levels of state repression.
  • Post-conflict politics: Suicide attacks and other forms of political violence are used as a bargaining tool during peace negotiations, thereby potentially altering their outcomes.
  • Propaganda appeal: Suicide attacks amplify a militant group’s propaganda efforts and increase its symbolic power due to their shocking nature.
  • Recruitment: Suicide attacks increase recruitment by demonstrating the group’s ideological commitment.
  • Organizational competition: Suicide attacks fuel competition amongst militant groups.
  • Foreign forces: Suicide attacks on foreign military personnel increase pressure on foreign governments to withdraw their forces from the contested territory.
  • Domestic governments: By targeting domestic security forces with suicide attacks, the militant groups deny governments their ability to operate effectively.