In the wake of Sept. 11, Robert Pape, a professor in international security affairs at The University of Chicago, speculated on TV news shows on the causes of suicide terrorism.

“Like everyone else, I jumped to the conclusion that it was radical Islam,” he says. “I even bought a Koran to see what’s wrong with Islam.”

After searching for data on suicide terrorism and finding that the government did not begin to track such attacks until 2000, Pape began to collect his own information. He compiled data on 462 suicide bombings from 1980 to 2004 and later updated his findings to 2006. His book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism was published in 2005.

Contrary to his initial impression, Pape discovered that half of the 462 suicide attacks were by people who were secular or even anti-religious. The world leaders in suicide bombings were members of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, a Marxist and Hindu group.

Over 30% of Muslim suicide bombers were not Islamic fundamentalists, Pape learned. For instance, some belonged to an anti-religious extremist Marxist group in Turkey, the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK.

“Over 95% of all suicide attacks are not religious,” Pape says. Rather, they are driven by the political goal of compelling foreign combat forces, with their tanks and fighter aircraft, to leave territory “the terrorists consider their homeland or they prize greatly.”

Only 5% are random, isolated attacks, the products of any ideology, religion included, Pape adds.

“Every suicide campaign since 1980 has been carried out by groups seeking self-determination for territory,” he says.

Pape spoke to the CJN before addressing the annual banquet and fundraiser of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The following day, he spoke to the counter-terrorism task force of the Cleveland field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


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