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townsend 2007 - Suicide Terrorists Are They Suicidal Ellen...

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Suicide Terrorists: Are They Suicidal? Ellen Townsend, BA(Hons), PhD Are suicide terrorists suicidal? A review of the worldwide literature on suicide terrorism uncovered five published empirical studies describing data collected from potential suicide terrorists or the surviving friends and families of deceased terrorists. The many discrepancies uncovered between suicide terrorists and other suicides on key factors known to underpin suicidality, suggest that such terrorists are not truly suicidal and should not be viewed as a subgroup of the general suicide population. Nonetheless, methods developed by suicidologists, such as the psychological autopsy, will help increase our understanding of the individual and group factors that underpin suicide terrorism. Interest in understanding the psychological and psychiatric underpinnings of suicide terrorism has increased dramatically in recent years. Suicide attacks are a deadly practice most commonly carried out by extremist and fundamentalist groups (Atran, 2003; Dale, 1988; Salib, 2003; Silke, 2003). The scale of the acts of suicide terrorism on September 11, 2001, ensured that the devastating results of such attacks are now viewed as world-wide phenomena and have deeply affected many of those who live in western societies (Lerner, Gonzalez, Small, & Fischhoff, 2003). Unfortunately, suicide terrorism appears to be on the rise across the globe (Pape, 2003, 2005) and understandably the academic commu- nity, across disciplinary boundaries, has been galvanized into action to try to elucidate the Ellen Townsend is with the Risk Analysis, Social Processes and Health Group, School of Psychology, at the University of Nottingham. I would like to thank Dr. Scott Campbell for comments on an earlier draft of this paper and Dr. Ben Park for advice. Address correspondence to Ellen Townsend, BA(Hons), PhD, Risk Analysis, Social Processes and Health Group, School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK; E-mail: ellen.townsend @nottingham.ac.uk key factors that underlie such violent and hostile behavior. Recently it has been suggested that (a) suicide terrorists are similar to altruistic suicides, and that (b) suicide terrorists, owing to their altruistic nature, share similar characteristics to others who die by suicide (i.e., not just altruistic type suicides) (Leenaars & Wenckstern, 2004). It is widely acknowledged that there is no such thing as a typical suicide. Suicides occur as a result of diverse interacting social (e.g., unemployment), personal (e.g., relationship problems), and clinical (e.g., depression) factors. Clearly, this complexity makes both the investigation and treatment of sui- cidal behavior a very challenging task and leading researchers in the area have suggested that the study of subgroups of the suicidal population is a useful future direction for research (Hawton & van Heeringen, 2000). So, to some extent, it is understandable that some researchers wish to treat suicide terrorists as a subgroup of the general suicide population.
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