Two of the central themes of my research are (a) the centrality of the organization in executing suicide attacks and (b) the extent to which the capability of the organization impacts on the characteristics and outcomes of the suicide attacks it mounts. So it was with some interest that I read these latest articles by Ariel Merari[i] et al, detailing the process and results from a series of interviews carried out with both would-be suicide attackers and their handlers (those who organize the attacks). This is significant, because not a great deal is known about the motivations or characteristics of those who organize suicide attacks.[ii]
Methodologically, Merari and the rest of the study team conducted a series of semi-structured interviews and psychological assessments of three groups of Palestinian prisoners held within Israeli jails (a group of failed suicide attackers, a group of attack organizers, and a control group made of those involved in more conventional political violence and protest). The articles also recount some interesting detail about the discussions that took place with the in-prison leadership of the groups (Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade/Fatah) these interviewees belonged to in order to gain cooperation for the study to take place.