Profile of a would-be suicide-bomber
TRIPOLI (Lebanon) - Ibrahim al-Jamal is a 19-year-old member of a family of ten, raised in Tripoli’s poor neighbourhood of Qobbeh in northern Lebanon. He is unemployed and an apparent drug user. He was apprehended by “pure chance” just before he was supposed to kill himself — and others — by detonating an explosives-laden belt strapped to his waist.
The would-be suicide bomber of Tripoli was arrested on the eve of twin suicide bombings that ripped through the Shia neighbourhood of Bourj el-Barajneh, in Hezbollah’s stronghold south of Beirut, on November 12th, killing more than 40 people. His arrest occurred two days before the Paris attacks, including two suicide explosions, that claimed the lives of 130, triggering a global uproar against terrorism sponsored by the Islamic State (ISIS).
Suicide bombing attacks have become a weapon of choice among terrorist groups because of their lethality and ability to cause mayhem and fear. Many potential bombers who are not known to be devout Muslims come from aggrieved and impoverished communities suffering from feelings of injustice and desperation and from drug addiction.
“The feeling of being lesser human beings with no target in life and no hope of improvement can drive them to commit such acts,” social expert Mona Fayyad said. “They mostly come from oppressed and marginalised environments, which could be very poor. But definitely, they are basically mental health cases and vulnerable beings.”
Jamal’s father Faycal was in disbelief, saying: “I really don’t understand. My son was a normal chap. Ibrahim is a blacksmith but for some time now he has been unemployed. A month ago, his uncles secured enough money to buy tools to enable him to work on his own and he was hoping to get some work to help himself and help us.”
Shock and bewilderment gripped Jamal’s family and neighbours when they heard he was recruited by ISIS and planned to use a suicide bomb in Jabal Mohsen, an Alawite neighbourhood adjacent to the Sunni Qobbeh district. The family lives on the demarcation line separating the two rival districts, which from 2008-14 were locked in several rounds of fierce fighting pitting pro-Syrian regime Alawite gunmen against Sunni supporters of the Syrian rebellion.
But Jamal never participated in the fighting, was unknown to security force, not known to be a religious fanatic and had no criminal record to arouse suspicion, which makes his suicide mission even more intriguing.
According to a relative who asked to be identified as Mustafa, Jamal could have been on drugs. “Ibrahim is a poor and reckless young man. He did not possess a penny and was not a devout Muslim. He hardly knew how to pray. But we heard lately that he was doing drugs,” Mustafa said.
“He did not take part in the fighting against Jabal Mohsen and he probably did not know how to use a weapon but we could see that his financial situation had improved lately although he had no job. We don’t know where he got the money and then we heard that he was apprehended on charges of planning to blow himself up.”
A security source who asked for anonymity said Jamal’s arrest occurred by “pure chance” when a police patrol happened to be passing in Qobbeh and stopped the young man on a motorcycle to check his papers. When he tried to escape, police arrested him and discovered the explosive belt.
“Ibrahim was not wanted by the authorities and there was no arrest warrant issued against him. He was first reluctant to cooperate with his interrogators and was not fully conscious, probably due to drugs he had taken. But after the attacks in Bourj el-Barajneh, he confessed that he had planned to blow himself up in Jabal Mohsen,” the source said.
Jamal’s confessions led to the arrest of 11 suspects linked to the bombings in Bourj el-Barajneh and the seizure of large quantities of weapons and ammunition, including 250 kilograms of explosives, 500 detonators and bags containing metal balls that are placed in explosive belts to cause maximum casualties, in addition to wiring and bombs.
His confessions came too late to foil the Bourj el-Barajneh bombings. Jamal was reportedly heavily drugged, having consumed or forced to consume “a big amount of Captagon (an amphetamine-like drug)”. Interrogators had to wait three days until the drug effect wore off.
The source pointed out that most terror suspects arrested under a security plan enforced in Tripoli more than a year ago were poor people from underprivileged neighbourhoods and mostly unemployed. “The majority were not known to be religiously committed, which raises many questions about the causes behind their engagement,” the source said. “Was it for financial reasons or were they brainwashed by fanatics or because they were drug addicts?”
Though religion can play a vital role in recruiting and motivating potential suicide bombers, the driving force is not religion but a mixture of motivations, including politics, depression, revenge, retaliation and poverty, according to Muslim Sunni cleric Sheikh Nabil Rahim.
The configuration of these motivations is related to the specific circumstances of the political conflict behind the rise of suicide attacks in different countries.
“Religion could be a motive for some, in which they are brainwashed and convinced that their act is a good deed that serves religion and would lead them to eternal happiness in paradise,” Rahim said.
“Depression and hopelessness fuelled by wars and injustices sweeping many Muslim countries in recent years is yet another main motive,” he said, arguing that scenes of violence and destruction displayed extensively by the media have facilitated the process of recruiting would-be suicide bombers, especially among the poor who live in difficult security conditions or those who have suffered from conflicts.
Rahim noted that “retaliation and reaction to injustices” was found to be a main driving force behind recruiting bombers from middle and upper classes. “For instance the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks had a good life but they were religiously committed and their act was in retaliation to events in Palestine and US policies in certain Islamic countries.”
The cleric contended that many terror groups could be resorting to drugs to recruit desperate youngsters, as it turned out that “many suicide bombers were on drugs and did not have a clue about religion and its teachings”.