Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Aysegul Aydin

Second Advisor

Susan Clarke

Third Advisor

Jaroslav Tir

Fourth Advisor

Moonhawk Kim

Fifth Advisor

Stan Deetz


This dissertation examines and explains three distinct aspects of suicide terrorism in the Middle East and South Asia: lethality, perpetrators and strategy selection. While suicide terrorism is a mechanically simple tactic of blowing one’s self up, it terrorizes indiscriminately by generating high numbers of fatalities. I first argue that the lethality of suicide terrorism is driven by its tactical characteristics, namely the amount of control that perpetrators have over the location and targets of the attack. Using original data, I show that where the unique tactical advantages of suicide terrorism are properly utilized, suicide attacks are likely to be extremely deadly. Particularly, suicide attacks that involve multiple perpetrators, occur in densely populated areas and target indoor locations are likely to be lethality effective. Second, I elaborate a perpetrator-based distinction among suicide terrorist attacks between organizations and lone wolf terrorists, who are yet to be affiliated with any existing terrorist groups. My findings demonstrate that when terrorist organizations are involved in the planning and execution of suicide terrorist attacks, they do not only increase the lethality but also accentuate the tactical advantages of suicide terrorism. These findings suggest that despite the recent upsurge and concern about lone wolf terrorism, the lethality and security impacts of suicide terrorism continue to be driven by organizations. Given these findings, one might expect that suicide terrorism would be the most preferred strategy for all terrorist groups. However, this is not the case. I argue that the organizational choice of suicide terrorism depends on engendering both radicalization and commitment on the part of the recruits. My analysis confirms that terrorist organizations making frequent use of old and new media sources to indoctrinate and radicalize their recruits, and those that use private goods provisions to tie the hands of recruits and increase their commitment to suicide missions are more likely to employ suicide terrorism. Lastly, I present case study evidence for three organizations-- Hamas, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and Asbat al-Ansar-- to illustrate my major arguments and support my empirical findings.