On the morning of September 11, 2001, nineteen Al-Qaeda members hijacked four passenger planes and deliberately rammed two of them into the upper floors of the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, and the third crashed into the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia.
The two towers eventually collapsed due to the damage they sustained. After the passengers of the fourth hijacked plane learned of the attacks, they resisted the hijackers, and the plane crashed in an empty field in western Pennsylvania, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C., and all its passengers were killed.
But before these bloody suicide attacks, which led to the death of 2,977 people, history witnessed many suicide attacks, but with different tools.
The extremists of the Jews
It is believed that the first suicide attacks in history were carried out by a group of Jewish fanatics who spread terror among the Romans and Jews after the Romans occupied Jerusalem.
These extremists were known as “Sicari”, which means bearers of small daggers. They would hide their small daggers under their clothes until they were near Roman soldiers or Jews who cooperated with the Romans, and they often stabbed their necks with these daggers despite their certainty that their fate would be death at the hands of other Roman soldiers.
The group fled to the Masdah Fortress near the Dead Sea after being chased and pursued in Jerusalem. The group lived in the castle for a period of time until the Romans eliminated it after the siege of the castle. After the Romans entered it, it became clear that all the members of the group, numbering about a thousand people, had committed suicide.
This group was active between 66 and 73 AD.
Horror of the Assassins
The second most important group that launched suicide operations throughout history, and many stories and legends were spread about it, are the followers of Hassan al-Sabah, one of the extremists of the Ismaili sect.
After its capture in 1090, Hassan al-Sabah took Alamut Castle, located in present-day Iran, as his headquarters to lead a group of professional attackers who relied on deception and extreme courage to carry out their operations.
Hassan al-Sabbah’s followers, known as the Assassins, continued to spread terror and fear among the Muslim and Crusader rulers in the region thanks to the horrific ways in which he liquidated his opponents. Among the most famous operations carried out by the Assassins was the assassination of Vizier Nizam al-Mulk, who held a prominent position with the Seljuk king Alp Arslan and his son Malikshah.
Historical sources say that in the year 1092, the vizier Nizam al-Mulk was in Isfahan, with the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan, when a boy from the Assassins approached him in the form of a beggar or a supplicant. When he approached him, he took out a knife that he was hiding, and stabbed him fatally. Nizam al-Mulk’s companions caught up with the boy and killed him.
The Assassins also tried to kill Saladin twice. On one occasion, one of them attacked him with a dagger, but he escaped death thanks to the metal cap that he was wearing under the turban and the metal shield that he was wearing under his clothes.
In 1167, the Spanish rabbi Benjamin of Toledo made a 13-year journey through the Middle East and Asia. His description of Syria included what was probably the first European description of the Assassins. The rabbi said it was a warrior sect hiding in mountain fortresses and obeying a mysterious leader known as the “Sheikh of the Mountain.”
Over the next two centuries, crusaders and travelers returning from the East told stories about the group, adding exciting new details to the Assassin legend. They were said to be experts in the craft of killing, trained since childhood to use stealth and deception, and to be so loyal to their leader that they would sacrifice their lives upon receiving the slightest signal from him.
The first suicide operation in the modern era was carried out by a revolutionary in Russia on March 13, 1881, targeting the Tsar of Russia. A member of the Russian revolutionary group Narodnaya Volya, the Belarusian Ignatiy Grentievsky, detonated a bomb he was in possession of when Tsar Alexander II was outside his carriage to inspect the site of a bomb explosion before… Moments near his convoy. The attacker and the Tsar were killed hours apart on the same day, as the attacker was only one and a half meters away from the Tsar.
But the most famous suicide operations in the twentieth century were the “kamikaze” attacks launched by Japan against the Allied forces during World War II, which led to the death of thousands of soldiers of the allied countries and the destruction of dozens of naval vessels during the years 1944 and 1945.
Japanese kamikaze pilots deliberately rammed their planes into enemy targets, often Allied naval vessels.
“Kamikaze” is a term that refers to the suicide pilot as well as the aircraft used in such attacks, such as those currently widely used in the Ukrainian war.
Japan resorted to this tactic on a large scale during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 and continued to use it until the end of the war.
The word kamikaze means “holy wind,” a reference to the hurricane that dispersed a Mongol invasion fleet threatening Japan from the west in 1281.
Most kamikaze planes were standard fighters or light bombers, loaded with bombs and extra fuel tanks before flying and ramming them into their targets.
The Japanese also developed a pilot-piloted guided missile to strike enemy targets. The Allies called this missile “Baka”, which means fool in Japanese, as they believed that those who fly such missiles were nothing but fools.
The pilot had no way to eject and escape once the missile was attached to the aircraft that would launch it. The missile was usually dropped from an altitude of more than 7,500 meters and about 80 km from the target.
The missile was descending slowly while heading towards the target, and when it was five kilometers away from it, the pilot would start the three engines of the missile, causing it to launch at a speed of 960 km per hour while heading towards the target. The explosive charge in the missile head weighed more than a ton.
Kamikaze attacks sank 34 ships and damaged hundreds of others during the war. In the Battle of Okinawa, these attacks inflicted on the Allied forces the largest loss ever in a single battle, as nearly five thousand men were killed, in addition to sinking and damaging 300 naval vessels.
The Japanese used kamikaze attacks on a large scale in this battle, as their number reached 1,900 operations.
Among the conditions that must be met for kamikaze pilots was that they be single and have experience in the field of aviation. They were receiving training on how to hit targets with their planes and how to use weapons.
Self-sacrifice during the battle was considered a fulfillment of duty to the country and the Emperor on the part of the kamikaze pilots and an expression of loyalty to the Japanese people and the preservation of personal dignity.
During the last months of World War II, German pilots carried out semi-suicidal attacks by ramming their planes into Allied planes to damage them, to prevent them from launching attacks and raids on German targets.
A few German pilots also carried out actual suicide attacks in the final days of the war.
At the end of World War II, suicide attacks stopped, and during the Cold War between East and West, we witnessed almost no suicide attacks until Israel invaded Lebanon. The Lebanese resistance, which included leftist forces and nationalist Lebanese Shiite parties, launched a number of suicide attacks against Israeli forces. Perhaps the most prominent of these attacks was the Syrian Hamida Al-Taher driving a car bomb and detonating it at a joint site of the Israeli army and the South Lebanese army in the Jezzine region in 1985.
But the most important suicide operation that Lebanon witnessed was in 1983, when two suicide bombers from the Shiite Islamic Jihad movement, which is close to the Lebanese Hezbollah (the party denies any connection to the two attacks), targeted the headquarters of the Marines and the French forces in the Lebanese capital on October 23, 1983. The two attacks led to Hundreds of French marines and paratroopers who were deployed in Lebanon as part of the multinational forces were killed.
The death toll from the two attacks amounted to 299 American marines, sailors, and French paratroopers.
Before these two bloody attacks, at approximately one o’clock in the afternoon local time on April 18, 1983, the American embassy in Beirut was subjected to a suicide attack. His truck, packed with about a ton of explosives, stormed the building, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans, eight of whom were of CIA officers, and more than a hundred others were injured. The Islamic Jihad movement claimed responsibility for the attack.
After that, suicide operations increased and included various parts of the world, especially the Middle East region, where the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements carried out many suicide attacks inside Israel, while Al-Qaeda began launching dozens of these operations, starting with the Khobar attack in Saudi Arabia in 1988. Two suicide attacks also targeted the American embassies in Kenya. and Tanzania in the same year.
Not all suicide attacks are religiously motivated and in fulfillment of the duty of “jihad.” Tamil Tiger fighters launched many of these attacks against military targets in Sri Lanka during the armed struggle to establish their own homeland, even though the Tamil Tiger movement is secular.