Thumbnail Image


Publication or External Link





Suicide bombing is a lethal terrorism tactic that kills over 8 people per attack and injures 21 other people, on average. Suicide bombings have also been used more frequently in 2015 than they have in any one year since the tactic was first introduced in Iraq in 1981 and they were also used in more countries and by more groups than ever before. Even though the tactic is continuing to grow around the globe, there have been few studies seeking to understand in what ways the tactic is unique from other forms of terrorism. While theorists have attempted to explain the initiation and use of the tactic across various conflicts, there has been no previous study, of which I am aware, that compares suicide bombings to other relevant tactics, such as vehicle bombings, as well as to all other terrorist attacks in a multilevel framework.

With this in mind, the current dissertation seeks to create a profile of suicide bombing by including a number of attack- and country-level variables in a multilevel model. Using data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) from 1980 through 2015, this dissertation compares 4,737 suicide bombings with 142,195 other terrorist attacks along a number of theoretically and empirically relevant variables. The attack, country-year, and country-level variables are used to test 5 hypotheses. Separate models were also run that included 7,130 vehicle bombings as a tactic separate from suicide bombings and all other terrorist attacks. Suicide bombings were also split into two categories, vehicle and non-vehicle. Using three-level HGLM analytical techniques, this dissertation found that only one of the five hypotheses received support across all 17 model specifications. Looking at the significance of variables across model specifications, a profile of suicide bombings was developed. Suicide bombings were more likely to: target security forces; be used in complex attacks; be carried out by known organizations; cause a greater number of fatalities; be used since 9/11; be used in international attacks; be used in more lethal conflicts; and be used in Muslim majority countries. Conversely, suicide bombings were less likely to: target civilians; be used in assassinations; and be successful. These findings call into question some of the main theories of suicide bombings, including those put forth by Pape and Bloom. However, this research does serve as a useful starting point for policy makers and practitioners in terms of understanding when, where, and how suicide bombings are used by different individuals and organizations around the world.