Jihadism and Suicide Attacks: al-Qaeda, al-Sahab and the Meanings of Martyrdom

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This dissertation explores the central role of suicide attacks in the jihadist movement, and particularly al-Qaeda (Central), in the twenty-first century. For this purpose, it studies the martyrdom videos of al-Qaeda’s media group al-Sahab: extensive and quite professional films about suicide bombers and their suicide attacks, among which are the 9/11 attacks and the 2005 London subway bombings.
The dissertation shows that the perpetrators and their supporters do neither primarily perceive suicide attacks as a profitable means to achieve victory on the battlefield, nor as a shortcut to Paradise. They can be better understood as symbolic actions through which the perpetrators show (potential) supporters of the movement what jihadism is about. The attacks express the claim that jihadists follow the pure Islam of the prophet Muhammad and continue his struggle against evil in the present era. In addition, they represent the idea that jihadists stand up for the suffering of their fellow Muslims in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. In the eyes of the perpetrators and their supporters, the attacks undo the humiliation of Islam and restore its honour and dignity, which is why they are seen as valuable regardless of their immediate results. Along these lines, the dissertation argues that suicide attacks play a crucial role in publicising jihadism, and therefore in attracting, binding and mobilising the support of this extraordinary diverse and diffuse movement.
Translated title of the contributionJihadisme en zelfmoordaanslagen: al-Qaeda, al-Sahab en de betekenissen van martelaarschap
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Bremmer, Jan, Supervisor
Award date16-Jun-2014
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs978-90-367-7040-8
Electronic ISBNs978-90-367-7045-3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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