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Psychiatry. 2009 Spring;72(1):13-31. doi: 10.1521/psyc.2009.72.1.13.

The psychology of suicide terrorism.

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Terrorism and Political Violence Committee of the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry.


This paper reviews current understandings of the psychology of suicide terrorism for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to help them better understand this terrifying phenomenon. After discussing key concepts and definitions, the paper reviews both group and individual models for explaining the development of suicide terrorists, with an emphasis on "collective identity." Stressing the importance of social psychology, it emphasizes the "normality" and absence of individual psychopathology of the suicide bombers. It will discuss the broad range of terrorisms, but will particularly emphasize terrorism associated with militant Islam. The article emphasizes that comprehending suicide terrorism requires a multidisciplinary approach that includes anthropological, economic, historical, and political factors as well as psychological ones. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications for research, policy, and prevention, reviewing the manner in which social psychiatric knowledge and understandings applied to this phenomenon in an interdisciplinary framework can assist in developing approaches to counter this deadly strategy.

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