JERUSALEM—In what may be the first time since the Japanese kamikaze attacks of the Second World War, the army of an organized state—if Syria can still be considered such—has formed a suicide unit.
A video clip posted Dec. 30 on the Internet shows a small group of soldiers from the Syrian Army’s Mountain Battalion wearing pouches around their waists, presumably for explosives, facing the camera. All wear white headbands and masks.
"In the name of Allah, we, the commandos of the Mountain Battalion, declare from the peak of Mount Nabi Yunis the establishment of a martyrdom-seeking platoon," declares one of them, reading from a paper. "This is our response to all the foreigners who have distorted the religion of Islam and have defiled the soil of our country."
The reference is clearly to foreign jihadis who have joined in the civil war against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, most prominently the fighters of the Islamic State.
"The language of killing has never been taught in the land of Syria," said the statement. "Our language is the language of defending the country and its master (presumably President Assad) against all who have sold their souls to Satan and his followers. May the Syrian flag continue to be a beacon to all the free people of the world and continue to fly over every inch of our beloved Syrian land."
"Remember us," the spokesman concluded, "when you celebrate victory."
Apart from the opening reference to Allah, which can be considered pro forma in a Muslim land, the statement was clearly secular in nature, distinguishing the Damascus regime from most of the rebel groups trying to bring it down. As such, it could be considered in the regime’s interest to have the video seen in the West. At the end of the clip, the participants raised clenched fists and declared "Oh, Syria, we respond to your call," without any religious incantation. The video was shown on MEMRI TV.
A report released Tuesday by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv said that there were 592 suicide attacks last year in the world, almost twice as many as the previous year. Some 4,400 persons died in these attacks. The Middle East saw 370 such attacks compared to 163 the year before, with Iraq being the principal venue.
Many of the attacks in Iraq were carried out by foreigners in the ranks of Islamic State. Only three percent of all attacks were aimed at soldiers from foreign armies.
"Most were directed against governmental or military target or local security forces, or were perpetrated in the context of religious and sectarian rivalry," said the report.
It attributed the dramatic rise in incidents to governmental instability in the Middle East, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the meteoric rise of the Islamic State. Africa too saw an upsurge with Boko Haram, which declared an Islamic emirate in Nigeria, carrying out 32 suicide attacks, about half the total on the continent.
A relatively new phenomenon is a significant increase in suicide attacks by women, almost all in Africa. Sixteen women blew themselves up in bomb attacks in Nigeria and another four were caught before carrying out their intended attack. There was also one female suicide bomber in Djibouti and another in Kobani in Syria, where Islamic State (IS) fighters and Kurds have been battling for months. In 2013 there were only five reports of women carrying out suicide attacks.
According to a report published by the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, the number of suicide attacks in the 25 years between 1981 and 2006 was 1,200. The total for 2014 alone was half that figure.
The authors of the INSS report said that phenomenon will likely continue in the coming years, given the large number of ethno-religious conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere and the strengthening of global jihadi elements, particularly Islamic State and al Qaeda and their affiliates. It warned that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other radical groups in Gaza and the West Bank may be inspired to emulate the growing suicide attack phenomenon in attacks against Israeli targets.
Published under: Syria