Personality characteristics of "self martyrs"/"suicide bombers" and organizers of suicide attacks

Ariel Merari, Ilan Diamant, Arie Bibi, Yoav Broshi, Giora Zakin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This is a report of a direct psychological examination of suicide, or "martyrdom" terrorists and of organizers of martyrdom attacks. Assessments of the personality of self-martyrs have so far relied on biographical material drawn from secondary sources. In the absence of direct psychological examinations, the debate on the existence of distinctive personality factors among suicide terrorists has so far remained at the hypothetical level. This study subjected failed Palestinian suicide terrorists, a control group of non-suicide terrorists, and a group of organizers of suicide attacks, to clinical psychological interviews and tests. Significant differences were found between suicide and non-suicide terrorists and between these two groups and the organizers of martyrdom attacks. Two main personality styles were found among the would-be suicides. Members of this group had a significantly lower level of ego strength than the organizers of martyrdom attacks. Most of the would-be martyrs displayed a dependent and avoidant personality style, a profile that made them more amenable to group, leader, and public influence. Others were assessed as having an impulsive and emotionally unstable style. Some of the would-be martyrs but none of the control and organizers groups' participants displayed sub-clinical suicidal tendencies. Significantly more martyr than control group members displayed symptoms of depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-101
Number of pages15
JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Organizers
  • Perpetrators
  • Personality characteristics
  • Self-martydom
  • Suicide bombers
  • Suicide terrorism


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