Magharebia (Washington DC)

Africa: Inside the Mind of the Young Kamikaze

Oual in Casablanca — The psychology of suicide bombers is a subject of special interest to Dr Elmostafa Rezrazi, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Mohammed V University and another in strategic studies from the University of Tokyo.

Magharebia met with the Moroccan expert in Rabat to discuss his recent findings about kamikaze recruitment, indoctrination, and regret.

Magharebia: The phenomenon of suicide bombing is growing in the Maghreb region, so people are interested in learning more about the kinds of people willing to perform these acts. What motivated you to choose this subject as your area of research?

Dr Mostapha Rezrazi: Terrorism is a phenomenon that is breaking away with all ideological restrictions, and is now covering all countries and all religions.

It witnessed a shift about ten years ago, when the global jihad movements migrated from the centralised organisation of operations to decentralised networks.

Suicide operations are not restricted to the category of unmarried or poor people, or those suffering from depression, or males and not females, or illiterate, not educated people. Its social base has expanded to include middle and high classes, and even those who have university degrees.

Magharebia: Why are young people willing to blow themselves up?

Rezrazi: Adolescents are still the most likely category to be mobilised and recruited, given their precarious defensive mechanisms and incomplete growth, especially in terms of social and emotional intelligence.

If we accept that most individuals recruited by jihadist groups are youths, it is then clear that the nature of adolescence definitely plays a role in preparing adolescents for recruitment, including their acceptance of such groups' values, which are based on feeding aggression and hatred.

Magharebia: How can your research help confront terrorism and insecurity?

Rezrazi: By understanding this phenomenon and drawing up the necessary strategies to avoid it and rescue its victims. By this I mean those who execute these operations after they are recruited, tamed mentally, psychologically and physically, and then turned into machines for mass killings, as well as those who choose for subjective reasons to die and take others with them.

We need to examine what turns an individual into someone capable of annihilating himself and annihilating others.

Magharebia: Have you figured out what turns someone into a kamikaze?

Rezrazi: We studied the literature of jihadist organisations. We also polled people on society's opinions of suicide, studied forensic reports and conducted a clinical study of some cases who did not carry out their suicidal/martyr act.

The process of preparing someone to accept the jihadist group's goals is not enough to create the suicide bomber unless there are moral, spiritual and psychological enforcements to reduce fear of death...

Magharebia: How do jihadist groups use psychology to build a killer?

Rezrazi: The separation of the adolescent from his family seems to be pivotal in understanding the first phases of turning him into a potential suicide bomber/martyr.

When the self feels tensions, it tends to look for ideas and behaviours that are characterised by doggedness, as a defensive mechanism to protect the weakness it feels inside.

Extremist ideology builds an arrogant self that sees itself a part of the mujahid group, as opposed to the jahili group...

The jihadist is subjected to processes to change thought and behaviour throughout the post-recruitment phases...

His readiness is boosted by multiple religious, psychological and material incentives, starting with convincing him of the legitimacy of the suicidal act, then reducing worry over death, including possible pain upon explosion, and lowering the sense of guilt (if any).

Magharebia: Did you actually meet with any of these failed suicide bombers?

Rezrazi: Our field study included several types of actors: jihadists who were fully prepared to execute the martyr act, those who worked on recruitment and mobilisation, and those who acted as ideologues for these operations, in a number of Arab countries.

Some of them were in prison, others served their prison terms, and some did ideological revisions.

Magharebia: How did you conduct your research? And what did you conclude?

Rezrazi: We divided the phases of development into a pre-recruitment phase, the domestication and preparation phase, and the completion of the jihadist who is prepared to die...

We were keen on distinguishing between the various changes that take place in the individual during these phases, from the psychological and cognitive to the behavioural.

We reached the conclusion that even in this phase where the preparation of the jihadist member has been completed, not every jihadist is capable of turning into a suicide bomber/martyr.

Magharebia: Given all that you have learned from your research, is there anything that can be done to protect young people from jihadist groups?

Rezrazi: Conducting more in-depth studies on this phenomenon, because other than the security effort - which countries already do at various levels - the social and psychological care sectors are still not really concerned with the issue.

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