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The Making of a Suicide Bomber

Aired March 31, 2003 - 13:21   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Warplanes have been in flight over Iraq now for 12 days. They are unleashing nearly constant bombardments in northern Iraq, Baghdad and Iraqi offensive positions further south.
CNN's Gary Tuchman is with the pilots at an air base near the Iraqi border, and he joins us now live by videophone.

Gary, every time I hear you reporting, there is constant activity at that base.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, you're right. At this second, it is relatively quiet. But if you stay here with me for another five, six minutes, which I don't think we're going to do right now, you'll probably hear two or three more planes taking off.

But here is the latest from the Air Force front pilots at this particular base, this huge base near the Iraqi border, are being told for the time being expect to keep their busy schedules perhaps for days to come. They are only advised five days in advance. They are being told, for days to come they will maintain the busy schedules they have been flying -- 1,800 sorties in the most recent 24-hour period over Iraq, the highest since the first night of the Shock and Awe campaign, when there were 2,000 sorties.

At this particular base, 253 sorties, to be exact, over a 24-hour period. They've been averaging between 230 and 300 here each and every night except for two nights when the weather was bad.

A short time, ago we talked to the pilot of one of the A-10 Warthogs. Those are the planes behind me. They provide close air support for the troops on the ground. And he told me he's flown five missions in the last two days, including two bombing missions, and I asked him if he has a tough time going to sleep the night before a mission.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I really haven't been sleeping very well. You get concerned when you know that there's some tough spots coming up, especially when you get closer to Baghdad. Really, our concern is for the guys on the ground. We live and die by supporting them and covering them. So if they're in harm's way, we're going to do whatever it takes to get up there and help them out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TUCHMAN: The United States Air Force believes no Iraqi warplane has flown since the war began. As a matter of fact, Defense Department officials saying today this quote, a very brusque and direct quote -- quote -- "If they fly, they die." And Iraq appears not to have challenged that.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: Gary, I think it's fair to say that if the coalition U.S. Pilots did see any Iraqi planes in the sky, they'd be surprised, because it hasn't happened.

TUCHMAN: They would be very surprised. But I'll tell you, Judy, we flew on a refueling mission the other night. And while we were on the plane, in the cockpit, the pilot saw two targets on the radar screen. And at first they assumed they were two helicopters they were supposed to refuel. Then they heard the helicopters were far away. They didn't know what they were. So they did some evasive maneuvers to see if the targets would follow them, a couple of 360-degree turns, and at one point, the targets did follow them, and I sensed some tension aboard. And I was wondering if they think these are Iraqi planes. Ultimately they deduced they were U.S. helicopters, not the helicopters they were to refuel, Army helicopters.

But I said to them, at any point, were you tense? They said, we weren't really tense, but we always have to be very careful.

WOODRUFF: All right, Gary. Thanks very much. Wolf, back to you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Judy. Thanks to Gary as well.

The Defense Department, meanwhile, has identified four U.S. soldiers killed Saturday by a suicide bomber in Iraq, all four with the 3rd Infantry Division. They were Private First Class Michael Weldon (ph), Private First Class Diego Rinsone (ph), both of Conyers, Georgia, Specialist Michael Curtain (ph) of South Plains, New Jersey, and Sergeant Eugene Williams of Highland, New York. Iraq's government says more acts like the suicide bombing can be expected. The U.S. Central Command says tactic is militarily insignificant.

But anthropologist Scott Atran says suicide terrorism has a long history in the Muslim world.

Atran is with the University of Michigan, also has been a research director at the National Center for Scientific Research in France. He's joining us live from Detroit.

Professor, thanks so much for joining us.

You don't necessarily accept the notion that these suicide bombers, if you will, are uneducated and merely desperate people, do you?

SCOTT ATRAN, ANTHROPOLOGIST, PSYCHOLOGIST: No. I mean, in general, the way they're pictured in the media and by our administration, crazed cowards who thrive in ignorance and poverty. But in fact, they're as educated and economically well off as surrounding populations, if not more so.

BLITZER: Well, what motivates these people to kill themselves for the cause that they support?

ATRAN: Well, it's the institutions that take perfectly ordinary young adults and make them into human bombs. By manipulating heartfelt human sentiment as I try to show in a book I'm writing on roots of terrorism, these are sentiments that give rise to religion in all societies, and just like our best Madison Avenue advertisers are able to turn sincere desires into cravings for whatever one is pitching, so these charismatic leaders able to manipulate these heartfelt desires and to form very close knit suicide cells who members commit for one another as if they are members of the same family, much as a mother would sacrifice her life for her child.

BLITZER: We've heard these stories some of the suicide bombers believe they will be in paradise with virgins. Other believes that their families will receive cash rewards from various institutions. Others simply believe they have to do this, because they hate the enemy, and the Israelis in particular, so much. What do you see it as you look at direct motivation of these suicide bombers?

ATRAN: Look, the way the political fight is going on in the Muslim world now, especially because of daily images of media -- mediatized images of violence in Palestine, the whole Muslim world has focused on Palestine, and there is a resurgence of Muslim feeling.

And given the situation, there's now, I'd say, close to 60 percent to 70 percent of the young male population of the societies are willing conditions for this kind of action. There are so many candidates beating down doors of the recruiters that the recruiters are complaining. So they are able to pick the most psychologically stable and well-poised members of their society. What they do is they go to mosques, and schools and community gathering places. They see who stays after class, who listens most intently. They find out who is well balanced and poised. They ask around the neighborhood and root out anybody with broken families, history of family violence, emotional instability, and they also rule out people who are only going to do it for the money or the virgins. I mean, that's a hype given in our society, but it's something that causes at least a religiously sponsored organization to rule out candidates.

BLITZER: This is a fascinating subject, professor. Unfortunately, we have to leave it there. But let's continue this conversation on another occasion.

Professor Atran of the University of Michigan, thanks very much.


in northern Iraq, Baghdad and Iraqi offensive positions further south.>

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