BAGHDAD — The suicide bombers who have killed 10,000 people in Iraq, including hundreds of American troops, usually are alienated young men from large families who are desperate to stand out from the crowd and make their mark, according to a U.S. military study.
As long suspected, most come from outside Iraq. Saudi Arabia, home of most of the Sept. 11 hijackers, is the single largest source. And the pipeline is continually replenished by al-Qaida in Iraq's recruiters.
The study, obtained by the Associated Press, profiles the suicide bombers and their support system based in part on interrogations of 48 foreign fighters who were captured or surrendered. The U.S. command is trying to understand the system, including al-Qaida in Iraq's recruiting, training and transportation network, so it can be disrupted before the bombers strike.
According to the summary, interrogators concluded that most foreign fighters are Sunni Muslim men from 18 to 30, with the mean age of 22. They are almost always single males with no children, and tend to be students or hold blue-collar jobs ranging from taxi drivers to construction and retail sales.
The summary went on to describe the majority of the fighters as having six to 12 years of schooling, with very few having gone to college. Most come from families in the poor or middle-classes and have six to eight siblings.
"In these large family groups, individuals seek ways to 'make their mark,' to set them apart. In many ways, entering jihad gives sons a way to show themselves unique in a large family," the summary said.
According to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, 949 suicide bombers killed 10,119 people and wounded 22,995 from the beginning of 2004 until now. Data compiled by the AP through its own reporting found that from April 28, 2005, to Thursday, there were 708 incidents involving suicide bombings, with a total of 14,633 Iraqis wounded and 7,098 killed.
According to data tracked by author Mohammed Hafez in his own separate study, Suicide Bombers in Iraq, there have been 1,800 suicide attacks worldwide since the phenomenon began in the early 1980s. Of those, more than half have taken place in Iraq.
"There have been more than 900 suicide attacks in Iraq … certainly the phenomenon is growing," said Hafez, a political science professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
U.S. Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the spokesman for Multinational Forces in Iraq, said the overwhelming majority of suicide attackers are foreigners.
"Iraqis are religiously and socially opposed to suicide, requiring al-Qaida to recruit foreigners to carry out their terror. Approximately 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreigners," he said.
Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, said al-Qaida prefers to use suicide bombers instead of other weapons because they are "easy, cheap and effective."
"It's what we call a thinking walking bomb. He watches the whole scene, chooses the best time and best location" Alani said. "It's effective and costs nothing because you don't pay someone who is going to die."
In an interview, two senior analysts who helped question the 48 captured fighters said the picture that emerges is of a cold and calculating process that recruits young alienated men who are social outcasts. Neither of the interrogators could be named for security reasons.
The demand for many foreign fighters begins in places such as the dingy back streets of teeming Iraqi cities such as Mosul — where al-Qaida still holds sway.
An al-Qaida cell decides it needs two suicide bombers. The cell puts in an order that is funded by money made through racketeering, extortion and kidnapping. That request travels to Damascus, Syria, and to the facilitators and recruiters training young men in North Africa and Saudi Arabia. Three months later, the bomber is delivered, military investigators and officials say.
According to the U.S, military, records seized from al-Qaida show that 40 percent come from North African countries such as Libya and Algeria, and 41 percent from Saudi Arabia.
Al-Qaida in Iraq recruiters troll mosques for potential fighters — impoverished young men who are believed at odds with their family or angry at the West, the military summary says.
The summary also says that some Arab media reports and Internet coverage of alleged U.S. atrocities in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib scandal were a "major factor" in motivating men to fight in Iraq.