Sociology Index

Mass destruction terrorism and WMD

Terrorist Groups, Sociology of Terrorism

"Terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead," Brian Jenkins opined. Jenkins's premise was based on the assumption that terrorist behavior is normative, and that if they exceeded certain constraints and employed WMD they would completely alienate themselves from the public and possibly provoke swift and harsh retaliation. This assumption does seem to apply to certain secular terrorist groups. Psychologist B. J. Berkowitz describes six psychological types who would be most likely to threaten or try to use WMD: paranoids, paranoid schizophrenics, borderline mental defectives, schizophrenic types, passive-aggressive personality types, and sociopath personalities. He considers sociopaths the most likely actually to use WMD.

Nuclear terrorism expert Jessica Stern though disagrees. She believes that "Schizophrenics and sociopaths, for example, may want to commit acts of mass destruction, but they are less likely than others to succeed." She points out that large-scale dissemination of chemical, biological, or radiological agents requires a group effort, but that "Schizophrenics, in particular, often have difficulty functioning in groups...."

Stern's understanding of the WMD terrorist appears to be much more relevant than Berkowitz's earlier stereotype of the insane terrorist. It is clear from the appended case study of Shoko Asahara that he is a paranoid. Whether he is schizophrenic or sociopathic is best left to psychologists to determine. The case study of Ahmed Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the World Trade Center (WTC) bombing on February 26, 1993, does not suggest that he is schizophrenic or sociopathic. On the contrary, he appears to be a well-educated, highly intelligent Islamic terrorist.