(CNN) --When Bali bomber Amrozi was sentenced to death by firing squad this month, he turned around, smiled broadly and turned his two thumbs up in the air.
"It's a martyr's death I am looking for," Amrozi said during his
trial in Denpasar, following the October Bali nightclub blasts.
The 40-year-old mechanic from a village in East Java was happy because he
had a chance of joining a growing horde of Muslims
from Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan willing to die as heroes in the name of Islam.
While there are many reasons young Muslims sacrifice their lives --
including the honor and money bestowed onto their families after their death
-- it is the martyr's afterlife that captures the imagination.
In the late 1990s, Pakistani journalist Nasra Hassan interviewed nearly 250 prospective
bombers, their families, as well as their trainers, from within militant
In remarkable accounts, members of the Palestinian fundamentalist group Hamas
described how potential bombers came to believe that paradise was on the
"other side of the detonator."
Candidates for martyrdom were told the first drop of blood shed by a martyr
washes away their sins. They could select 70 of their nearest and dearest to
enter Heaven; and they would have at their disposal 72 houris, the
beautiful virgins of paradise, Hassan recounted in the New Yorker.
Indeed many of the statements written by suicide bombers before they died
spoke of a painless death that offered the shortest path to such a Heaven.
But Islamic law prohibits suicide and the killing of innocents, and many
bodies, such as Saudi Arabia's Council of Senior Clerics, have said terror
acts have no "religious grounds." (Saudi
clerics condemn terrorists)
A sacred pillar of Islam is the jihad,
or struggle. The greater part of the jihad is the struggle within the soul
to fight the devil inside, experts say, while the lesser jihad is the fight
against those who try to subjugate Muslims.
In 1998 Saudi-born militant Osama
bin Laden took the lesser struggle and declared a jihad on America,
claiming Muslims were under attack.
U.S. troops were occupying sacred Saudi soil, the Americans were supporting
Israel and Islam needed to be defended, he said.
Suicide attacks were seen as the deadliest arsenal for this "Holy
War", a weapon that could not only penetrate "enemy
territory" and kill, but also instill fear, horror and revulsion.
Fundamentalist Islamic leaders justified such acts by saying those who were
strapping bombs on their bellies, or flying planes into buildings were not
committing suicide, but were chosen by Allah to commit "sacred
explosions" and become shahids, or martyrs.
In a bid to meet a growing call to arms, charismatic, but extremist, Islamic
leaders began upping their recruitment efforts, very often honing in on
religious schools, such as the madrassahs
in Pakistan and pesantrens in Indonesia. (Terror
group goes to school)
In these jihad factories, poor and impressionable children learnt the Koran
and were kept largely ignorant of the world and anything but one
interpretation of Islam, Jeffrey Goldberg reported in the New York Times,
after spending some time at a madrassah in Pakistan.
Students came to see the world divided in two domains: the peaceful
worldwide community of Muslims ("the abode of peace") and
everywhere else ("the abode of war"), Goldberg found.
The United States was viewed as a spiritually corrupt nation hostile to
Islam, particularly after Washington declared a "War on Terrorism"
following the September 11 attacks.
While not all were recruited in this manner -- indeed many potential martyrs
in Southeast Asia were educated with jobs -- a fringe of Muslims became
united in their belief they were being persecuted in a time of war, and the
best way to change this was to die.
Following the arrests of 31 members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror
network in Singapore, the government released a paper detailing just how
such groups cultivated these mindsets.
Leaders from JI, an al Qaeda-linked group seeking to set up a pan-Islamic
state spanning Southeast Asia, eyed captivated students at mass gatherings.
They then indoctrinated those deemed suitable into the clandestine group
over 18 months.
During that time they were taught "JI-speak." Those who believed
in the "truth" of JI doctrine became closer to Allah. They learned
the "true" JI knowledge of jihad -- that innocents, both Muslim
and non-Muslim, could be sacrificed.
They were promised martyrdom if they died in the cause of jihad. And anyone
who left the group was called an infidel.
Not only did these teachings foster a sense of superiority over outsiders
and a strong group mentality that made it difficult to quit, the Singapore
report said, but the psychologists interviewing the detainees said many JI
members turned to the leaders to find a "no-fuss" path to Heaven.
They wanted to be convinced that they had found "true Islam" and
free themselves from the endless searching. Especially since they believed
they could not go wrong, as the JI leaders had quoted from holy texts. None
of them was found to have suicidal tendencies.
Research showed the recruits became so committed to the cause they become
perfect jihad machines, looking for an opportunity to sacrifice their lives
and avenge the suffering of Muslims in the ultimate devotion in a
"defensive" holy war.