Why be a suicide bomber?

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First reports on today's bombings in Indonesia are that they were suicide bombings. But here's the confusing part:
At around 7:47 am local time (0:47 UTC) on 17 July 2009,[4] the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia, were hit by separate bombings five minutes apart.[1][5] Nine fatalities, including four foreigners were reported. Among the foreigners were one person from Australia and one from New Zealand.[1][6] More than 50 others were injured in the blasts.[2][6][7] Both blasts appear to have been the work of suicide bombers, who may have smuggled the bombs into the hotels by checking in as paying guests several days earlier.[8]

Maybe I'm missing something, but if you've managed to smuggle yourself into the hotel and assemble your bomb, why bother to make it a suicide bombing? Just assemble it, put it on a timer, and then head out for a drink. Wouldn't that be a lot more convenient? When I was in Bali a few years ago, it didn't seem like the hotel bothered to search your room other than whatever searching they do incidental to doing housekeeping, and it's not like you need to get very far, so you don't need a lot of lead time.

There's obviously some strategic benefit to being willing to do a suicide bombing, since it requires somewhat less sophistication (no remote detonators or timers or whatever) and it's harder to stop someone who is willing to die. But that doesn't mean that you have to actually die in the attempt if it's not absolutely necessary. Perhaps there's some signaling benefit in the occasional suicide bombing even if it's not strictly necessary just to preserve a level of strategic uncertainty, but that seems like a pretty high price to pay.


Or, perhaps, it wasn't suicide bombers at all. I mean, how would they know? You think they took DNA samples of all the guests so they could match them to the bodies in the room with the bombs?

I don't think you get your 70 virgins unless you're a martyr. Simply killing people isn't sufficient.

In his historical novel "Samarkand", Amin Maalouf describes the psychology of the Ismaili followers of Hassan al-Sabbah, the founder of what became known as the sect of Assassins (and gave the word to French and English). The assassins would find their target and kill them in the most public way imaginable. They would then make no attempt to escape, and be cut down. The objective was to demonstrate:

1) that no one, however mighty, was beyond the reach of the assassins, as an object lesson

2) the sheer determination of the assassins, to impress the public and rally new followers

This has some parallels to the story of Mucius Scaevola in ancient Roman history.

Then again, some reports from Iraq suggest the suicide bombers' vests are locked and remote controlled by the bomber's handlers, not by the bomber himself. In that sense they would be more like guided missiles than Japanese kamikaze. If these reports are accurate, you could even argue they are not strictly speaking suicide bombers since it is someone else pulling the trigger.

One argument in favor of suicide bombing is that you eliminate any possibility of the bomber being captured and spilling the beans. If you're the master planner of multiple such events, you've got an interesting conundrum. When your underlings self-destruct, they help keep your whereabouts secret, but you also eliminate the ability of them to gain experience, help with recruiting, and so forth.

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