Americans have been taking part in jihadist terrorism for more than 30 years. Hundreds have served in virtually every imaginable capacity, from top leaders to recruiters, foot soldiers to ideologists. But until very recently, American jihadists were notably absent from one field of endeavor – suicide bombing.

No longer. Since 2008, at least four Americans have killed themselves during terrorist bombings, all on behalf of Al Shabab, the insurgent group fighting to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.

The most recent , according to a Web site that publishes Al Shabab news releases, was Abdisalan Hussein Ali, who reportedly killed himself bombing African Union peacekeeping troops in Mogadishu on Saturday.

The FBI in Minnesota is trying to confirm that Ali was a Minnesota Muslim with the same name who was already under investigation, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

I’m often asked why Americans jihadists don’t seem to be inclined toward suicide attacks, and I don’t have a good answer. But there may be a clue in the fact that all of the suicide bombers to date were men of Somali descent or immigrants from Somalia.

In contrast, American-born terrorists and more assimilated immigrants have not, so far, demonstrated any inclination toward suicide attacks. The answer may lie in cultural benchmarks and expectations concerning death. American cultural myths tend toward survivors rather than martyrs; heroes who can stroll through a hail of bullets and emerge unharmed.

Whatever the reasons, success breeds imitation, helped along by propaganda. Before his death, the latest bomber made at least one audio recording, an excerpt from which has already begun to circulate online.

“Our goal is not to capture a country, or a place or a city, or a town, or to do other things,” Ali said. “Our goal is to die as Muslims.”

jmb1 American Suicide

J.M. Berger is editor of and author of Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, available in hardcover and on Kindle.

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