According to this Sky News article:

The first recorded suicide bombing came from Christian soldiers during the Crusades to free The Holy City of Jerusalem from the control of Muslim armies. During the Crusades, the Knights Templar destroyed one of their own ships with 140 Christians on board in order to kill 10 times as many Muslims in the opposing fleet.

What is the source of this information? How true is it?

  • Rather than deal with the intent of the hundred+ soldiers, how about just "did a ship piloted by the Knights Templar blow up"?
    – Nick T
    Oct 2, 2016 at 15:31
  • I'm voting to close because the answer (yes or no) depends largely on parsing definitions. Was it "bombing" or "not"? Was it "suicide" or not? Depends on who you ask.
    – user5341
    Oct 3, 2016 at 12:05
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    Something to keep in mind: In military situations you sometimes find yourself in a situation where defeat is inevitable, soldiers will sometimes choose to take as many of their opponents with them as possible. As such things aren't planned as suicide missions I wouldn't count them, though. Oct 4, 2016 at 22:42
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    @user5341 chopping holes with an ax is definitely not "bombing".
    – DavePhD
    Oct 14, 2016 at 13:28

2 Answers 2



Wherefore it happened that one ship of the Templars, carried away by the violence of the current, was cast over near the side of the city toward the enemy, who for a longtime assailed it with barbots [footnote 62] and grappling irons, hurling out Greek fire and stones from the towers above; and since they could not prevail on account of the bravery of the defenders, they eagerly climbed up the ship, and throwing themselves headlong into it, descended upon the Templars. When they had fought there for a long time, the ship at last was pierced (whether by the enemy or by our own men we do not know) and sought the depths, drowning Egyptians with Christians, so that the top of the mast scarcely appeared above the water. And as Samson “killed many more at his death than he had killed before in his life" [Jgs 16:30], so also those martyrs dragged into the abyss of the waters along with themselves more than they could have killed with swords.

From Oliver of Paderborn "The Capture of Damietta" ca. 1217-1222 as translated in Crusade and Christendom: Annotated Documents in Translation at page 175.

See also Christian Society and the Crusades, 1198-1229: Sources in Translation at page 73.

An independent source, as quoted in The Knights Templar at page 199 states:

The Saracens boarded, until there were a good two thousand men there. The Templars were below decks, and seeing there was no escape, they resolved to destroy their enemies and die in the service of Our Lord. Therefore they took up hatchets and chopped through the hull of the ship. She went quickly to the bottom; one hundred and forty Christians drowned -and more ...

Similarly, in an article dated 4 July 1868 in Freemasons Magazine and Masonic Mirror vol. XIX (reprinting a section of the book The Knights Templars by Anthony Oneal Haye), at page 524, states:

one of their vessels was driven against the bank and boarded, upon which the Templars, with their axes, cut holes in her bottom, and both they and their enemies were drowned

So, it was not a "bombing".


This depends on how you parse the words, really.

  • Wikipedia makes a claim that it was Knights Templar in Jerusalem. There are many problems with that claim, however:

    1. It does not offer any primary source/citation to prove it. Wikipedia merely sites Sky.com article, which article itself doesn't offer ANY citations or primary sources.

    2. There appears to be no proof that this was actually a "suicide", in that the soldiers on the ship deliberately chose to engage in close combat with the intent of blowing up their ship - as opposed to any other narratives, such as accidental magazine explosion, or a shot from another ship, or a typical "Not let the enemy take the ship which is valuable" tactics, etc...

    3. Less (or more, depending on your point of view) relevantly, this was a military action, where self-sacrifice in general is both expected, and ubiquitous (if you ignore the gunpowder aspect, the first recorded incident of military suicide was presumably Samson destroying Philistine temple, in the Torah/Old Testament text. If you disavow that on the "Bible is not a historical record" grounds, you have plenty of actual prior historical examples, including on Wikipedia).

    Most modern discussions of suicide bombings are centered and are meaningful in the context of terrorism, which - in its most common definitions - excludes military targets. As such, the "firsts" that truly matter are civilian or government targets.

  • The first recorder bombing, that can be considered a suicide one, against a civilian target, I was able to find after extensive searching on Google, was Ignacy_Hryniewiecki's bombing of Russian Tzar Alexander II in 1881.

    This one is a bit iffy, since it's hard to argue whether it was a suicide by intention. Given the bomb's effective range (1 meter), presumably the act itself was intentionally self-recognized as suicidal, but given that previous attacker in the same event threw their bomb, it seems they would have preferred not to blow themselves up given an option.

    According to Wikipedia, some analysts insist that the it is a pre-condition for a suidice bombing to be classified as such, that the attacker's death in the bombing is a required and integral part of the mission - as usual, with this question, whether the answer is "yes" or "no" depend greatly on your prefered definitions rather than the facts.

    Additional iffiness is due to the fact that depending on one's definitions again, attack on a Tzar is more of a legitimate military attack since he is the head of military command chain.

  • The first non-military and non-government-head suicide bombing listed on Wikipedia is 1905, and clearly non-religion-based (and for that matter isn't even politics based):

    The earliest known non-military suicide attack occurred in Murchison in New Zealand on 14 July 1905. A long-standing dispute between two farmers resulted in a court case, and the defendant (Joseph Sewell) had sticks of gelignite strapped to his body. When Sewell excitedly shouted during the court sitting about the other farmer "I'll blow the devil to hell, and I have enough dynamite to do just that", he was ushered out of the building. Sewell detonated the charge when a police officer tried to arrest him on the street, and his body was blown to pieces, but nobody else died from their injuries

    As above, whether this one counts depends on definitions and context. It was intended for a civilian target initially; but only activated when a policeman was arresting the person. It was intentional suicide, but it had zero political goals and therefore doesn't get included in the meaningful context of discussion (terrorist attacks).

  • The first attacks against truly civilian targets, by intended suicide bombers, were probably in Lebanon during 1980s civil war, but specific examples aren't documented anywhere I could find - the only examples usually listed are attacks against US and French military or government targets that I'm excluding at this point.

  • As such, the first undisputed recorded attack like that would be in 1998, Temple of the Tooth suicide bombing by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

  • You really need stronger references than Wikipedia to... disprove Wikipedia. Yes, the article has poor citations, but that's OK for a claim. The other link is the actual claim.
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 3, 2016 at 13:30
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    @Sklivvz - you can't "disprove" a non-provable claim (since it verges on definitions, and human intentions that must fit those definitions and aren't known). You can merely analyze the claim for weaknesses, which is what I did. Frankly, the question shouldn't even be on the site as per my VTC, since it lacks a falsifiable claim under "intentions are offtopic" policy, and this answer is more of an expanded explanation as to why, with some attempts to at least present the facts that would make for a falsifyable claim fitting the question's topic.
    – user5341
    Oct 3, 2016 at 13:32
  • For example: can you reference that Ignacy Hryniewiecki's bombing was the first recorded suicide bombing? You link to the Wikipedia page, but it does not claim it afaict. But also, you make a semantic argument that terrorism is required, however that's your speculation. There are numerous other examples. It's OK to analyze a given claim, but you are making numerous additional claims to disprove it.
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 3, 2016 at 13:45
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    11 April 1974 PFLP terrorists entered Janusz Korczak middle school in Kiryat Shmona, but it was closed for Passover, so the they conducted a suicide bombing in a nearby residential building. books.google.com/… en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiryat_Shmona_massacre news.google.com/…
    – DavePhD
    Oct 3, 2016 at 15:24
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    @user5341 for negative searches you can either cite an expert or document the search terms on a context-specific tool which returns replicable results (not the generic google!). For example for a medical search you would say something like "i searched for 'limb fracture and pizza' on pubmed".
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 3, 2016 at 17:18

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