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New studies explore why ordinary people turn terrorist

Research in the Iraqi war zone point to key characteristics among ISIS soldiers and their opponents

1:00pm, June 23, 2016
group of ISIS members

DEADLY DEVOTION  A collective sense of identity plus deeply held values may inspire Islamic State supporters, such as those shown here, to sacrifice everything for their cause.

Fierce combat erupted in February 2016 at the northern Iraqi village of Kudilah. A Western-backed coalition of Arab Sunni tribesmen, Kurds in the Iraqi army and Kurdish government forces advanced on Islamic State fighters who had taken over the dusty outpost.

Islamic State combatants, led by young men wearing explosive vests, fought back. The well-trained warriors scurried through battle lines until they reached their enemy. Then they blew themselves up along with a few coalition soldiers, setting the stage for an Islamic State victory. These suicide bombers are called inghamasi, meaning “those who dive in deep.”

The inghamasi’s determination and self-sacrifice inspires their comrades to fight to the death, says anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Outnumbered about 6-to-1, Islamic State fighters still retained control of Kudilah after two days of

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