New studies explore why ordinary people turn terrorist

Bruce Bower in Science News:

ScreenHunter_2057 Jun. 24 20.21Fierce 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 heavy fighting. Coalition forces retreated, unwilling to lose more soldiers.

Atran and colleagues arrived in northern Iraq a couple of weeks later. Their plan: study “the will to fight” among soldiers on both sides of the Kudilah clash, even as fighting in the area continued. Their goals: try to understand what motivates people to join brutal organizations such as the Islamic State, and describe the personal transformations that push people leading comfortable, peaceable lives to commit acts of incredible violence and self-destruction.

More here.