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What really drives suicide terrorists?

Failing to understand the real motive of suicide terrorists – anger over Western occupation of their land – means missing major attacks because we're looking for the wrong targets.

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From the 9/11 hijackers to the double agent whose suicide attack in Afghanistan killed seven CIA employees last December, many people want to know what drives some Muslims – many of whom are middle class and well educated – to kill themselves in attacks on Americans and others in the West.

After examining 2,200 suicide attacks around the world since 1980 – the most comprehensive analysis ever conducted – I've concluded that the answer is both simple and disturbing. What drives them is deep anger at the presence of Western combat forces in the Persian Gulf region and other predominately Muslim lands.

Popular accounts of these suicide terrorists give the impression that most of them are globe-trotting extremists radicalized by militant networks to strike outside their homeland for religious or other transnational causes. These accounts are false.

Five key members of Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP)

What the evidence shows

In the 2,200 suicide attacks since 1980, over 90 percent of the attackers carried out strikes in their home countries, often just miles from their homes, to resist foreign occupation of land they prize.

Hence, Lebanese carried out the suicide attacks against Israel's occupation of Lebanon; Turkish Kurds carried out the suicide attacks by the Kurdistan Workers' Party against the Turkish military presence in their home areas; and Iraqis, Saudis, Syrians, Kuwaitis, and Jordanians carried out the suicide attacks against America's military occupation of Iraq and the US threat to countries adjacent to Iraq.

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