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A suicide bomber's motive

Maha didn't sound like the murderer she wants to be.

The 20-year-old sounded polite and soft-spoken as she told me about her plans to become a suicide bomber. Her motivation, as she told me over the phone (she was too scared to meet in person), is not political, patriotic, religious or even, like some male suicide bombers, bizarrely sexual; for her there would be no 72 houris, the dark-eyed female attendants some Islamic teachings say care for male martyrs in paradise.

Our talk took me back to a trash-filled street in Cairo where in 1997 I spoke with a group of young men, all poor, unmarried, undereducated Islamic radicals who were trying to convert me. They repeatedly stressed how virgins would dote me on me in heaven.  One of the men pulled a cigarette lighter from his pocket and held the yellow flame under my outstretched palm.  I pulled back my hand in pain.

"Does that hurt you?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

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