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BIRTH OF A JIHADI Marwan's journey toward suicide murderer began just a few weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Before the war, he had been one of Fallujah's privileged young men: his father's successful business earned enough--even during the difficult years when the West imposed economic sanctions on Iraq--to provide a good life for Marwan and his six brothers and four sisters. In high school, he was an average student but excelled in Koranic studies at the local mosque.
Unlike many other Sunnis in Fallujah, Marwan had little love for Saddam's Sunni-led regime. Yet once the dictator fell, he turned against the Americans. "We expected them to bring Saddam down and then leave," he says. "But they stayed and stayed." Insurgents approached disaffected Fallujis like Marwan and urged them to join the resistance against the Americans. Many signed up, including one of Marwan's older brothers. Marwan joined the insurgency in April 2003 when U.S. soldiers fired on a crowd of demonstrators at a school, killing 12 and wounding many more. Marwan, who took part in the protest, escaped unharmed, but the event proved decisive. He says that a few days later, he and a few friends collected grenades and small arms from a military site abandoned by the Iraqi army and mounted an attack on a building occupied by U.S. soldiers. "They shot back but couldn't hit any of us," he recalls. "It was my first taste of victory against the Americans."
Over the next year, Marwan says, he participated in dozens of assaults on U.S. troops who were struggling to subdue the city. Marwan says he became expert with machine guns, a skill that brought him to the attention of al-Zarqawi's group, then called Attawhid wal Jihad. Marwan's piety apparently impressed the foreign-led jihadis as well: in April 2004 he was approached by Attawhid's spiritual guide, Palestinian-born Abu Anas al-Shami. Marwan says al-Shami, reputed to be a powerful orator and motivator, had a deep impact on him. (Al-Shami was killed in a rocket attack by U.S. forces near Fallujah in late 2004.)
Like other Iraqis who have joined extremist religious groups during the insurgency, Marwan severed connections with his family when he joined up. He says he will call them once before his suicide mission to say goodbye. Even though one of his brothers fights for another insurgent group and other siblings help the rebels with money and shelter, he says they all believe he has gone too far. "My family are not happy with my choice," he says. "But they know they can't change my path."