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THE TERRORIST MENTALITY. THE Shiite suicide bomber who drove her explosive-packed Peugeot into an Israeli Army convoy in South Lebanon last year was 16 years old. The Jordanian who tried to assassinate the vice-consul of the United Arab Emirates in Rome in 1984 was 22. Of the four hijackers of the Achille Lauro, all of whom were sentenced in Genoa, Italy, last November, the oldest was 23; the youngest, 19.

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Oversimplification of issues. Terrorists often reduce complex issues to black-and-white. Dr. Ferracuti points to the intensely intellectualized, inward-looking, and politically naive theorizing of many groups. The terrorist, he says, ``no longer tests his ideas against reality by [engaging in] dialogue with people with different views.'' Instead, he lives out ``a fantasy war,'' convinced that he has broad support from numerous like-minded followers.

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Frustration. Pent-up concerns about an individual's inability to change society figure strongly in this mind-set. Italian historian and journalist Giorgio Bocca notes: ``They have no patience, these terrorists. They are totally absorbed in their cause. One of the slogans of one of these movements [I studied] was `We want it all and we want it now.' ''

Self-righteousness. ``They believe in [their] total rectitude,'' notes Professor Wilkinson, who adds that ``intolerance, dogmaticism, authoritarianism, and a ruthless treatment of their own people who deviate from their own view are common to their mentality.''

Utopianism. Many terrorists seem to feel that a near-perfect future lies just around the corner, once the present order is destroyed. This utopianism, coupled with frustration at the slow pace of social change, often leads to political extremism on both the left and the right. ``Unless you catch this utopian aspect,'' notes Professor Ferracuti, ``it's difficult to understand the mind-set.''

Social isolation. Terrorists, says Dr. Post, are often ``people who really are lonely.'' Terrorist groups use religious or political ideals to interest potential recruits. But those taking up political violence often share traits that are less religious or political than mental and emotional.

For many of them, Post says, the terrorist group is ``the first family they have ever had.''

Assertion of their own existence. Terrorist actions are often laden with symbolic overtones, involving the choice of captives, locations, weapons, and timing. They are frequently meant to send messages -- and the message, quite often, is simply ``I exist! Pay attention to me!'' French criminologist Jacques L'eaut'e calls terrorism ``a communication system'' in which frustrated people are ``trying to express through violence their own message.''

Willingness to kill. Perhaps the most startling characteristic, however, is the coldbloodedness of some terrorist murders. Students of terrorism relate this characteristic to a harsh oversimplification that allows killers to see victims simply as objects -- a habit of mind observed among Nazi killers during the massacre of Jews in World War II. Researchers have noticed, however, that captors who hold hostages for protracted periods tend to develop a kind of bond with them that makes coldblooded murder less likely. THE INNER LANDSCAPE What makes terrorists tick? While there is no single mind-set, certain mental traits are widely observable. Oversimplification: a fanatic, black-and-white view of the world. Frustration: impatience with a society perceived to be oppressive. Selfrighteousness: dogmatic assertiveness of their own positions, intolerance of others' views. Utopianism: a feeling that a vaguely defined `perfect society' is just around the corner. Isolation: loneliness and an inability to function well in social groups. Cold-bloodedness: a willingness to murder ruthlessly, seeing victims as objects.