VERA MIRONOVA rides Humvee shotgun through Mosul’s shattered cityscape. It is late January 2017. Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has just declared east Mosul liberated from three years of rule by Islamic State, or ISIS. Most jihadist fighters are dead or captured, or have crossed the Tigris to the west, digging in for a final stand. Left behind, biding their time, are snipers and suicide bombers.Much of the population has fled to refugee camps on the outskirts. Those who stayed look lost and dazed. Men pull corpses out of houses destroyed by air strikes. Others cobble together street-corner markets, selling meat and vegetables imported from Erbil, 80 kilometres and another world away.Few women are visible. Mironova stands out, dressed in combat trousers and a Harvard sweatshirt, wisps of blonde hair escaping her blue stocking hat. Despite travelling in an armoured car, she’s clearly not a combatant. She’s a social scientist, and her job is not to fight, but to listen, learn and record.
Anatomy of terror: What makes normal people become extremists?