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May 28, 2006 3:00 AM

A young man's transformation from village clown to suicide bomber

Samir Hammads childhood playground was a tiny patch of grass and dirt on the hilltop behind his family home where he could watch twin Israeli settlements expanding on the ridges above his remote West Bank village. From there, Hammad could see Israeli soldiers patrolling the separation barrier that runs through 14 acres of confiscated family land to protect Israeli settlers. Unskilled and unable to afford college, Hammad could also see his future being fenced in. So, when the 21-year-old left his village on April 16, carried upwards of 30 pounds of explosives down a Tel Aviv street and blew himself up in front of a fast-food restaurant, it came as no shock to some of those who knew Hammad best.

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