LONDON - From Rwanda to Cambodia, mass killers may have fallen victim to a deadly
syndrome that turns normal people into callous murderers, according to a research
paper published Dec 19.
Sufferers from so-called "Syndrome E" showed no emotion about killing frequently.
They can spend the day herding children into gas chambers and then return home to
supper with their families.
"The transformation of groups of previously non-violent individuals into repetitive
killers of defenseless members of society has been a recurring phenomenon throughout
history," said Professor Itzhak Fried of the UCLA Medical Center at the University
Fried, writing in The Lancet science magazine, said this sinister transformation
is characterized by a set of symptoms that suggest a common syndrome.
These repeat killers on a mass scale are obsessed with beliefs directed against minorities.
"Metaphors such as 'cleansing' are often used to justify violence," he
The killers are not seized by a burst of frenzied battlefield emotion. Instead they
kill calmly "with flat effect".
They show no outward signs of acting abnormally and rapidly become desensitized to
the enormity of their crimes, Fried said.
"They may lead a normal family life while in parallel engaging in killing of
families," he wrote.
Fried believed that manifestations of Syndrome E were due to what he called a "cognitive
fracture" between various parts of the brain that determine emotion, mood and
reaction to events.
The neurosurgeon argued that it was vital to isolate victims showing signs of Syndrome
E because their blood lust could be contagious to others who might be similarly.
"Prompt diagnosis would be of paramount importance as prevention may be effective
only in the early stages," he said.