London, September 12 : A team of scientists have said that they have a clearer idea of what makes a terrorist after interviewing a group of Islamic extremists in Pakistan.
According to a report by BBC News, the team that did the analysis was from Liverpool University's Centre for Investigative Psychology.
The project constructed psychological "profiles" to describe how Jihadists were led into their violence.
It quashes the idea that these people are "zombies", mindlessly following the orders of others; or mentally ill.
The picture that emerges is of largely intelligent people finding direction in the networks of associates they keep.
"One of the most frightening things about terrorists is that they are remarkably normal and often reasonably well educated, and certainly no indication of mental disturbance in the way they deal with the world," said Professor David Canter, director of Liverpool University's Centre for Investigative Psychology.
Professor Canter's group conducted a series of interviews with 49 terrorists - people convicted of bombing and killings.
The team used an interview technique known as the "repertory grid" - a method that allows an individual to express their understanding of themselves and the world around them by indicating who is important in their lives.
This approach might, for example, involve asking interviewees to order cards printed with names of friends and associates.
The description of a terrorist this technique throws up is far removed from the caricatures often seen in the Western media.
"The work on pathways into terrorism indicates that it comes out of a social process; it comes out of a series of contacts that terrorists have with other individuals," Professor Canter told BBC News.
"These may be friends and associates; they may be members of their family. But more typically, they will be some sort of person they look up to, who may be a senior individual within a terrorist organisation, or maybe a teacher that they feel provides them with some feelings of self-worth and significance if they will take part in violent activity," he added.
According to Professor Carter, there were two main pathways into terror - through attachment to particular social groups who are on the fringes of terrorism; and through strong ideals or spiritual beliefs.
The research supports substantial anecdotal evidence which challenges simplistic notions of a rapid radicalisation.
But the research also suggested that many terrorists were open to changing their ways.
Some interviewees who became involved in terrorist groups often realized their leaders were no better than those they perceived to have wronged them, the research found out.
The study had lessons for how the authorities should work to block off the pathways to a life of violence.
"At the broader level, everything has to be done to undermine the idea that individuals think of themselves solely in terms of any particular group of sub-group," said a researcher.