London, Mar 15: Islamist radicals born and educated in Muslim countries are 17 times more likely to have an engineering qualification than the general population in these countries, according to a new study that challenges a widely-held view that many terrorists are poor and ignorant.
The finding published in a new book 'Engineers of Jihad', being launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), relies on a study of over 800 members of violent Islamist groups.
The book challenges a widely-held view that many terrorists are "poor, ignorant and have nothing to lose," according to its authors, LSE academic Dr Steffen Hertog and European University Institute Professor Diego Gambetta.
"There is little doubt that violent Islamist radicals are vastly more educated than the general population born and educated in the Muslim world, and engineers are dramatically over-represented," Hertog said.
The authors claim that the strong presence of graduates among Islamist radicals is due to economic development failures in core Muslim countries.
"Ambitious young graduates, particularly engineers and to a lesser extent, newly-trained doctors, were frustrated by a lack of job opportunities when their economies turned south in the 1970s," the authors said.
"Unlike Western-educated graduates who enjoyed good economic opportunities, their counterparts - educated in Muslim countries - were disaffected and ripe for recruitment by radical Islamic networks," they said.
Engineers are over-represented because they represent "the most talented and ambitious graduates at the sharp end of frustrated expectations," according to the authors. The book shows that the over-representation of engineers extends to Islamist radicals born and bred in Asian and Western countries, where labour market opportunities have been much better than in Muslim countries.
Out of 71 Western-based cases with known higher education credentials, 45 per cent have at some point been enrolled in an engineering degree compared to 16.2 per cent in the general population of Western graduates.
There is no evidence that the technical skills of engineering graduates are the reason they are so well represented among jihadists, the authors claim. "Bomb-making skills are not a pre-requisite in the recruiting process," Hertog said.
"An al-Qaeda training manual instead instructs members to look for individuals who are at once inquisitive and intelligent with the ability to observe and analyse, but who are also disciplined and obedient.
If anything, it is these traits that radical groups look for in engineers," he said. The other striking finding in the book is that engineers are also significantly represented among far right groups, while the far left is dominated by humanities and social science graduates.
This is consistent with the fact that the ideology of Islamist radicals, stripped of its religious components, overlaps far more with that of extreme right-wingers than with that of radical left-wingers, the authors said.