LONDON — Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda's No. 2. George Habash of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas strongman in Gaza. All trained as doctors — as did at least seven suspects in the failed bomb attacks in Britain.
The general public often is shocked to see that doctors — the world's healers — can become militants or even terrorist killers.
But some analysts believe it is part of a trend in which wealthy Muslim families highly educate their sons, who sometimes become radical and have the education they need to become leaders.
People often assume that terrorists are poor, disadvantaged people who are brainwashed or need the money. But the ones who actually perpetrate violence without handlers and manipulation are highly intelligent by necessity, said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism analyst at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.
It's only the smart ones who will survive security pressures in a subversive existence. Sometimes they are doctors, a profession that provides a brilliant cover and allows entry to countries like Britain, he said.
At least six of the eight suspects in the failed terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, Scotland, were identified as doctors from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and India. Another was a medical student.
It sends rather a chill down the spine to think that people's values can be so perverted, said Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which advises the British government.
It means obviously that you can't make any assumptions, or have any preconceptions about the kind of people who might become terrorists. It does mean that you widen the net, obviously, she told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Newspapers carried headlines such as Dr. Terror, Doctor Evil and Terror cell in the NHS, the country's National Health Service.
It's really shocking, said Elaine Paige, an office manager in London. Given what doctors do in clinics and operating rooms, how could they want to destroy lives?
If doctors were leading the cell that plotted the attacks, it wouldn't be a first.
Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian who trained as a doctor, is Osama bin Laden's top deputy, and he often speaks out in audiotapes on behalf of al Qaeda in praising Muslims who kill non-Muslims.
Three doctors have played prominent roles in militant Islamist groups in Gaza in recent years.
Mahmoud Zahar, one of the main Hamas leaders, was the personal physician of the founder of the group, the late Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Zahar became a Hamas spokesman and leader in the late 1980s alongside his mentor.
Yassin's successor was Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a pediatrician. Both were killed in Israeli air strikes.
The founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Mohammed al-Hindi, received his medical degree in Cairo in 1980. He returned to Gaza and formed the militant group a year later.
Habash, who trained as a pediatrician in a family of Christian Palestinian merchants, founded and led the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was behind a spate of aircraft hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s.