Engineers and engineering students make up nearly half of Islamic militants involved in high-profile attacks, according to a study by a prominent French specialist on terrorism.
Steffen Hertog, a professor at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris, commonly known as Sciences Po, recently told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that such radicals are often better educated than the rest of the population in their countries.
“There is a positive correlation between the degree of education and the level of extremism,” Mr. Hertog said.
Gathering evidence from those participating in past attacks, Mr. Hertog estimates that about 40 percent of members of radical Islamist groups such as Hamas and Southeast Asia’s Jemaah Islamiya are engineers. About a third of those who took part in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had studied engineering, and 67 percent of those involved in the bombings in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002 were in engineering, he said. He will publish his findings in an upcoming book, “Engineers of Jihad.”
While no one can say for sure why there is such a preponderance of engineers among the terrorists, Marc Sageman, a former member of the CIA’s Afghan task force, said engineering is considered an especially prestigious career in the developing world and attracts “action-oriented” types.
“Engineers are more action-oriented than, for example, lawyers,” he said. “We don’t see any lawyer getting involved in a radical extremist group.”
Mr. Sageman also noted that many educated professionals in the Muslim world suffer social frustration as a result of a lack of employment opportunities in the region.