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Profile of a British Islamist As a Terrorist

The typical jihadist who has either attacked or plotted to attack the United Kingdom is a young man with a better than average education. He is British but traces his ancestry back to South Asia. He generally has not attended a terrorist training camp and has no links to organizations banned by the British government.

This is the common portrait of a British jihadist who tries to terrorize his fellow citizens, according to a new report from the nonpartisan British think tank,The Centre for Social Cohesion [1](CSC). Inside its mammoth 500-page report, Islamist Terrorism: The British Connections, CSC Research Fellows Robin Simcox, Hannah Stuart, and Houriya Ahmed analyzed the 124 individuals who committed suicide attacks or were convicted of Islamist-related terrorism offenses in the United Kingdom between 1999 and 2009.

The report coincides with the fifth anniversary of the 7-7 London transit bombings, a day when Britons remember the 52 people murdered by the first suicide bombers to strike the United Kingdom: Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, Hasib Hussain, and Germaine Lidsay.

According to Islamist Terrorism, two-thirds of the individuals who have committed "Islamism related offences," or IROs, are men under the age of 30. Nearly seven out of ten individuals who committed IROs hold British nationality. Almost half of these individuals come from South Asia, with the number one ethnic origin of perpetrators being Pakistani—80 percent of whom hold British citizenship. The next most representative nationality held by IRO offenders is Somali, according to the report.

While most IRO perpetrators have no links to international terrorism, those who operated in cells did. These men had more contacts with known terror organizations, and had a greater tendency to travel to terrorist training camps, mainly in Pakistan. Twelve individuals had ties to al Qaeda,including the 7-7 cell[4], the report states.

Like other studies, the report notes that its analysis finds that British Islamist terrorists are not uneducated or economically desperate. Thirty-one percent had at one point attended university while 42 percent either were employed or going to school at the date of charge or attack.

(For more on jihadists favorite line of work, see Stephanie Berrong's "Engineering Jihad?[5]" from the December 2009 issue of Security Management.)

"The idea that lack of opportunities, poverty or lack of education are more than an aggravating factor is not supported by the findings," CSC Director Douglas Murraywrote in The Daily Telegraph yesterday[6].

Nearly all jihadist terrorists in the United Kingdom are male. Only five of the 124 individuals analyzed were female, three of whom were convicted not for plotting or executing an attack but for knowing about a plot beforehand or covering it up afterward.

Murray also did not shy from taking a controversial stance on profiling based on his organization's findings.

"And the idea that a terrorist cannot to some extent be racially profiled is also wrong," he wrote in the Telegraph. "Government should not ignore facts because they are difficult. Almost half of those convicted were of south-central Asian ancestry (46 per cent) - though this is lower than the percentage of Muslims in the UK who have such ancestry. But apologists for jihadis often try to claim that profiling is counter-productive. In fact, as one arm of surveillance, it can be very productive indeed."