Monday, April 04, 2005

Typical al-Qaeda recruits Western educated
Typical al-Qaeda recruits Western educated


THE typical recruit to al-Qaeda is Western-educated and has a wealthy, professional background, according to a new study.

The analysis of 500 members of Osama bin Laden's organisation has turned Western experts' presumptions about al-Qa'ida upside down.

Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist who conducted the study, said he assumed it would find that most recruits were poor and ill-educated.

"The common stereotype is that terrorism is a product of poor, desperate, naive, single young men from Third World countries, vulnerable to brainwashing and recruitment into terror," he said.

However, his study showed 75per cent of the al-Qaeda members were from upper-middle-class homes and that many were married with children; 60 were college-educated, often in Europe or the US.

Some, such as British-born terrorist Omar Sheikh, were educated at fee-paying schools before heading for Afghanistan, Bosnia or Chechnya.

Sheikh, who has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for his role in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, attended Aitchison College in Lahore, Pakistan, and the fee-paying Forest school in east London.

Dr Sageman said most of the terrorists came from a small number of wealthy Arab countries, from immigrant communities in the West or from Southeast Asia. Few were from poor Islamic countries such as Afghanistan.

"Al-Qaeda was very selective at first in terms of who it recruited," said Dr Sageman, a former CIA officer who once worked with anti-Soviet mujaheddin fighters while based in Islamabad.

"If you look at the Saudis who have been killed while fighting for the organisation, you find the majority come from Riyadh, the capital, rather than poor rural provinces."

He said most grew up in caring families concerned about their communities.

The men in Dr Sageman's sample joined al-Qaeda at an average age of 26. About half grew up as religious children, but only 13 - mostly from Southeast Asia - attended Islamic schools.

The study is backed by Abdullah Anas, a former senior mujaheddin commander in Afghanistan who now lives in London.

"There is no question (but) that most of those who came to Afghanistan in the 1980s were from middle-class backgrounds - teachers, doctors, accountants or imams," he said. "Most came with their families."

But Dr Sageman and Mr Anas agree that more recent al-Qaeda recruits are likely to come from less privileged backgrounds.