Two-thirds of British terror suspects are from middle-class backgrounds and those who become suicide bombers are often highly educated, a classified MI5 document reveals.
The paper, marked ‘Secret: UK Eyes Only’, also debunks the myths that terrorists and suicide bombers are ‘loners’ and ‘psychopaths’.
Instead, the security service says that 90 per cent of them can be categorised as ‘sociable’ and have a high number of friends.
The 200-page document, titled Radicalisation Of Muslims In The United Kingdom–A Developed Understanding, was found by a Mail on Sunday reporter in the abandoned residence of the British ambassador in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
The research paper, which was intended to be read by only MI5 agents and officers, was produced after studying 90 terror suspects investigated by the security service.
While some of the information in the document comes from the interrogation of suspects, other data came from surveillance by spies and informants.
The report gives a rare glimpse into how security service agents view Islamic extremists, and what MI5 believes are the main causes of Muslims becoming radicalised.
While the report says that Western foreign policy and the perception that ‘Islam is under siege’ plays a role, they are not the main cause.
Instead, the four causes of radicalisation are:
• ‘Trauma’, such as the death of a loved one: Ten per cent of terror suspects became radicalised after a life trauma, says the report.
• ‘Migration’: A third of all extremists ‘migrated to Britain alone’.
• ’Criminal activity’: Two-thirds of the sample had criminal records.
• ‘Prison’: Muslim prisoners who are not religious are often radicalised in prison. The report identified 60 known Islamist extremists operating in British jails.
The study says that the ‘mean age’ at which a Muslim becomes radicalised is 21.6 years, while anyone between the ages of 16 and 32 is regarded as vulnerable.
The report added: ‘Where data is available, two-thirds came from middle or upper-middle-class backgrounds, showing there is no simplistic relationship between poverty and involvement in Islamist extremism.’
The study also found that half of the suspects it surveyed were married and some had children.
‘This indicates that having commitments to a spouse and children did not necessarily restrain these individuals from becoming involved in activity that may have resulted in lengthy imprisonment, if not death.’
The report adds: ‘The vast majority (90 per cent of those on whom we have data) are described as sociable, with a number of friends. Our data thus tends to contradict commonly held stereotypes of terrorists being “mad”, psychopathic or evil.
‘It also challenges the theory that individuals who turn to radical or extremist networks are those who are unable to make friends in normal life.’
Professor Anthony Glees, a terrorism expert at Buckingham University, said: ‘I am glad MI5 are privately accepting that terror suspects were sociable creatures because for a long time they gave the impression that terrorists and suicide bombers are lone wolves.
‘It is also encouraging that they believe most terror suspects come from middle-class backgrounds. Traditionally, there was a belief among the spooks and police that terrorists were caused by poverty.’
The Home Office, which speaks of behalf of MI5, declined to comment.