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British Jihadists Revealed To Be Wealthier And Better-Educated Than EU Counterparts

02/10/2014 13:48 BST | Updated 02/10/2014 13:59 BST

From high-quality farm produce to cutting-edge pharmaceuticals and Hollywood stars, Britain has long been proud of its exports.

But the 'quality' of another kind of product to leave our shores is much less likely to be a matter of national pride — our home-grown jihadists are the wealthiest and best educated in all of Europe.

According to new research from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College, London, British fighters who join radical jihadist groups in Syria are not always hardened thugs, but instead likely to be more affluent and have fewer criminal convictions than others coming from Europe.

The ICSR compared the backgrounds of 471 men and 54 women, the majority of whom joined either Islamic State or al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda. The majority of the jihadists had received at least A-Level education, according to what could be discerned from media reports and social media, and several had degrees. Many had previously been involved in activism for fringe Muslim groups in the UK, statistics published in the Times showed.

And only some had previous convictions for violence, most had only ever been picked up for petty offences, if they had a criminal past at all.

nasser muthana

Cardiff student Nasser Muthana had offers to study medicine before joining IS

The statistics correlate with previous research undertaken at Queen Mary, University of London, which found that though sympathy for terrorist acts was found in only 2.4% out of 600 people surveyed, support levels increased among the young, those currently in education, and people with an income of over £75,000.

Recent migrants, and those who spoke a language other than English at home were all less likely to support terrorism, as were those with a physical disability. Those with mental health issues were no more likely to support terrorist than any other group.

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Professor Kamaldeep Bhui, lead author of that study, said that the debate around what motivates radical behaviour often centres on "whether they came from disadvantaged backgrounds, have mental health issues or a criminal record, and whether their acts were purely political.

"Characteristics identified during interrogation are uncritically assumed to be of relevance to the early phase of radicalisation. But in reality, there's little empirical research," he continued.

In contrast, the 378 German fighters who were analysed by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, leaked to Berliner Morgenpost, were far more likely to have criminal backgrounds and be ill-educated, with only 2% holding degrees and just 12% of those having travelled to Syria were in employment when they left to go and fight. Almost a third had criminal convictions, usually for violence or drug offences.

aqsa mahmood

Private schoolgirl Aqsa Mahmood, 20, abandoned her university course last year to travel to join jihadists fighting in Syria

Official estimates put the number at 2,500 EU citizens who have left to fight in Syria, with the highest number of fighters coming from France, followed by Britain and then Germany. Belgium sends the most disproportionate number of fighters, 300 from a population of just 11 million.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, most of those fighters were recruited through involved with an Antwerp-based group Sharia4Belgium, and the majority had previous criminal records for violent offences or petty crimes before embracing hardline Islam or in some cases converting to the religion.

The researchers at Kings estimate that two dozen British fighters have been killed in Syria, at least four of them in the past week through targeted airstrikes from Western partners. One of the confirmed dead is 19-year-old Ibrahim Kamara, from Brighton, who was studying for his GCSEs at a local college when he left to fight in Syria.

The Times also reported that groups of wannabe jihadists from different cities tended to meet up with contacts in Syria or Iraq, suggesting it was friendships that led them to join particular radical groups, rather than a deep affiliation with that particular ideology. Londoners had tended to join Nusra Front or Rayat al-Taweed, rather than Islamic State. Those who have travelled from Cardiff have joined Islamic State, and several appeared on a recruitment video earlier this year. One of them, Nasser Muthana, had four university offers to study medicine.

Similar patterns have been seen amongst French and Belgian fighters, according to Paris Match, which reported that there are now several exclusively Francophone IS brigades operating in Aleppo, because the fighters do not speak Arabic. The paper said that the recruits are for the most part second or third generation North African immigrants or Muslim converts.

Women of Isis