IS recruits are relatively well-educated, not driven by poverty

World Bank study debunks assumptions about terror group, finds that proportion of suicide fighters among recruits increases with education

An Islamic State recruitment video calls on others to join in their holy war (screen capture: Youtube)
An Islamic State recruitment video calls on others to join in their holy war (screen capture: Youtube)

WASHINGTON — Recruits into the Islamic State terror group are better educated than their average countrymen, contrary to popular belief, according to a new World Bank study.

Moreover, those offering to become suicide bombers ranked on average in the more educated group, said the newly released study Wednesday titled “Economic and Social Inclusion to Prevent Violent Extremism”.

The study, which aimed to identify socioeconomic traits that might explain why some are drawn to the Syria-based terror group, made clear that poverty and deprivation were not at the root of support for the group.

Almost without exception, fighters joining IS’s Syria and Iraq-based forces had several more years of education in their home countries — whether in Europe, North Africa or elsewhere in the Middle East — than the average citizen.

The data shows clearly, the report said, that “poverty is not a driver of radicalization into violent extremism.”

Out of 331 recruits described in a leaked Islamic State database, 69 percent reported at least a high school education, while a quarter had university-level educations. Only those from Eastern Europe were below the average, and only marginally so, according to the study.

“Foreign recruits from the Middle East, North Africa and South and East Asia are significantly more educated than what is typical in their region,” the World Bank report said, and a vast majority had an occupation or a job before joining the terror organization.

About 30 percent of the recruits told the extremist group what positions in the force they wanted. Around one in nine volunteered for suicide operations, and their educational levels were on par with those who sought to be administrators, the report said.

“The proportions of administrators but also of suicide fighters increase with education,” it said.

However, it noted that a significant number of those choosing “suicide fighter” as their preferred option when enlisting said that they had not been employed back in their home country, or that they were in the military before joining the group, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh.

“Looking at measures of economic inclusion shows a strong association between a country’s male unemployment rate and the propensity of that country to supply Daesh foreign recruits,” the report said, adding that “unemployment among the educated leads to a greater probability to hold radical ideas.”

An important finding, according to the study of the leaked material, “is that these individuals are far from being uneducated or illiterate. Most claim to have attended secondary school and a large fraction have gone on to study at university.

“We find that Daesh did not recruit its foreign workforce among the poor and less educated, but rather the opposite. Instead, the lack of economic inclusion seems to explain the extent of radicalization into violent extremism,” the report said.

Another significant finding links to religious knowledge and religiosity. Among the studied recruits, 53% reported a “basic” level of religious knowledge, 20% an “intermediate” level and 4% an “advanced” level.

“Large Muslim-population countries that exhibit higher levels of religiosity are less likely to be the origin of Daesh recruits,” the report said.

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