Eight years ago, while still an MP, I wrote an article for this site called: “the middle class converts who want to bomb us”.

So here it is again – in the light of the news that Khalid Masood, the Islamist extremist who murdered PC Keith Palmer, was a convert, originally called Adrian Elms.

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The story of Alhaji Umaru Abdulmutallab, and his wicked bomb plot, looks to be a reminder of a vital truth – namely, that Al Qaeda’s operatives in the west are not Frantz Fanon’s “wretched of the earth”: poor Muslims born into their religion and radicalised by Afghanistan or Iraq.

Abdulmuttalab appears to be the son of a wealthy banker and former Minister.  He was certainly ensconsed in a nice-looking flat in London’s west end.  The banker was so concerned about his son’s activities that he reported him to the authorities.

Let’s consider some other cases.

  • Richard Reid, who also tried to blow up an airplane, was a convert to Islam radicalised before the Iraq war.
  • Dhiren Barot, one of AQ’s main operatives in Britain pre-Iraq, was also the son of a banker, and a convert from Hinduism.
  • Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, believed to have murdered the American journalist Daniel Pearl, was privately educated at Forest School, Walthamstow.
  • Omar Khan Sharif, one of two British instigators of the terror attack on Mike Place in Israel, studied maths at King’s College, London.
  • Mohammed Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7/7 atrocity gang, was a teacher radicalised (again pre-Iraq).
  • Jermaine Lindsey, another member of the cell, was a convert.
  • Brian Young, one of the 2005 liquid explosives airplane plotters, was a convert.
  • Nicky Reilly, who tried to blow up a restaurant in Exeter, was a convert.

No single factor explains recruitment to violent extremism. Experts offer many – foreign policy or affairs; generational tensions among third or fourth generation Britons of Pakistani origin; the failures of multiculturalism.

The litany of names and details above show that these explanations are limited when not misleading.  Note the number of converts to extremism from troubled backgrounds.  Note the proportion of middle-class young men in apparent rebellion against their parents.

People like this can be peculiarly vulnerable to simple, evil, manichean ideas – such as AQ’s distortion of Islam.  A key motivator of AQ terror thus turns out to be ideology: to use an appropriate analogy, it’s the detanator which explodes the device.

Communism was a similar ideology.  Naziism another. The beliefs that drove the Baader-Meinhof gang another.

Never, never forget that the struggle against violent extremism is a battle of ideas – and that our beliefs, shared by Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are better and stronger.

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In her study of Islamism-related offences for the Henry Jackson society, Islamist Terrorism, Hannah Stuart reports that “there have been 264 convictions for Islamism-inspired terrorism offences as a result of arrests from 1998 onwards involving 253 British or foreign nationals”.  The analysis goes up to 2015.

  • The report finds that one in six of those convicted of them was a convert.  I would like to know the rate at the especially serious end of the scale.  On my list above, Reid, Barot, Lindsey, Young, Reilly, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, the killers of Lee Rigby, are all coverts, plus now Masood.
  • It also finds that “three-quarters of IROs were committed by individuals who were previously known to the authorities; and one quarter were committed by individuals with a previous criminal conviction“.  Masood has a long string of convictions for violent offences.
  • The report also concludes that “there is little correlation between involvement in terrorism and educational achievement and employment status where known“.
  • It also probes family and living circumstances, in terms of whether or notthose convicted were living with family members.  It does not put family background under the magnifying class, presumably because analysis is very difficult to carry out, but the proportion of those above who have rejected their family, or whose family background is chaotic, seems to be very high indeed.  One consideration or the other or both seems to apply in every case listed above.