A SENSE of boredom and frustration with their "insignificant" lives is a common trait of people who become violent jihadis, according to leading terrorism expert.
Marc Sageman is a former CIA officer who worked with the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s and early 1990s.
He left the US intelligence service and became a clinical psychiatrist, giving him some perspective on Islamic extremism.
He has spent the past few years researching terrorist networks and their radicalisation. He said terrorist recruits might range from highly educated doctors to unemployed youths. "There's nothing mysterious about these guys," he said. "It's not about being brainwashed. They are all too human."
Mr Sageman, who will be the keynote speaker at this week's Safeguarding Australia conference in Canberra, said yesterday: "If there's one thing they have in common … it is that they have had very insignificant lives.
"You have a lot of people who are bored out of their minds.
"Joining this movement brings significance to their lives."
It was friendship that brought together and bound terrorist networks, rather than a common economic or religious experience.
Mr Sageman, adjunct professor of psychology at Penn University, said the behaviour of terrorist groups was not driven by what members thought, but rather how they felt.
They generally had little scholarly knowledge of Islam or an intellectual framework behind their extremist views.
"They live a parallel life, a virtual fantasy life," he said. "They assume an online persona that's more violent and significant than real life."
Exaggerating the terror threat only fed terrorists by enhancing their sense of power, he said.
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