Does Engineering Education Breed Terrorists?


Chronicle of Higher Education:

Does Engineering Education Breed Terrorists?

In May 2010, Faisal Shahzad hoped to kill dozens of pedestrians when he parked his Nissan Pathfinder near Times Square, loaded with improvised bombs. Four months earlier, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to bring down a trans-Atlantic flight carrying 289 passengers by igniting explosives sewn into his underwear. Last year, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire on two military facilities in Tennessee, killing five soldiers.Like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Azahari Husin, and Mohamed Atta, these men sought to commit acts of terror in the name of Islam.

But all six also shared something else. They had studied engineering.
Researchers have long noticed that an oddly large number of jihadists have engineering backgrounds. Recently two social scientists, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, scrutinized the numbers and concluded that, yes, the proportion of terrorists who are engineers far outpaces expectations. Why is that? The researchers, who have pursued this question for the past several years, offer answers in a
new book,
Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection Between Violent Extremism and Education (Princeton University Press). In the process, they join two current debates: about the seeds of terrorism and about the blind spots that can afflict engineering education.

These debates coincide with the ascendance of engineering in the public eye. Graduates rank among the highest-paid right after college, and the discipline is praised as central to the nation’s military stature and economic competitiveness. Meanwhile, the study of terrorism, which is still a young field, is grappling with fundamental questions about root causes.

Central to the debates are questions of causality: Do engineering programs select a certain kind of person, one who arrives on campus already predisposed toward acts of terror? Does something in these programs worsen some students’ tendency toward extremism? Or is the relationship between terrorism and engineering simply an intriguing correlation with no deeper meaning?

If there’s anything to this I’m sitting next to a huge breeding ground – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


I have one word for your article - bull.


My guess is that it is more political science and fundamentalist radical theological studies which could breed people who are sympathetic to the goals of terrorism.


Well then, I guess I’m learning how to be a terrorist at one of the senior military colleges in the country. :confused::shrug:


I imagine it depends on who you ask.


What, since I’m an Electrical Engineer, I’m an electronic warfare terrorist? I’ll blow all of your internet and electronics up with an EMP bomb! ;):stuck_out_tongue: Or maybe I’m exempt entirely?


Does something in these programs worsen some students’ tendency toward extremism?

On a more serious note, I will say this. The “traditional speech” given to all engineering students at the beginning of their education is: “Look to your left. Look to your right. Two of you will not be present at graduation.” For the first two years they try to cut the entering class by about 60%. For most of the semester, I and my other engineering friends are stressed out. I heard the freshman engineering dorms are on suicide watch when a freshman engineering project due date is looming, and maybe that’s not true, but the sad part is that I would not be surprised if it was. I don’t think it breeds extremism, but an overly stressed student who is afraid their life will come crashing down around their ears if they don’t make grades this semester could certainly be vulnerable towards it. And that doesn’t have to be uniquely engineering. It just so happens that we know quite a bit of physics and how to apply it to potentially destructive means.


I expect Muslim parents won’t pay for an education in Philosophy, Social Justice or Ethnic Studies.


This licensed Professional Engineer agrees.



I think I would want to know where they studied engineering, and in what program.

I have a brother who has his Master’s degree in electrical engineering. For a time while he was working on his Master’s in a very prestigious university, he had a fellowship to teach engineering to a number of Libyans. Their freight was being paid by the Libyan government and they were pretty well to do in their own right. My brother said they had no interest to speak of in engineering, just enough to get by so the Libyan government would keep paying them to play and sin in the U.S. The program was not the same as what the American engineering students were going through, but the university found a way to “graduate” them all the same.

He talked to some of them about their lackluster performance, and they informed him they would never actually be practicing engineers in Libya. They would be well-paid “bosses” of engineers from foreign countries like the U.S., Britain, France, etc. The foreign engineers would do all the work, while the Libyans would sit in fancy offices and order coffee.


Nah, for every Islamic Dilbert out there, there is an Islamic Wally who is only in it for the free coffee…

Still trying to picture Alice in a hijab,…ain’t working out well :rolleyes:


I think it is like the 911 murderers who took lessons on how to drive a plane, but were not worried about landing it.

Like the people in engineering schools, these individuals were already radicalized before they went to school, and chose the kind of education that would make them the most useful to blowing stuff up and otherwise waging war against the infidel.
Engineering is very practical. It is applied knowledge, and that is the kind of skill that is needed as the terrorist look to engineer every more creative and cunning methods of killing people.


Really? I do not see how solving stress tensors and differential equations would help one in the science of killing people. If I want a curriculum for learning how to kill people, I would want look up the curriculum of the School of the Americas.

I don’t think using an assault rife and other arms would be “creative”.

According to Wikipedia, Mohamed Atta (the only 9/11 highjacker that was an engineering student and whose name is not mentioned in the article), Atta was “radicalized” (word not used in Wikipedia) in 1992 after his studies.

As something off topic, I just got around to reading Christopher Dorner’s manifesto. I could say that he was not anti-American from what he said.


you are looking at it too narrowly. Shootings is not the only kind of terrorism. IEDs were a HUGE problem in Iraq. Pressure sensitive triggers, triggers that go off when it senses the heat from a convoy vehicle go over, cell phone triggers. Knowing the best place to park a explosive laden vehicle to cause the most structural damage to buildings. Finding ways to get stuff past TSA security check points. Who is more likely to know how or figure out ways for these kinds of terrorism? An engineer or a literature major?

I don’t think it has anything to do with the engineering curriculum causing radicalization. Darryl1958 was spot on when he said " It is applied knowledge, and that is the kind of skill that is needed as the terrorist look to engineer every more creative and cunning methods of killing people. "


If the Army wants to knock down a building, they call the Corp of Engineers. That branch has the knowledge of explosives and structural engineering needed to bring down a building.

The School of the Americas teach Company and Battalion level contra-insurgency tactics. To a terrorist, the curriculum would be of interest if they had a company or battalion of terrorists to command. That is hardly a realistic scenario in the US.


Actually I agree, it’s just one of those fun correlations though engineering does encompass how to destroy things as well as build them.


I think the answer is no. When I was taking electronics at a specialized school, I later began to realize that anyone with the motivation could build an explosive device of some sort. I’m sure someone who knows how to build IUDs could teach others. No need for formal schooling, just lots of practice and then doing it. I think a terrorist in the Middle East, for example, would not want an engineering degree in his past, especially if he is caught and certain people want to question him and have his background on file.



I have two words for the article, but I am not allowed to expand on your answer due to forum rules.:D:D

What it does show is that Islamic terrorists are not the uneducated, jobless victims with no other options. Many of them are well educated, including doctors and engineers, who have also been trained from an early age in an ideology that rejects the profound truth found in Genesis 1:27

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

Islam denies that all people have human dignity and rights because we are all created in God’s image. They deny the concept of natural law. It may have occurred to some after the attack in Orlando that the LBGT community also has problems with the last half of the same verse. At least Islam and LBGT communities share that they reject the fundamental truth found in the very same verse.


As a former Mechanical Engineering major, I must say that we all had to have been insane.


Makes sense to me how engineering would be useful to terrorists plans.
I guess some people can’t see the connection though.

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