MI5 has concluded that there is no easy way to identify those who become involved in terrorism in Britain, according to a classified internal research document on radicalisation seen by the Guardian.
The sophisticated analysis, based on hundreds of case studies by the security service, says there is no single pathway to violent extremism.
It concludes that it is not possible to draw up a typical profile of the “British terrorist” as most are “demographically unremarkable” and simply reflect the communities in which they live.
The “restricted” MI5 report takes apart many of the common stereotypes about those involved in British terrorism.
They are mostly British nationals, not illegal immigrants and, far from being Islamist fundamentalists, most are religious novices. Nor, the analysis says, are they “mad and bad”.
Those over 30 are just as likely to have a wife and children as to be loners with no ties, the research shows.
The security service also plays down the importance of radical extremist clerics, saying their influence in radicalising British terrorists has moved into the background in recent years.
The research, carried out by MI5’s behavioural science unit, is based on in-depth case studies on “several hundred individuals known to be involved in, or closely associated with, violent extremist activity” ranging from fundraising to planning suicide bombings in Britain.