Does poverty cause terrorism? It’s complicated

By Dr Rakib Ehsan

In light of the devastating Easter Sunday Islamist terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, one particular feature drew the attention of many: the background of the assailants.

These were by no means economically deprived individuals languishing in the lower rungs of the Sir Lankan economy. The general socio-demographic profile of terrorists behind this well-planned, co-ordinated series of attacks is one of affluence and high social status – well-educated men hailing from middle-class families, if not higher. Indeed, two of the terrorists were sons of Mohamed Ibrahim – a wealthy spice trader and pillar of the community.

This has inevitably re-ignited a long-running debate over the relationship between poverty and terrorism.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many of the world’s leaders identified poverty and economic deprivation as critically important causes of terrorist activity (which is interesting, when one considers the immensely wealthy background of its mastermind, Osama Bin Laden, along with assailants such as Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah).


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