The just-barely-thwarted printer cartridge bomb attempt of last week represents an interesting data point in the question of why Are So Many Political Extremists Engineers.
Hanan al-Samawi, the woman whose identity was used by the still-unknown shipper of the packages, is being variously termed a “22-year-old engineering student” and a “fifth-year computer science student,” both of which would fall under the general rubric of engineer+political extremist, if only she were the one to actually ship the carefully concealed bombs.
Spectrum has raised the question a couple of times, because the data, as compiled by political scientist Steffen Hertog and sociology professor Diego Gambetta, seems pretty solid. We reported on their original 2008 (“Extremist Engineers: Why are so many jihadis engineers?”) and again two months ago (“Why Are Terrorists Often Engineers? The database of engineering-savvy extremists grows” [podcast]), the two researchers having added two more years worth of bombings and other attacks to their database.
Is it just a coincidence that the identity papers photocopied and presented by whoever went to U.P.S. and FedEx offices in Yemen were those of an engineering student? Or does it suggest that whoever these would-be bombers are, they are nestled comfortably in halls of engineering academe, as they were in Germany leading up to the 9/11 bombings?