The Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is blamed for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, is now attracting "more young, educated men, some of whom even hold advanced degrees," a US daily reported on Thursday.
"The profile of those joining the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba is changing," the Washington Times said citing Brig Gen. Mahmood Shah, who served the Pakistani Army in the largely ungoverned tribal areas along Pakistan's porous border with Afghanistan.
"The big change is that until a few years back most of the militants were hailing from the [Afghan] frontier, but now the scenario has changed and young men from all over Pakistan are joining," Shah was quoted as saying in a report from Lahore.
A ripe breeding ground for the new militants is southern Punjab, he told the Washington Times. Since the school system in Punjab is better than in the tribal areas, most of the new entrants to militant groups are better educated, Shah said.
The only Mumbai attacker captured, Muhammed Amir Ajmal alias Kasab, had completed only the fourth grade, according to Indian and Pakistani press reports. But in a recent interview, a Kashmir-based LeT commander told the Times that members of the group include young men with master's degrees in business administration and bachelor's degrees in computer science.
The militant commander, who goes by the name Abu Aqasa, spoke by cell phone from Lahore and answered other questions in writing, the Times said.
"We have doctors and engineers and computer specialists working for us," he said. "These people don't necessarily fight wars with us. They mainly help us spread our message in cities and villages and also help us in our dispensaries, hospitals and other charitable works."
Abu Aqasa was quoted as saying the organisation uses educated people and especially those with good communications skills to recruit supporters in religious congregations. Once a young man has embraced the militants' ideology, he is inducted into the organisation and sent for further training.
An organiser for a Lahore-based religious organisation told the Times dire economic conditions are the main reason young, educated people are being attracted to militancy in Pakistan.
"People can't find jobs and have nothing to eat," said the man, who asked not to be identified to avoid attracting attention from the police.
"Families find it attractive that if one person is sent for jihad, then that means one less mouth to feed in their house."
Hundreds of thousands have joined the group in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and that while they have been affected by a government crackdown following the attacks in Mumbai, they are still going strong, he was quoted as saying.
Kashif Alam, senior superintendent of police in Peshawar, told the Times the profile of the average militant in that northwest Pakistani city near the border with Afghanistan has changed but that the number of educated Pakistanis was actually decreasing.
"We're seeing an increase in the number of criminals who are working for these militant organisations," he was quoted as saying. "More and more of their operations are being carried out by criminals. Some of the people we have captured were found with thousands of rupees in their pockets."
However, profiles of two would-be suicide bombers captured in the tribal areas and shown to the press contradicted Alam's views, the Times said.
Ali Raza, who surrendered to the police in November, was in his final year studying mass communications. In Dera Ismail Khan, a young man wearing a jacket loaded with explosives was intercepted inside a mosque. He was later found to have completed his high school matriculation.