Young people in the ranks of the armed jihadist groups in Mali are portrayed as unemployed, idle and fanatical . There is however little empirical data to support this characterization. Little research has been done in the Malian context where the young people involved in these groups have been interviewed directly, to assess the role that both religion and unemployment play in the emergence of this phenomenon that allegedly affects young people the most. This policy brief questions the conventional wisdom on an important issue that is crucial to stability in Mali and the security of its neighbours.