Magazine article USA TODAY

ISIS on the Recruitment Trail

Magazine article USA TODAY

ISIS on the Recruitment Trail

Article excerpt

ABOUT one out of five (21.4% to be precise)--that is how many tweets with the acronym ISIS in them were in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria when Italy's University of Milan's Voice from the Blogs studied Arabic language tweets sent in the U.S. in the fall of 2014. That percentage roughly was equivalent to the United Kingdom and France, considerably less than the outsized percentage in Belgium and Qatar, and--believe it or not --more than that of Saudi Arabia.

In another study late in 2014, the Brookings Institute estimated that the number of ISIS Twitter accounts ranges between 46,000 and 90,000--and one in five of those accounts selected "English" as its primary language, and each one had an average of more than 1,000 followers (much higher than the average Twitter user).

ISIS knows its way around the Internet and, as a result, it has been able to identify, recruit, and connect terrorist sympathizers in a way unlike any group before them.

It is the image of a new type of terrorism predicted by the Rand Corporation a decade ago, which it described in "Networks and Netwars" as "emerging in the information revolution" where wiping out the leader (think Osama bin Laden or ISIS's Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) is "insufficient" to stop terrorist networks, because they "consist of various small, dispersed groups that are linked in odd ways and do not have a clear leadership structure," and confronting terrorists networks occurs at "technological, social, and narrative levels."

Al Qaeda members had a hard enough time finding potential terrorists, and then they were required to travel to rudimentary training camps in obscure parts of the world to learn how to commit acts of terror and to be thoroughly indoctrinated in the ideology. That is old school terrorism.

ISIS has, in effect, turned computer screens and cell phones into training camps viewable by sympathizers in cities and countries the world over. You no longer have to live in a city you do not know with a language you do not speak to join this war. ISIS has eliminated this barrier of entry by turning the Internet into its training camp.

In other words, ISIS essentially has outsourced terrorism by filling the digital world with propaganda. All you need to join the movement readily is available. You simply can sit in the privacy of your own home as you are indoctrinated and trained--often all of this being driven first by curiosity more than zealotry. Then, when you are sufficiently inspired to act, you can take your U.S. passport and travel to Turkey and walk right over a porous border into Syria or--and this is scary--you simply can walk across the street to the nearest community center in your own hometown ... and it is working.

Week after week we read of new recruits being detained en route to fight with ISIS in Syria. For instance, a couple of months ago, 10 Canadian teenagers were arrested in the Montreal airport on their way to Syria and, in the United Kingdom, a senior official from Scotland Yard admitted that more than 700 British citizens had traveled to fight with ISIS in Syria. More than one-third of those since have returned to the country using the same British passport they traveled with in the first place.

The numbers are not clear in the U.S., but what we do know is that, this year, the FBI issued a bulletin to every local police department across the country expressing a concern for a growing trend of teenagers attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS, and the FBI also has reported that it is tracking ISIS sympathizers in all 50 states. We have watched a 17year-old in Washington, D.C., get arrested for recruiting for ISIS, and a former member of the U.S. Armed Forces from Minnesota being detained on his way to Syria to rejoin these terrorists.

It is bad enough that Americans are going to fight for ISIS, but the really frightening part is that, just like in the UK, some are coming back--trained, radicalized, and with the ability to blend in. …

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