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ISIS Recruitment: ISIS Recruits Teens through Social Media to Promote Violence

Project on ISIS Recruitment


ISIS means the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is otherwise known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Islamic of Iraq and al-Sham. (Tharoor, 2014) These terms are used for Salafi Jihadist militant group based on Islamic fundamentalist, known as Wahbai doctrine of Sunni Islam. (Fouad al-Ibrahim, 2014) And according to Schwartz (2014), another name for these Islamic extremists is Daesh. This group was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999. Ever since they emerged as strong Islamic militants, they have been known for suicide bombings and shootings that had claimed so many lives.

They had named themselves as an Islamic State, using IS as the acronym, and since their emergence, they declared formally a worldwide caliphate precisely on June 2014, (Roggio, 2014) and thus named  Abu Bakr al-Ba as their caliph. Being a caliphate makes them supreme over all Muslims in the world. The world had criticized this, including the United Nations, different governments, and other Muslim groups. (Akyol, 2015) Just of recent, precisely around December 2015, the group had taken massive control over extensive landlocked territory in Syria and Iraq, having an approximate population of around 2.8 million and 8 million people and continuously enforces sharia law interpretation. (Burke, 2015) These Islamist extremists are affiliated and controls small areas of Afghanistan, Libya, and Nigeria, but still operate in many other parts of the world, including South Asia and North Africa. (Zadvasi, 2014)

Basically, they are known for terrorism and bloodshed of any kind. According to Owens and Jones (2015), they attacked Paris and claimed a minimum of 129 lives in November 13, 2015. They also pointed that their origin erupted from radical Sunni jihadists in Iraq responsible for fighting under “al-Qaeda in Iraq” banner. And since April 2010 that their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi turned the new head of the extremist group, he had been noted as one of the notorious men wanted by the world’s security. At a point in time, the leader of Al-Qaeda, whose name is Ayman al-Zawahiri decided to offer about $25m for his capture or even death. But in April 2013, they expanded into Syria and joined the rebellion to fight against President Bashar al-Assad and thus they created another Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham there. (Owens & Jones, 2015)

What they are and what they want remains a controversial issue in the world, but one of the major observations is that they have desired to establish a caliphate, which has been explained above as a state controlled in concurrence of opinion with the Islamic law based on caliph or God’s deputy on Earth. Therefore, they declared openly the establishment of a caliphate in June 2014. (Owens & Jones, 2015) Now, they demanded that all Muslims across all nations swear allegiance to their leader, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarrai, which is generally known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and they must also come and base under its control. They have also informed the jihadist groups globally that they must acknowledge their supreme authority. As a result, many have concurred to the ISIS. The IS keeps seeking to eliminate hindrances to restoring God’s principle on Earth and to support the umma or the Muslim community against apostates and infidels. (Owens & Jones, 2015)

Achieving their operation requires the recruit of various levels and ages of humans to perpetrate their operation, ranging from the teenagers to youths and to adults. According to Leggiero (2015), they invite young Muslim, and recruit some westerners. Leggiero showed an analysis containing the name, ages, country or state, capacity, personality attributes or actions, outcome, and exploitation of ISIS. From this table, the age range is between 29 and 42. This implies that they are not only recruiting young people, but also need youths and adults in the group. Their recruiters are being paid, according to Winsor (2015), their pay ranges from 2,000 to 10,000 dollars. Moreover, their major focus is the teenagers. They recruit them using diverse strategies, particularly the Internet, since most teenagers have high interest using the Internet. This is so because an estimation has shown that about 92% of teens constantly go online every day; with the age bracket of 13 to 17. (Lenhart, 2015) This becomes easy for the ISIS extremist to get in contact with them and then find ways to initiate them into the group to perpetrate their violent operations. This is the major focus of this paper; it draws more on how the ISIS recruits teenagers through the social media to promote violence.

History and Operation of ISIS

ISIS group was established in 1999 under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and was named Jama ‘at al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad, which literally means the Organization of Monotheism and Jihad. (Zelin, 2014) From there, the group had been violently thriving and was later associated with the world renown terrorist Osama bin Laden. The group then joined another insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council that never lived for so long in January 2006. Al-Zarqawi was killed that same year, and thus the Mujahideen Shura Council had to merge with various insurgent factions to create ad-Dawlah al- Iraq al-Islamiyah in October 2006, which is generally known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). (Roggio, 2006) This was Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri led administration. Unfortunately, they were killed in one of the US-Iraw operation that occurred in April 2010, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi succeeded to be the group’s new leader.

As years go by, the ISIS keeps expanding and more groups were joining and were under the umbrella organization which was known as the Mukahideen Shura Council (MSC). Based on Brian Fishman’s observation, this development among the group was quite more than just a media activity and an attempt to provide the group more Iraqi flavor, and possibly to put some distance between al-Qaeda from few of al-Zarqawi’s tactical mistakes, most especially the 2005 bombings by AQL involving three hotels based in the Amman, this occurred as a result of the AQL joining with many other smaller Iraqi insurgent groups in January 2006. Later in that year, al-Zarqawi was killed by a US airstrike who was then succeeded as the group’s leader by Abu Ayyb al-Masri, the Egyptian militant. (“BBC News”) Following many other operations the MSC were united with six Sunni Islamic tribes and three smaller groups to establish the “Mutayibeen Coaltion”. The group swore by Allah to clear Sunnis from the oppression the rejectionists may put forth as well as the crusader occupiers in a bid to restore their human rights at the price of their lives, and to make the words of Allah supreme in this world, and also to bring back the glory bestowed on Islam. (Roggio, 2006)

Now, talking about the Islamic State of Iraq that came in to be between 2006 and 2013. According to a research put together by the United States intelligence agencies, the ISI, which is also called the AQI, decided to take hold of power in the western and central areas of Iraq, turning it to become a Sunni caliphate. (Mahnaimi, 2007) As they kept on expanding, the Iraw War troop increased their tactics in which they supplied more manpower to the United States military to target the group, this as a result lead to the capture of many high-level AQL members, and some were killed. (Roggio, 2007) Later in 2010, the leader, Abu Bakr appointed a new leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, and in July, 2012, he dropped  video telling the world that they were returning to recover their locations from which the Sons of Iraq and the US troops drove them out of in 2007 and 2008. (Yousseff, 2012)

Between 2013 and 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant emerged. After an audio release of a statement from al-Baghdadi where he declared that the Islamic State of Iraq established, supported, and financed the al-Nusra Front, and he also announced that both groups were uniting together under the name, Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (Memri, 2013) However, Al-Julani denied the merger in a statement and complained that none of them in the al-Nusra leadership was consulted about the merge.(Atassi, 2013) Also, there are major differences between the ISIL and the al-Nusra. ISIL has the tendency to be fully concentrated on developing its own principle on conquered territory, while al-Nusra have the tendency to actively call for the Assad government being overthrown. With many more attacks, rebels, and killings, they keep expanding till 2014.

From 2014 till date, they successfully became known as the Islamic State, following their proclamation as a worldwide caliphate. (Lawrence, 2014) This made the renaming of the group to the Islamic State, through Caliph Ibrahim and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Withnall, 2014) Though the caliph concept had been rejected by Muslim leaders and government throughout the world. Furthermore, since Iraq lost control, Saudi Arabia and Jordan migrated their troops to their borders along with Iraq, which was under the control of ISIL. (Arango, 2014) While in July 2014, the ISIL were able to recruit over 6,300 fighters, based on the Syrian Observatory or Human Rights, some of these fighters have previously fought and defended the Free Syrian Army. (Williams, 2014) Later in August the same year, ISIL was able to capture Sinjar, Zumar, and Wana cities in northern Iraq. Their approaches are not predictable, so many of the citizens of these communities flee for their lives in Yazidis. Towards the end of October 2014, a large number of militants took partial control of the Derna city of Libya and they pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, resulting in making Derna part of the Islamic State Caliphate outside Syria and Iraq. (Michael, 2014) Additionally, the last days of January brought a report that the members of ISIL penetrated the European Union and they disguised themselves as civilian refugees emigrating from Iraq war zones. (Brown, 2015) And in February 2015, some ISIL militants in Libya tried to capture a fraction of the countryside toward Sabha west, and they later captured some areas around the cities of Nofolia, Sirte, as well as the military base of both cities. In March, ISIL captured more territory. Meanwhile, on March 7, 2015 Boko Haram formally swore allegiance to ISIL, in which ISIL was given an official presence in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. (Elbagir, 2015) However, the US Deputy Secretary of State announced in June 2015 that ISIL lost over 10,000 members in airstrikes for the past nine months. (“AFP News, 2015”) But ISIL keeps claiming responsibility for some renown terrorist attacks outside Syria and Iraq, including another mass shooting that occurred at a Tunisian tourist resort. (Terek, 2015) Many other killings and attacks in Turkey, the Tunisian National Museum, the bombings in Ankara, Beirut, Paris, and Istanbul in 2016 where about 11 foreign tourists were killed. (AL-Othman, 2015)

The Goal of ISIS

Briefly talking about the goal of ISIS, their concept is based on an extremist interpretation of Islam, contributing adversely to religious violence, and treat Muslims who refuses to agree with their interpretations and regard them as apostates or infidels. (“Australian National Security, 2014”) Some observers believe that ISIL came into existence from the Muslim Brotherhood ideology which adheres to international jihadist rules. (“Australian National Security, 2014)

Their goal is based on Sunni Islamic state. Since they established themselves as a caliphate, they have felt superior to all Muslims in the world. They gave details of their goals that they will continue to forcefully acquire land and take charge of the whole Earth until its blessed flag… spread over western and eastern extents of the Earth, ensuring the world is filled with truth and justice, Islam preaches and putting a stop to the falsehood and all tyranny of jahiliyyah which means a state of ignorance, even it is despised by the Americans. (Joscelyn, 2015)

ISIS Recruitment: The Need for Teenagers in the Group

Reports have revealed that kids have been recruited into the ISIS to perpetrate violent attacks. Studies have shown that kids as young as six are being kidnapped or recruited and then sent for training in the military and religious camps. Here, they are being taught beheading using dolls and they are initiated with the religious ideas of ISIL. They use many of these kids as human shields right on the frontlines, and also to provide blood transfusions for the older Islamic State soldiers, this is according to the Shelly Whitman initiative. Another goal of using the kids is to groom their future, this according to Vice News. According to a spokesman, he told Vice News that the kids under 15 years of age are taken to the sharia camp to be taught religion, while those older than 15 years of age are taken to the military camp for training. They also need these children for propaganda. The UN reports that ISIL got into a cancer hospital in Mosul, and forced the children to uphold the ISIL flag, they then took pictures of these children and posted them on the Internet.

Many teenagers have joined the ISIS without knowing the significance of what they are doing. They must have been brainwashed and just fed with some benefits rather than the odd parts. According to Flade et al., many teenagers coincidentally meet ISIS members at praying grounds, for instance, the girls that fled to join ISIS were religious girls before they fell into the words of the wrong hands. This is because, they were listening to radical sermons and were unfortunately manipulated that their help is needed in Syria. Similarly, they were followed up online, getting so much interpretation of the Quran from this ISIS members on the Internet. According to Flade et al., the girls found another interpretation to the passage of the Koran that says “anyone who kills a someone, kills the entire humanity.” This they keep preaching to lure many other teenagers into the ISIS to help them perpetrate their violence.

The Internet – Their Major Strategies

The Internet had been regarded as the unique world that links the world together. This had been the best tool the ISIS had been using to lure and brainwash westerners and other kids in the part of the world to join the ISIS. According to Seymour (2014), the ISIS group not only created their Islamic caliphate, but also lure Westerners, including teenagers from America to their major cause. The social media with its numerous cons have been used with several predatory online strategies.

isis recruitment

They have successfully recruited many people from different parts of the world. According to an estimation created by the United Nations, which was reported by The Guardian, about 15,000 foreigners have joined ISIS and many extreme Islamist groups based in Iraq and Syria. The UN also reported that these people are native or residents from America, Europe, and Australia. However, many of these people have died there.

One of the major strategies they use in luring many people in most cases is trying to make them realize how important they are needed in taking part in fighting against the oppressive enemy. (Seymour, 2014) There had been so many news about teenagers trying to join ISIS. In April 2014, 17 year old Samra Kesinovic ad 16 year old Sabina Selimovic disappeared to join the ISIS. However, when they tried to flee, they were killed. Another teenage Austrian girl fled to Syria, taking along her friend, but they were unfortunately beaten to death when they were caught trying to escape. (Boyle, 2015)

The ISIS uses a powerful propaganda to twist the minds of kids on social media. According to CNN, they use Twitters, Whatsapp, and Facebook to reach these kids. They also do this by promoting videos with a very high-level production strategies to celebrate the level of their brutality. In addition to this, the use of popular hash tags have been fully taken into consideration in disseminating their information. Not only that, they try to use the recruits they got from Western countries like America to promote their cause to their friends, family, and other people living in the western world. (Mullen, 2015) According to analysts, their major focus is on girls, perhaps because they know they are easily moved by words. It becomes obvious that many people from the western countries that fled to Syria are females, some others stretch supports to them. (Mullen, 2015) Holly Yan on CNN also reports that a New York food store owner was accused of funding ISIS and even raised plots against American troops who had served in Iraq to be gunned down.

Furthermore, the ISIS group is specific and particular about the young girls and they promise them better life when they join the group. According to Mullen’s post on CNN, the ISIS takes young people’s religious idealism, appeal to them, and make them realize there’s a better life with them than that they enjoy in the Western world. They take care of these western people and provide the most adventurous trips. In most cases, they promise those who pledge sincere allegiance with gift rewards, which is tagged as gifts from Allah. It includes a house furnished, and with free electricity and water and no rent is included. This was revealed, according to a British teenager that joined ISIS from Scotland in 2013. He also reveals that they promise women who worried about their body, that they can find everything they need, including soaps, shampoo, and other female needs.

Additionally, many of these teens are being recruited through patient one-on-one persuasion by ISIS supporters globally. Extremist recruiters seek those young people who have keen interests to understand their Islamic religion, so they try to create this online relationship with them. (Tolan, 2015) Many Western Muslim teenagers fall victim of this strategy because they feel some identity crisis relative to their religion. (Pandith in Tolan, 2015) they grow up watching terrorists who share their faith in a more explicit manner, and since many of these kids wonder what their religion is and the discrimination they go through, they are motivated by the words of Islamic extremists.

Finally, their network for recruiting is a very efficient one, albeit diffuse. According to Seymour (2014), the ISIS uses strange tactics like many online predators. Since there are possibilities whereby many teens may have a bad day and possibly find themselves in the social media and get into talking with any of these extremists coincidentally, they use that opportunity to weasel their way into these kids lives in a smart way. In other words, they use a kid’s weakness to get into their lives. Basically, from the story of those teen girls who left London for Syria, it became obvious that they were being controlled by a middleman who is between the ISIS and these kids. Analyst Gerges says. (Mullen, 2015) Furthermore, studies showed that some of the Westerners newly recruited try to communicate directly with just neutral Westerners on the social media. Some of the social media platforms they thrive include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ask.fm, Instagram, Tumblr, and Whatsapp (private messaging).

The Extremists Propagandas

ISIL uses four major themes for enticing young people to leave their country and travel to Iraq and Syria. They also use the themes as a strategy to recruit adult, including men and women, and people use these themes in discussions on social media revolving round ISIL.

First, image of success. According to UK Department for Education, ISIL promotes and commemorates an image of their success on social media just to entice and encourage young people. They try to build an image that they are on the winning side and can offer these young people an exciting life. Their slogan is ‘Baqiyah wa-Tatamaddad’ meaning “remaining and expanding.”

Second, status and belonging. ISIL expresses their ‘Caliphate’ as the right, utopian states in which Muslims will secure status and belonging. They claim that the duty of Muslim men and women are welcome and as long as they are Sunni Muslims, they would be incorporated in the ranks.

Third, personal duty. ISIL use this propaganda theme to declare that supporting them and travelling down to the ‘Caliphate’ is their personal duty. But all Islamic scholars have obviously dismissed this, and such obligation doesn’t exist.

Fourth, defend Sunnis. ISIL presents themselves as the major group that can only defend Sunnis from the thriving Assad regime, the threat existing in the West, and the Iraqi army.

However, these are not so, and there had been many cases of some Westerners who had been convinced through the social media, and were ready to set out on the journey to Syria, but were eventually caught up by the FBI. This is how the war against the ISIS had continued to linger in the Western countries. According to Tolan (2015), the Obama led administration has been committed to digitally war against the ISIS’ ideologies as well as its ilk. Although, worry arises because if the U.S. government have the opportunity to help kids avoid these extremist groups, they may arrest them for falling for their tactics. Meanwhile, counter narratives are being proclaimed on social media with a powerful strategy to war against ISIS or other extremists recruiting Westerners.

Conclusively, the government effort to put a stop to ISIS and other Islamic extremist is a very encouraging factor to encourage teenagers avoid these groups and the violence they portray. According to Tolan, the State Department operates a Twitter account that encourages ISIS supporters to “turn away” from every appearance of extremism. Thus, there’s a war between the government of many countries against ISIS and other extremist groups. As a matter of fact, when anyone who chooses to join any of these groups are caught, they are being arrested and would be severely investigated in order to trace the roots of their conviction for making such choice. Therefore, we must continually fight against the terrorism, and their strategies on Social Media.



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