There is a common thread behind so called “homegrown extremists” in France, England, and even in the USA. Surviving family members and friends who had no idea their children, friends or even siblings had become radicalized.
There the mother who had no idea that her child or children met extremists online. The wife who thought her husband was just taking the day off from work, or the sister who realized she had never met her brother’s new gang of friends. Transformations, especially in young people can be subtle, taking place over months and eluding relatives along the way.
Mia Bloom of the University of Massachusetts says groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda go after young women in the West by using other young women as online recruiters. The tactics they use are similar to that of an online sexual predator: establishing a rapport and building trust.
“It’s another woman. She’s cool. She’s just a few years older. And so this is how they will initially approach,” Bloom says. It’s an attempt to dupe unsuspecting young women in places like the United Kingdom, France and United States into joining. But it begs another question: Are the young women who end up being recruited victims or terrorist masterminds?
Countries in Europe, like the England, are often arresting “fighters” who return from Syria or Iraq and sentence them to prison trying to avoid more home-grown terrorist attacks. When their families cooperate with authorities and their children are imprisoned, it could discourage other families from working with police or security organizations to bring their kids back home.
“In the same way that we have former gang members talking to high school students to prevent them from entering gangs, we may be missing out on an invaluable resource to have these girls speak to other young women not to get involved,” she says.
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20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood from Glasgow is a case in point. She traveled to Syria in 2013 and married an ISIS fighter. She then starting promoting terrorism back home via Twitter. Dr. Bloom says they try to recruit others by selling an idealized version of what life will be like in Syria.
“She’ll be online extolling the virtues of living in the Caliphate and how wonderful it is to have this sisterhood, especially if you are the second or third wife,” Bloom says.
Some of the other tactics used to recruit young men and women to ISIS and al-Qaeda resemble those used by cults or online sexual predators who prey on children. One technique is ironically called ”love bombing.” They attempt to influence a person with continuous and lavish demonstrations of affection and attention. Expecially to people who already feel alienated in their local city, town or culture. They also can work by putting some kind of prize in front of potential recruits in exchange for an agreement.
In many cases, ISIS themselves could be considered sexual predators as many of the women recruited to marry ISIS fighters are under the legal age of consent. Some of the “officers” in the ISIS military groups take multiple wives, many of them as young as 14 year of age.
People drawn to both terror groups, online predators and cults tend to be seeking something missing from their lives. ”They’re not necessarily going to be damaged individuals,” Bloom says. “But I do think that the terrorist organizations do prey upon a certain kind of individual, especially converts to Islam who, because they converted, tend to overcompensate.”
Sometimes that compensation, especially for Western recruits, is for a lack of success in life. ”They are tired of being objects of history and want to be agents of history,” Bloom says. “Being in the caliphate is a way of being someone important. You’re making a difference — even though it’s a terrible difference.” (Source: OPB)
Radio Interview with Dr. Bloom:
As crazy and it sounds, these people are going to be coming back from Syria, Iraq and other countries and in some cases, there is no way to know who they are. In Europe, some experts are suggesting there could be potentially thousands of extremists who were fighter or conspirators of ISIS. Without programs to “de-radicalize” these people, the potential for acts of terrorism is a matter of “when”, not “if” it will happen.
A representative from France (unidentified in the radio interview) said, “the [government] is starting to realize they cannot capture or kill them all. IS Fighters could be coming back tomorrow or a year from now, but they are returning. And when they return, they have the will, the training and the contacts to coordinate attacks. Our best hope may yet lie with de-radicalization programs, like those currently used in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.”
Regardless of the consequences, the increasing threat may be slowed or stopped by using tactics that are currently employed to fighter online sexual predators. The US government and many local police forces already have programs in place to find online predators and these programs may be able to be used to track ISIS recruiters because they are taking their game plan from existing tactic used by online pedophiles and predators.