Halloween in New York became a day of genuine horror when eight people were killed during a terrorist attack. The perpetrator was shot by police and taken to a nearby hospital. Whilse recovering, he openly displayed his satisfaction towards his actions and even requested to fly the ISIS flag in his room.
To most of us, it is baffling to think that someone could take such pleasure in the death and suffering of other people. Investigations revealed that the perpetrator, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, an Uzbek migrant and a truck driver who originally worked in Ohio and Florida, had followed ISIS’ instructions down to the smallest detail when planning his attack.
Saipov’s personal circumstances at the time reveal that he was struggling; having difficulty keeping a job and losing his truck. People who had known him already suspected that he was becoming more and more radicalised.
As with many of the recent attacks claimed by ISIS, the perpetrators of these acts tend to have similar backgrounds that provide a pattern of how terrorist organisations target, indoctrinate and even train their followers.
ISIS targets these kinds of people deliberately. Their recruitment videos found on YouTube, Twitter, and the ‘dark net’ find appeal with specific groups of people. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the personal circumstances that create fertile ground for ISIS to sow their radical ideologies.
It is no surprise so many ISIS recruits are young men. As a prime example, these are often migrants or children of migrant parents who have already experienced discrimination and cultural isolation in their home countries. The feeling of being unwanted in your own home drives them to seek acceptance in peer groups that express the same sentiments of isolation and resentment.
There are strong themes that ISIS recruitment videos tend to use to recruit young extremists. Such themes revolve around camaraderie; by having ‘friends’ to confide in; giving the target a safe place to voice out their more ‘edgy’ beliefs, until eventually the target is drawn into ISIS’ ideology.  ISIS recommends practical ways to perpetrate attacks. By using cars, knives and easy to access weaponry, terrorists do not need military or tactical expertise to carry out an attack.
ISIS recruiters are experts at manipulating traditional media and social media to their own ends. Much like fake news, ISIS takes advantage of current affairs to spin their message. For example, their aim of creating an ‘Islamic State’ is built on the idea that ISIS will restore the glory days of the Islamic Caliphate of the Middle Ages. This can only be achieved by eradicating western influences, blamed for the colonisation and downfall of the Caliphate. Unfortunately, it ignores greater historical upheavals and the context in which the Caliphate collapsed.
As with young men who join gangs, it is important to approach profiling with an understanding of (adolescent male) psychology, as well as cultural understanding. Collaborating with the local Muslim communities is useful, however, young people who are radicalised also become isolated from their Muslim communities.
It is crucial that intelligence and security agencies understand that profiling possible ISIS recruits requires more than looking for radicalised elements among the youth.
When making risk or threat assessments; or creating profiles of possible radicalised people, it is important to keep these themes in mind:
- Pay attention to the practical training ISIS gives in their videos and articles – ISIS utilises decidedly non-military activities to carry out their attacks. They encourage short bursts of brutal violence. It is important to note whatever suggestions they make in videos as recruits will be more than willing to carry out any activity to prove themselves and further their cause. Likewise, because so many recruits are inexperienced or do not wish to be observed, their preparations can easily be mistaken for mundane activities – such as renting cars.
- Expand your search and analysis outside of religion – Young people who become increasingly isolated in their own communities are targets. Some recruitment videos have been made to appeal to young people suffering from depression and anxiety because their mental health problems are easy to take advantage of.
- Collaborate with the community – this also includes youth organisations. Radical elements are not always found in mosques, but it can be found in places where young people get together.
- Young people learn almost everything about current and social affairs from the media – Sometimes, a curious question on Twitter about Syria is enough for an ISIS recruiter to target you. It is also important to have a social media presence that can offer alternate points of view to one-sided narratives and comment threads.
- Be involved in prevention – be open about your collaboration with the community in a positive manner. Foster relationships with vulnerable young people and include them in the dialogue, rather than make them feel scrutinised. In the same manner that ISIS creates an environment of camaraderie amongst its recruits – security forces can foster similar communities.
- Study the target’s cultural background – it isn’t enough to know that the target may come from an Islamic background. Islam is practised differently around the world. It is also divided into its own sects. Likewise, Islamic countries also have their own problems dealing with radicalisation internally. It is helpful to know what these countries are doing and what their security and prevention approaches are.
Radicalisation and recruitment into terrorist organisations such as ISIS are very serious issues that intelligence and security forces need to contend with. It is very easy to find ISIS’ presence online, and their ability to train and influence (mostly) young, vulnerable minds is almost ubiquitous.
It is important to understand why their message is popular. A threat assessment of ISIS’ recruitment and training methods needs to be holistic and practical, not just tactical. Preventive activities that involve positive role modelling and open communication are as efficient as intelligence gathering and observation.
For further information on the risks that radicalisation and terrorism can potentially present to your organisation as well as threat intelligence services, do not hesitate to contact Agilient.
The Agilient Team