Ongoing investigations of ISIS activities in Europe carried on by a number of law enforcement agencies shows that terrorist are placing increasing emphasis on the use of the Internet and social networks. Over the years we’ve witnessed the creation of various “jihad threads” on various sites, along with terrorist posts on Facebook, Twitter accompanied by YouTube videos. Apparently, YouTube has transformed into the main media platform for terrorism, since the number of videos filmed to praise these so-called “warriors of Islam” has been skyrocketing lately.
Operating from the territories of Iraq or Syria that remain under the control of the Islamic State, terrorists are not simply recruiting new members into their ranks through the Internet and social networks, but also use the encrypted messengers to establish a secure line of communication to instruct members who have returned home how to carry out terrorist attacks.
Those who follow ISIS accounts on Telegram receive instructions on how to use gas cylinders in order to mine cars or commit other terrorist actions.
Now that the anti-terrorist coalition is recapturing these territories from ISIS, its ability to persuade Europeans to stay at home and spread terror there has become a key goal for this militant group. According to experts, chat rooms in such messengers as Telegram and WhatsApp allow the Islamic State to sustain high numbers of new recruits entering the group. It all starts with propaganda – for example, videotapes with disfigured bodies of Syrian children, posted on social media.
Those who go deeper find a whole net of accounts in Twitter, all sorts of blog pages and videos, with every closed account being replaced with two new ones. Sometimes one can find links to hidden chat rooms and channels in such messages. In those closed conversations that can only be accessed via an invitation, supporters of the Islamic State argue about the “Islamist” ideology, discuss their tactics and celebrate new terrorist attacks. When followers are ready to move to action, they are invited to talk with recruiters one-on-one via encrypted channels, which allows them, as Western authorities claim, to escape the attention of security and intelligence agencies.
The emergence of the World Wide Web allows terrorist cells to carry out all sorts of activities without enjoying the support of large organizational structures. The Internet serves terrorists as a mechanism for communication, control, marketing, and accumulation of information that is necessary for their malicious activities.
It’s been announced that ISIS and Al-Qaeda militants are developing their own social media in order to bypass the security measures of existing platforms and avoid information leakage. This was announced on during a recent security conference in London by the director of Europol, Rob Wainwright. He explained that ISIS is now developing its own social media platform in its own part of the Internet. The operation that Europol conducted together with the special services of Belgium, Greece, Poland, Portugal and the United States last April, allowed it to take down more that 2,000 posts in six languages that were published on a total of 52 online platforms. In general, those were materials advertising ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and among the platforms one can find the names of the largest social networks. In addition, Europol employees found an online platform created by the terrorists themselves to conduct propaganda campaigns and collect donations.
In the past, terrorist recruitment operations were conducted “face to face”, when those behind such activities sought a vulnerable victim, supplied it with extremist literature and then tried to get him involved in their organization. Now with the Internet, recruiting people has become much easier and more effective. The recruitment process can be divided into four stages:
- Radical press centers and ordinary militants create special videos, appealing to followers in different languages. At the same time recruiters ensure that everyone who watches these videos, can relate the subject matter to their own friends, relatives, countrymen, and classmates. It is also important that the videos appeal to a person’s emotions and feelings so that he begins to search for more detailed information and other similar videos.
- When a person is gradually involved in the process of consuming the information, the future “candidate for terrorism” leaves comments and gets engaged in conversations. Thus, over time, the user appears to depend on the information consumed: he changes internally, becomes less sociable, more closed, sympathetic to what is happening in the videos and appeals. It is at this stage that a person is rejected by their current environment: families, relatives, acquaintances.
- The new recruit has a new image of himself at the scene of the fighting, mentally living in this new image, as if testing himself. So, there is a process of substitution of the past with this new inner world.
- Then comes the logistical stage. Depending on the financial possibilities and social status of the recruited, a route to the “service” zone is proposed. At this stage, the person is already fully controlled by the recruiter.
One can draw the conclusion from the analysis of ISIS activities on the Internet, today there is no longer a certain category of young people that can be recruited by extremist groups. Future victims of violent extremism are not necessarily socially and economically vulnerable, they can also be well-educated, affluent or self-sufficient members of society.
That is why today, more than ever, it is necessary to intensify work to prevent the use of Internet and social networks by terrorists, to improve the cooperation of the international community and relevant state structures of all countries in this direction.
Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”