MORE than half of Islamic State’s recruits are foreigners, and they’ve got one thing in common. They don’t know much about Islam.
Most are recent Islamic converts with minimal connection to Syria or Iraq.
Another common denominator is their search for a meaningful cause and reason for their life. To belong to a common moral ground and fight for a religious belief, however disillusioned it may be, is a large attraction to these disaffected individuals.
Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi perfectly fit this profile.
Going from his suburban bedroom, to a role as an Islamic State “martyr” in a matter of months, Jake was targeted with Jihad Da’wa — an ‘invitation to conduct jihad.
Most likely, he was in contact with Al Hayat, the IS social media unit. The unit is highly sophisticated and polished. The high quality and choreographed nature of videos indicates the people behind them have western training. This social media campaign is a large part of what attracts foreigners to the Islamic State cause.
And it’s likely IS’s recent capture of Ramadi, only 90 minutes from Baghdad, will make stemming western recruitment even more difficult.
The Islamic State is no longer operating as an insurgency – the Islamic State is conducting a war. The group now controls an area larger than some European countries. With a fully formed government that provides all the necessary civil services to those under their control, IS has evolved as a terrorist organization and those combating this group must also evolve if they hope to succeed.
To overcome Islamic State, we must understand how they operate.
THE COMMON DENOMINATOR IN WESTERN RECRUITS
Islamic State recruits are from all walks of life and education, however a common denominator is their ignorance of Islam; with the majority of western recruits being recent Islamic converts with minimal connection to Syria or Iraq.
Another common denominator is their disillusionment with their current life, and their search for a meaningful cause and reason for life. To fight for a common belief, however disillusioned it may be, is a large attraction to the recruits.
FIRST STEPS TO RECRUITMENT
The first step for potential IS recruits is to source, either online or in person, a spiritual leader with hard line Islamic views. These spiritual leaders or mentors most likely have a connection with or know someone who has joined IS ranks. These spiritual leaders will then introduce the IS hopeful to a recruiter either via Twitter, Skype or Facebook ahead of an interview process to evaluate the interviewee’s commitment to the cause.
HOW DO THEY GET THERE?
Once the vetting is finalized and the recruit is deemed worthy then logistics are discussed. What is the best way to travel to Syria? What will draw the least attention from authorities? Most Islamic State recruits enter Syria via Turkey’s extremely porous southern border. I have witnessed firsthand the many illegal border crossings from Turkey into Syria and the ease with which one can cross the border into and out of Syria. The recruit is usually met by a contact on the Turkish side of the border who facilitates their transition into Syria and then another contact once they have crossed the border.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN RECRUITS FIRST ENTER ISIS?
Upon entering Syria and within IS ranks the recruit is then required to hand over their complete social media and online identity. IS controls every aspect of the recruit’s life and if the recruit was to become disillusioned then IS does not want that negative perception to be spread via social media. The recruit is also required to hand over his passport and mobile phone. The recruit then begins two to three months of physical, tactical and ideological training to prepare them for the role IS will delegate to them.
HOW RECRUITS ARE DIVIDED
Depending on your experience and skill set, IS will delegate a position for the recruit within the ranks. Those with IT experience will be sent to Al Hayat, the IS social media unit. Those with previous military training will either be sent to fight at the frontline or be used as a trainer.
Possibly, as in Jake Bilardi’s case, they will be used in martyrdom operations (suicide attacks). Regardless of what role they perform, a foreigner fighting for Islamic State will be used heavily via social media to create publicity and inspire other foreigners to join IS.
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