How ISIS gets its recruits

tsj column writers - power and politicsBy Zachary Toillion

Recruits are lured in by a narrative ISIS has carefully crafted. Social media, including Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, are used to connect with potential jihadis and send out its propaganda. ISIS is also adept at communicating through encrypted messages that are sent through mobile applications like Kik, WhatsApp, Surest and Telegram. The typical targets are in their late teens and are usually contacted by other young people who speak their language. Women are drawn in by other women to mitigate concerns. ISIS targets those who feel disaffected by society and capitalizes on teenage angst and paints ISIS as a vehicle for them to have a “global audience” and to feel important. In Europe, they specifically target marginalized communities that are never fully embraced by their nation’s culture, often the sons and daughters of immigrants struggling to be accepted by society. The European country producing the most jihadis is Belgium, which is currently under lockdown after it was revealed that most of the Paris attackers were Belgian nationals.

ISIS tells the young that joining the fight will be for a greater good and will bring about fortune, glory and an eternity’s reward. This message is conveyed by propaganda that often includes high definition video and digital magazines. Powerpoint style presentations are made showing the number of bullets fired and miles of land seized to potential donors, mostly from Saudi Arabia and other gulf states. For a successful recruiter, the payment can be $10,000 or more per jihadi, depending on the recruited person’s ability. Since 2011, a total of 30,000 recruits from around 100 countries have entered Syria and Iraq with the majority of the fighters coming in the last year.

Propagandists are held in very high regard in ISIS. In meetings they are afforded the same respect commanded by ISIS’s top fighters and are paid roughly the same. Propagandists are charged with presenting ISIS two to different audiences: recruits and the governments of the world.

To the world, ISIS represents a grave threat, seizing land and launching attacks on civilians. Every threat aimed at the Western world is carefully scripted and often requires multiple takes. To potential recruits, ISIS is a vehicle to a fulfilled life, a notion that is conveyed in its feature length movies. Videos are shown on large screens in ISIS controlled neighborhoods that show an idealized version of how things are; people are smiling as they buy goods at a local marketplace.

ISIS’s biggest strength over other Islamic terror networks is its talent for propaganda, something the US has tried to combat with limited success.

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