They have effectively moved with the times and joined the masses on social media platforms, where social networking is now the conventional way of linking up. Young people, who live in the virtual world far more than other sections of society, are therefore more vulnerable than those who do not understand or are connected to these new communication platforms.
In short, the extremist recruiters have become more ‘virtual’ than ever. This does not mean the physical interventions do not happen or that recruiters do not operate within communities. On the contrary, they still do so, but in a much more careful and suggestive manner, pushing individuals towards another platform where they can easily indoctrinate without many obstacles.
At the start of the 21st Century, al Qaeda recruiters were very much operating in local communities. Wherever there was a gathering, be it in a gym, street corners, college, university, or a mosque, they would exploit these opportunities to engage, understand, identify, relate to, and challenge existing or conflicting opinions and views, and then repair and reconstruct the individual’s new understanding in accordance to their objectives. Once they had a receptive audience, it would be followed by support and safeguarding their investment, before finally guiding and instructing their recruits with a physical plan of action. To a recruiter, they would then have a remote-controlled device that could pinpoint its target and destroy at will. The London bombings, 9/11, the Overt plot in 2006, and many others, are real-life examples of an effective strategy being applied and executed with precision, and with disastrous effect.
We have named this strategy as ICE: Intellectual, Cultural (religious) and Emotional intelligence. George Bush Jnr understood his audience very well, and used this strategy to great effect by informing the world of a threat that would change our lives forever in the most harmful way, and that millions of people would lose their lives. He explained how it was every decent human being’s responsibility to support him; he used biblical references when he stood in front of the US troops, reminding them of their duty to God and to protect life. He charged the whole world with his rhetoric and garnered the support of almost every nation to launch attacks on Iraq to neutralize the threat of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (which, of course, did not materialise). Ironically, these events are used to radicalise many young people from across the world against the West. Terror groups constantly send out reminders of the shock-and-awe tactic that were used by the Coalition Forces during the war.
Past events are now dictating the future rapid pace of change we are experiencing, and it is those events that have generated a lot of resentment towards the West. Even worse, the vacuum that has been created by those events has filled with arguably the greatest threat ever. ISIS is calling upon everyone who has a bitter taste from both Gulf Wars and the War on Terror, and they have rich pickings. The stories and images from these conflicts are deeply internalised by millions of people around the world and not just those who are Muslim. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that many of the ISIS recruits are converts and, in many cases, lack the essential Islamic knowledge to be resilient enough to absorb and deflect the recruiters’ ICE strategy. Even those who are Muslim by birth have been unable to see the wood for the trees and have fallen prey to the very powerful and potent narratives that are applied by groups like ISIS.
When young people are not given the importance, time or the opportunity to discuss their grievances or concerns by those who can guide them positively, then we are failing them by giving free rein to those who will listen, entertain and value them, only to exploit and abuse them. A journey then begins where circumstances are only in the control of the recruiter and no other. The personality of the young person will change, long standing and cemented relationships begin to crumble, and a disregard for their own life slowly sets in. It reaches a point where they consistently fail to appreciate that the country where they have previously enjoyed life has now become the main focus of their ‘revenge’. Most significantly, their sympathy towards others in conflict zones pulls on their inner humanitarian emotions to such an extent that violence becomes the only means for expressing their feelings.
But this does not happen without an intervention of some kind, by someone who has managed to identify key vulnerabilities. This leaves us with a challenge: to re-evaluate our current practices and look at the ICE model more closely. Many may find it strange or difficult to accept. But it is evidently a largely successful model. The methods I have applied over many years have been proven and successful, and they are the very same tactics used by recruiters. In fact, we all use the ICE strategy in many different ways and for all sorts of reasons, often doing without realising we are doing so. But the difficulty is in applying it with impact, in these most important and troublesome of circumstances. Those with responsibility for potentially vulnerable and at-risk people in their care need to use their knowledge of the model to identify where and when ICE may have been applied by a recruiter – and to then apply the same model to turn around the situation in a positive way.
Excerpt from the book ‘Preventing and Countering Extremism and Terrorist Recruitment: A best practice guide’ by Hanif Qadir
Qadir is the Chief Executive of the Active Change Foundation in London. A former islamist extremist, he once joined Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Deterred by the crimes he saw being committed against civilians, he came back to the UK to launch Active Change, dedicated to supporting youth exposed to extremism.