Urban, Rural & Suburban — Who ISIS Has Been Recruiting In The U.S. & How

Candice Lanier
May 14, 2015 · 7 min read

At 5:37 p.m. on Friday, May 1, a Twitter user sent a tweet to the Garland Police Department’s official Twitter account, alerting the agency to a potential ISIS attack in Texas. The Twitter user, who is affiliated with Anonymous hacktivists, sent the tweet on behalf of #OpISIS, an operation which counters ISIS activity online.

The threat originated in the account of @AnsarAlUmmah49, but the tweet sent to the Garland Police Department was not acted upon. The tweet was definitely sent, however Garland Police Department spokesman Jon Darn responded by saying: “That is the first time I’ve heard that” when asked about the communication.

Over a week prior to the Draw Muhammed contest, ISIS supporters online openly urged attacks on the event. And, while the attack was thwarted, it was not prevented. ISIS has run rampant on the Internet, particularly on social media, and its primary purpose is recruitment. ISIS activity online has direct impact on the battlefield, because it significantly increases the amount of the terrorist group’s troops.

Who, in the U.S. does ISIS recruit? The recruits represent a diverse group of individuals from across the country. A wide range of ethnic groups (white, African-American, Somali-American, Vietnamese-American, Bosnian-American and Arab-American) have responded to the call of ISIS. Most are young, including some who are under 18.

Given ISIS’ oppressive treatment of women, young women are amazingly well-represented among U.S. recruits. The number of women ISIS has managed to lure in is unprecedented. More than one-fifth of the Americans involved with ISIS in Syria are women. Comparatively, in previous “holy wars” women were barely represented, if at all. One of the most troubling aspects of ISIS’ recruitment in America is that 25% of those recruited are teenagers — including teenage girls. What the recruiter won’t mention is that many of the women who join are raped and sold into slavery.

The common denominator seen in most cases is exposure to jihadist activity online. Fifty-three of the 62 individuals sampled showed a pattern of often downloading and sharing jihadist propaganda. It is, in fact, common for individuals to become radicalized without any physical interaction with jihadists. Simply reading and viewing extremist propaganda can spur the individual on to enlistment. And, this has been going on for several years now. CNN points out that, “Maj. Nidal Hasan, for instance, who killed 13 at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, became radicalized largely through reading militant propaganda online. As an active officer in the U.S. military, he had, of course, little opportunity to physically meet with fellow militants.”

Almost all of ISIS’ recruitment in the U.S. is done online.

What is drawing Americans to ISIS? Recruits are told that ISIS is creating a perfect Islamic state. According to CNN, “ISIS is also even presenting itself as the vanguard of Muslim warriors who will usher in the End of Times and the final, inevitable battle between the West and Islam, which presages the arrival of the Mahdi, the savior of Islam, and the triumph of Islam over all its enemies, including the West.” But, ISIS doesn’t stop there. This utopian dream includes plenty of social services and is the perfect environment in which find a suitable spouse.

CNN reports:

“For its Western recruits, there is also something glamorous and even exciting about leaving behind their humdrum lives in the West to join ISIS.

One British foreign fighter, for example, told BBC radio: ‘It’s actually quite fun, better than, what’s that (video) game called, ‘Call of Duty’? It’s like that, but really, you know, 3D. You can see everything’s happening in front of you, know. It’s real, you know what I mean?.’”

As far as propaganda tools, in addition to compelling memes and persuasive videos, ISIS also makes use of video games and hip hop music to appeal to potential recruits. John Carlin, the head of the Justice Department’s security division has warned that ISIS is a new threat that every American family needs to be aware of. He highlighted the fact that ISIS takes advantage of every social media tool available. They mostly use western technology, such as CloudFlare, for their sinister purposes against the West.

Even if an ISIS supporter is unable or unwilling to travel overseas they can still show their allegiance by launching attacks anywhere and at any time. It’s not even necessary to contact central command before doing so. In the past, names and addresses of specific people to attack have been posted online. Most of the people on the list live in the U.S.

For example, in the latest issue of the Islamic State’s magazine Dabiq, Tunisian jihadist Abu Muqatil encourages ISIS supporters in France to kill the unbelievers immediately. “I call them to follow the method of the brothers who executed operations in Europe. Weapons are easy to acquire in those countries. Rely upon Allah (‘azza wa jall). I also say to them, do not look for specific targets. Kill anybody. All the kuffār over there are targets. Don’t tire yourself and look for difficult targets. Kill whoever is over there from the kuffār.”

Similarly, in October 2014 ISIS spokesman Muhammed al-Adnani said this in a video address: “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be.” He emphasized taking initiative and not waiting for instructions: “Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling. Both of them are disbelievers.”

An American man, interested in ISIS, spoke at length with an ISIS recruiter who left Kosovo as a boy and fled to Syria to fight with ISIS. The recruiter, Ardit Ferizi, has risen through the ranks of ISIS and now controls a part of Syria and Iraq. He was delighted by the potential recruit’s computer skills, telling him that within ISIS technical minded individuals enjoy greater privileges than everyone else. He also indicated it would be no problem for the new recruit to live in Saddam Hussein’s bunker.

ISIS is in desperate need of computer geeks and scientists. At this point in the juncture, the biggest obstacle the terrorist group faces online is Anonymous. And, ISIS is outmatched, simply not having anywhere near the level of skill and expertise as its online adversary. But, Ferizi is not without some technical skills. He has an impressive history in cyber security and was an important contributor to the Hackers Champions League, the purpose of which is to enrich the field of cyber security.

While chatting on Twitter with his new recruit, Ferizi put on the usual dog and pony show, painting a picture of a quintessential existence, overflowing with brotherly love and paid for by Iraqi oil. The new recruit, however, wasn’t really a recruit at all. He is a member of Anonymous who had infiltrated ISIS online. View the screenshots of the conversations the two had at this link.

Pierre Thomas on Nightline noted that, “until the west can counter ISIS online, recruits are likely to keep pouring in to Syria and to possibly threaten the homeland. The frightening thing, the online messaging campaign continues right now as the story airs. 90,000 jihadist postings in the next 24 hours.”

Currently, there isn’t much of a U.S. government presence online to deal specifically with terrorism. There have been all kinds of hearings and meetings, in addition to a summit which addressed dealing with terrorists online. Additionally, a historically unparalleled amount of online surveillance has been taking place. Oddly, no actual offensive against terrorists online has been conducted by the feds. One reason this is disturbing is because all of the recent terror attempts and attacks have been linked to online activity which preceded them. It seems to have taken a considerable amount of time for the U.S. government to connect the dots.

While the feds have been absent in the fight against ISIS online, according to a CNN article, the Pentagon will be hunting ISIS on the Darknet. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and the Pentagon’s top cyber-warrior, wants to dismantle ISIS’ recruitment activities. ISIS, however, doesn’t recruit on the Darknet. Many ISIS recruiters lack the skills necessary to successfully navigate the Darknet and so do most of their potential recruits. The Darknet would provide ISIS with a significantly smaller pool of candidates to choose from. Unfortunately, almost 14 years after 9/11, it looks like the U.S. government’s foray into the battle against terrorism online is off to a shaky start.

At a hearing conducted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, IntelWire’s J.M. Berger told the committee that, “since the beginning of 2015, at least 30 Americans in 13 states have been subject to law enforcement action for attempting to join ISIS or carry out violence inspired by ISIS. In every case, a significant social media component was found in the radicalization or recruitment process.”

Berger describes counterterrorism efforts online as having been outsourced. Instead of the government battling the terrorists, Berger says, “the vast majority of Twitter abuse reporting is apparently done by hacktivists.” According to Berger, the largest and most organized efforts to counter ISIS online are performed by civilian volunteers and not the U.S. government.

In Michigan, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard warned about ISIS online, saying that the threat is real and is an “extremely dangerous one.” He went on to point out that, “the internet is a game-changer. Parents once could say their doors are locked and their children are safe — not anymore. Today, parents have to worry about their kids using a smartphone and talking to a predator. The internet has opened a lot of positive doors in terms of new technology, education and sharing information. But it’s opened doors to danger, too.”

    Candice Lanier

    Written by

    #Cybersecurity — Journalist at Bleeping Computer, CISO at CyberSec Express, co-founder of KidSec — CandiceLanier.Com