ISIL’s Sophisticated Recruiting Campaign Poses Persistent Threat Inside U.S.

U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger speaks at a news conference about the arrest of six Minnesota men for conspiracy and attempt to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, namely, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Minneapolis. (Photo: Craig Lassig, European Pressphoto agency)
U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger speaks at a news conference about the arrest of six Minnesota men for conspiracy and attempt to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, namely, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Minneapolis.
(Photo: Craig Lassig, European Pressphoto agency)

A recent string of terror-related cases in the U.S., including the the arrests of six Minnesota men accused earlier this month of attempting to join the Islamic State, highlights an unprecedented marketing effort being waged by ISIL, U.S. law enforcement officials and terror analysts said.

It’s a campaign that is finding resonance from urban metros to the American heartland.

“This is not so much a recruitment effort as it is a global marketing campaign, beyond anything that al-Qaeda has ever done,” a senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter said Thursday.

The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the Islamic State’s slick multimedia productions, its use of social media and personal “peer-to-peer” communication are proving to be effective parts of a sophisticated program aimed at the West.

“I don’t think there has been one case in which we haven’t found some connection to the videos or other media the group has produced,” the official said.

Federal authorities have identified more than 150 U.S. residents who have sought to join the ranks of the terror organization or rival groups in Syria. There is evidence that about 40 of those have traveled to the region and returned to the U.S. Most have been charged; an undisclosed number are free and subjects of intense surveillance, the senior official said. The smallest subset of the group, an estimated dozen, represents those who have actually joined the fighting ranks.

But the official said that the breadth of the ongoing inquiries suggests that the actual numbers of ISIL sympathizers, or those contemplating travel to join the group and other rival organizations, are likely much higher.

The threat posed by aspiring foreign fighters has been a blinking red light within the nation’s counterterrorism network for months. But the flurry of new cases suggests a persistent problem for law enforcement officials who fear that some of the recruits could launch attacks against U.S. targets when they return home or will be inspired to lash out on their own.

They are young women and men who are “responding to the call to join violent jihad abroad at an alarming rate,” Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told a homeland security summit last weekend. He said that the federal government has brought 35 such cases involving aspiring foreign fighters, many of whom have been arrested before leaving the country.

FBI Director James Comey also has expressed serious concern, saying ISIL and similar terror-support inquiries are ongoing in each of the bureau’s 56 field divisions across the country.

Varied nature of threat

A series of criminal cases filed in the past month highlight the varied nature of the threat facing the U.S., and ISIL’s aggressive pursuit of U.S.-based and other converts.

In the most recent Minnesota case involving six young suspects, all intercepted by authorities before their planned travel to Syria, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said ISIL demonstrated a powerful recruiting tool that it is difficult to counter.

Luger described a so-called “peer-to-peer” or “brother-to-brother” campaign in which the close group of suspects engaged in the radicalization of each other, providing encouragement during each phase of a nearly year-long mission to reach Syria.

At the same time, the group also was getting support directly from the battlefield. Abdi Nur, a former associate of the Minnesota suspects, slipped past authorities last May and is believed to be in Syria with the terror group.

Since Nur reached Syria, Luger asserted that the suspected terror operative has been serving as the chief “foreign fighter recruiter” for his former associates in Minneapolis.

Michael Leiter, former director of the U.S. Counterterrorism Center, said ISIL’s recruiting strategy — its personal outreach efforts, application of slick YouTube productions and other social media — represents an unmatched level of sophistication demonstrated by terror organizations in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Al-Qaeda in Pakistan represented Version 1.0, with its static video of (Osama) bin-Laden’s face. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula became Version 2.0, with (American cleric) Anwar al-Awlaki using graphics and the online magazine Inspire to reach potential English-speaking converts. Think of ISIL as Version 3.0.”

While officials believe that the U.S. will never produce the volume of recruits being drawn from Western Europe, where a disaffected Muslim population and a lack of integration has helped contribute thousands of foreign fighters to ISIL’s cause, Leiter and others said the U.S. nevertheless remains an important focus.

“The image that there is a pipeline of soldiers for ISIL running out of the U.S. is a powerful one,” said Bruce Hoffman, a longtime terrorism analyst and director of Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies program. “That’s why you are seeing such a full-court press (from ISIL).”

Hoffman said the FBI and government’s intelligence apparatus has devoted immense resources to counter the recruiting effort. But he said ISIL’s multifaceted outreach and leveraging of social media is threatening to “outpace the government’s capabilities across the intelligence community.”

“It’s like the Dutch boy sticking his fingers in the dike,” Hoffman said.

Terror sympathizer back in the U.S.

Among the most striking of the recent foreign fighter cases brought by federal prosecutors involves Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud.

Click here for more.

SOURCE: USA Today – Kevin Johnson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s