Author: Katarina Jonev * educator and analyst for cyber security policies
Terrorist attacks in Europe have become more frequent. For most attacks, the Islamic State took responsibility. One question arises: how many terrorists who have committed an attack on civilians and public places have been recruited for IS needs round the world? And how many perpetrators have been radicalized by using modern way of communication, without the direct physical contact of recruiters? How many people across Europe and world people and teenagers are ”sleepers” who are waiting only one message in which is written an order to attack? We should not lose sight of the large number of returnees from the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields, who are also a potential danger to society.
The fact is that for nearly two decades terrorist groups have been using cyber space to spread propaganda, to place ideological, political, religious ideas, to communicate with each other and to organize activities, plan attacks in the physical world, and to gain finances. The cyber space has become a new battlefield, sufficiently effective where terrorists can further expand their sphere of influence and continue to spread fear and panic. That is precisely the goal of each group – the constant holding of a tension to attack, anytime, anywhere.
One thing we need to keep in mind – radicalization and indoctrination were not created by the emergence of the Internet, but the global network contributed to their spread. It is obvious and quite troubling that for terrorist groups the target group became children and young people! As a group of users that is most active and spending the most time on the social network, young people and children are targeted. By actively spreading influence on social networks, terrorist groups and organizations use this medium to get young people to accept their ideas. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Telegrams have contributed to radicalization and recruitment, primarily of young people from all parts of the world who accept the principles of terrorists and join their ranks, or in any way support their mission.
The Internet has become an important resource to spread terrorist propaganda and for providing instructions to young people who wouldn’t otherwise have direct contact with the group. It is also inexpensive and anonymous resource that offers to terrorists different ways of placing message, makes easier communication, and establishes a connection with potential regattas. Some terrorist groups have a rather sophisticated online presence that is reflected through the management of many profiles on social networks, specially designed contents, multimedia platforms. Terrorist organizations have their own websites where information about the group can be found, goals that are being promoted, and it is possible to download books and bulletins and even instructions on how to make a bomb. In the past few years, reports have shown a growing trend for young people to self-radicalize through the use of the Internet.
Members of the Islamic State are the first extremist group to openly use the Internet and social networks as the most important part of the recruitment strategy. That is precisely why the IS differs from other radical Islamic groups when it comes to using the Internet. Their ability to use the Internet and social networks to present themselves in a way that can seem like an attractive option for many young people has never been practiced in such a successful way. There is much uncertainty about the success of recruiting children. The ability to convince children to join the group is alarming.
Given that cyberspace is not limited, radicalization of potential young terrorists is possible on the Internet and on the large geographic distances, which is an advantage. Terrorists try to get close to children in different forms – from direct contact on social networks, through propaganda that serves to inspire them to action, to communication on forums and chat rooms, and even by playing computer games.
Islamic states have a need for children, because they have to secure the future of a pseudo-state that controls a significant part of the Syrian and Iraqi territories, that is, “caliphate”. In order to ensure a successful and lasting system of government, the IS must prepare the next generation of fighters. It is unknown how many children and youth from all parts of the world has left homes and joined the fighting in Syria after communicating with recruits via social networks, the numbers can only be speculated.
The activities of intelligence and counter-intelligence services must be much more active, faster and more agile. At the same time, international channels of coordination and cooperation must be provided so that the problem of recruiting children on the Internet can be suppressed in the coming times.
Although, in the physical world Islamic State is losing the battles and territory, we must all wonder – with their defeat, will also their ideology die? And what can we expect next from some other terrorist group when it comes to activities online?