Since 9/11 attacks, terrorism has evolved alongside technological advancements, and this has given terrorists new tools for carrying out attacks with minimal visibility. Today, terrorism is no longer considered a threat from extremist militants operating in Asia, Eastern Europe or Africa. It has been domesticated in target countries and is more amorphous than ever thanks to technology (Janbek, & Williams, 2014). This paper will explore terrorist recruitment and radicalization, tactics employed in carrying out attacks, and the use of the youth in carrying out terror attacks.
As indicated above, technological advancement has been the major driver of the evolution of terrorism in recent years. After the 9/11 attacks and the anti-terrorism military campaign that followed, most terrorist and terrorist organizations moved to the internet where they established tens of thousands of websites that offered them the platform to promote their terrorist ideologies and activities against the West and its allies (Weimann, 2014).The new-found freedom of websites was (still is) a critical avenue through which terrorists relied on to carry out their activities. However, the advent of social media has taken terrorism to another new level altogether. Over the last decade, social media networking sites have been instrumental in aiding terrorists to operate around the world effectively. Indeed, AlQaeda and Isis and their affiliates have become more radical Islamic phenomena held together by their global network of virtual communities (Janbek, & Williams, 2014; Keene 2011).
Terrorist organizations extensively use social media to recruit and radicalize new members. The advantage with social media is that it allows unfettered access to information from any point of the world unlike the use of websites which are often hacked and pulled down by counter-terrorist agencies (Weimann, 2014). Terrorists use social media to spread propaganda, raise funds, recruit and radicalize individuals who they later use to commit terrorist activities(Janbek, & Williams, 2014).This is possible because of the various advantages that social media tools provide to terrorist organizations and terrorist ringleaders across the globe. According to Weimann (2014), medial social sites offer effective channels for terrorists because of social media, unlike traditional and conventional media, differs in aspects such as reach, interactivity, anonymity, usability, immediacy, and permanency. Additionally, the ubiquity of smartphones phones has made even it easier for terrorists to communicate. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube are the most popular social media platforms terrorist employ in carrying out their activities.
Terrorists use social media to spread political and religious ideologies to online users. It targets young people from all parts of the world and inspires potential recruits with online communications. These communications are actualized through social media platforms where terrorist ringleaders spread political ideologies through online databases where potential recruits learn about terrorist organizations and their causes (Janbek, & Williams, 2014). Once these youths access these databases, they are the lured to join terrorist organizations either as agents in their home countries in the West or offer themselves to serve in armed struggle of terrorist groups around the world although such groups are more concentrated in the Middle East and Africa than other parts of the globe.
Radicalization is an important strategy employed by terrorist leaders to lure young people into joining their organizations. Terrorists exploit online social sites to spread radical ideologies to unsuspecting youths and attract them into radical formations. They first create connections with frequenters of social media platforms and use the established relationship to communicate to potential recruits about their version of reality and how they perceive the world (Janbek, & Williams, 2014; Keene 2011). In most cases, they identify their enemies (mostly the West and their allies) and justify the use of violence against them and their allies while offering boastful expressions about their previous exploits in unleashing violence against their enemies. These expressions are often depicted in the form of videos and photos of apparent violence of the enemies and also their revenge actions on the citizens of the West and their allies (Janbek, & Williams, 2014; Weimann, 2014). The abduction and decapitation of the American journalist, James Foley, in 2014 in Raqqa, Syria, is a perfect example of how terrorists use violence to boast about their exploits against the West and its allies.
The use of videos and photos creates an alluring appeal for young people to rise against the enemy by depicting the apparent western countries oppressors. This tactic has resulted, on several occasions, in people subscribing to the terrorists ideologies which motivate them to act alone in meting out violence against the people of who have been described as enemies (Weimann, 2014).A case in point is the Major Nidal Malik Hasan who shot dead 13 American soldiers and injured at least 30 people in 2009 in Fort Hood, Texas. Hasan had online contact American-born controversial Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (Janbek, & Williams, 2014).On March 1, 2011, Arid Uka, a Muslim of Albanian origin living in Germany, shot and killed two members of the US's armed forces and wounded two others hardly two hours after watching an edited online video showing two American soldiers conducting a gruesome rape ordeal against a Muslim woman. This incident posted on one of the propaganda channels owned by jihadists angered Uka so bad that he headed to the airport of Frankfurt and shot dead the soldiers (Weimann, 2014). Hasan and Uka had not joined any terrorist organizations nor attended any jihadist training, but the radical nature of the ideologies terrorists present about their religion provoked anger which, in turn, motivated them to kill. This is one of the latest tactics jihadists employ in committing terror.
Terrorists also use direct contact with individuals they consider to have been convinced through their radical messages. They maintain an online presence which makes it possible for them to communicate directly with target audiences. Here, they persuade them to join direct combat, make financial contributions towards jihad or otherwise participate in the mujahedeen cause. Direct contact has been instrumental in establishing foreign training nests (Janbek, & Williams, 2014).
Young people carry most terrorist activities. They are taught bomb-making tactics and tactics of combat in the face of the enemy (Keene 2011). Stated in another way, they are the most wanted individuals by terrorist leaders. But what makes young people the best target?
According to Weimann (2014), young people are easily lured by the radical political and religious messages. Specifically, Weimann cites the divine status of a mujaheed as one of the greatest attractions that lure young people into engaging in terrorist actions. It excites most young Muslims to die while fighting for a just cause especially the one that invokes the name jihad (Christien, 2016). Additionally, young people tend to be excited with new ideas. In this respect, Isis posts videos and photos online which glamorize violence against the West. They make it look cool to kill citizens of the West. Isis fighters are acting like new rock stars of global jihad (Awan, 2017).These expressions excite young people, making them easy targets.
Undeniably terrorism has evolved over the recent past due to growth in communication technologies. The proliferation of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube has made it easier to reach a wider audience and internationalize terrorism. Either potential recruits are lured to join armed combat or engage in violent attacks against the West. Yet others kill western fellow citizens just by acting alone upon accessing radical ideologies online. For this reason, it is crucial for counterterrorism agencies to focus more of their strategies on online platforms to tame cyber-jihad, especially among the youth.
Awan, I. (2017). Cyber-extremism: Isis and the power of social media. Society, 54(2), 138-149. doi:10.1007/s12115-017-0114-0
Christien, A. (2016). The representation of youth in the Islamic State's propaganda magazine Dabiq. Journal of Terrorism Research, 7(3), 1-8. doi:10.15664/jtr.1201
Janbek, D., & Williams, V. (2014). The role of the internet post-9/11 in terrorism and counterterrorism. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 20(11), 308.
Keene, S. D. (2011). Terrorism and the internet: a doubleedged sword. Journal of Money Laundering Control, 14(4), 359-370. doi:10.1108/13685201111173839
Weimann, G. (2014). New terrorism and new media. Commons Lab, 2(1), 1-17. Retrieved from https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/STIP_140501_new_terrorism_F.pdf
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