By: Sami Ahmed
The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has been a prominent threat to global security since the summer of 2014. Taking swaths of land away from both Iraq and Syria and spilling the Syrian civil war into Syria’s neighboring countries, this group has shown that they are strong, well-financed, equipped, and confident enough to pursue a long drawn out war. Since October 2014, western nations and their allies in the Middle East have been continuously targeting and bombing ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq while supporting the Kurdish forces, Iraqi military and Syrian opposition who are doing much of the fighting on the ground. Though the US and other NATO countries can cope with the threat in the physical world, unfortunately, the same can’t exactly be said for the cyber world.
For the past decade and a half, the internet has flourished as an important tool of communication. Various social media sites have sprung up as well as online forums where people post their opinions while enjoying anonymity from other users. Terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda have used this to their advantage for a long time. Using password protected jihadist forums and websites hidden in the deep cluster of thousands upon thousands of websites, the groups have mostly targeted adult audiences, until now. Now, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr have been under attack from a wide range of accounts created for the sole purpose of recruiting teenagers from the US, UK, Sweden, Germany, and other western countries with sizable Muslim populations. Northern Virginia especially, is at threat due to its high Muslim population which looks like a ripe target for any recruiter. “This is a very important issue and people, especially Muslim people in this country, must be informed” Said Junior Syed Hussein who has family living in Iraq.
The total estimate of ISIS fighters range from 50,000 to 200,000 spread out between Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula. The number of foreign fighters is estimated at 15,000 from over 70 countries. Most of the foreign fighters come from the Gulf countries (like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Yemen), North Africa, and Chechnya (a small Russian republic in the caucuses). The number of minors who fight for the group is unknown. People are now wondering what would possibly make minors (especially minors from 1st world countries) join ISIS? Reasons range from religious extremism to being alienated from Western society due to anti-Muslim sentiment during post-9/11. While males go to fight for the group’s goals, females join in order to marry ISIS fighters and settle in its conquered land which is often under a very strict interpretation of Sharia law. In April, one 17 year old teen from Northern Virginia was caught trying to recruit another man into the group via twitter. The teen, 17 year old Ali Shukri Amin, used the twitter handle @Amreekiwitness to “provide advice and encouragement to ISIL and its supporters”, according to a Department of Justice press release. This was alarming due to the fact that this happened in a country which is openly fighting ISIS and supporting most of their enemies (the Kurds, ordinary Iraqis, and others). Though the fighting in the physical world can be done with bullets and bombs, combating ISIS in the cyber world needs to be done with shutting down ISIS social media accounts and monitoring (to an extent) potential terrorists online.