The Islamic State’s deft use of social media is continuing to inspire and recruit young people in America to its cause and win them over to Islam, in spite of the terror group’s brutal tactics causing violence around the Middle East.
Research has found that defending Muslims, battling the Syrian regime, and marrying a good Muslim are among the top motivations of those joining Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL). However, Hussein Abdullatif of the Birmingham Islamic Center in Alabama told RT that it is Muslims who continue to bear the brunt of IS’ attacks.
“[ISIS’] biggest victims are Muslims. They do also say they fight for Sunni Islam but their biggest victims are Sunni Muslims themselves,” he said.
Nevertheless, the group has managed to attract a sizable number of people from overseas. A 20-year-old Alabama student, Hoda, whose last name has been withheld to protect her family’s identity, ran away last year to become an IS member, bride and – very quickly – a widow.
Hoda’s father, a Yemeni refugee who came to the US in 1992 and also wished to remain anonymous, recently said he is still overcome with emotion about Hoda.
“I couldn’t even stand on my feet. This was the last thing anyone can imagine of one of his beloved kids,” he said in a report by Buzzfeed. “I’m sure that every family controls their kids like I do…but ISIS found somehow, someway to get through.”
Hoda has been in touch from Syria via her Twitter account, @ZumarulJannah, the website reported.
“I’m not going to come back. This is the right place for me to live and I am really ready to die. To meet my God as a true Muslim,” Hoda said on her Twitter account before it was removed.
Hoda’s is just one of many such stories. More than 20,000 foreigners have joined IS in the Middle East, including nearly 200 Americans that have tried to reach Syria, CNN reported. How many of them specifically went to join IS is unclear.
In the last four months, the FBI has rounded up over a dozen terror suspects alleged to have shown support for the terror group online.
One of the ways Wahabi/Deobandi IS has made its presence felt online is by hacking. In just one day, the organization allegedly hacked 4,000 internet service sites peddling everything from pizza delivery to car washes. One Christian group, the Red Barn Therapeutic Riding Facility, a non-profit in Alabama, was also hacked.
“There was a song, I’m assuming in Arabic. The only words that I could really make out were ‘jihad’ and ‘infidels,’” Red Barn’s executive director, Joy O’Neal, told RT. “They may seem like they are offering a way out but they really are not.”
The FBI acknowledges that the influence of “ISIL rhetoric on social media — [is] powerful propaganda that calls for followers to commit quick and unpredictable violent acts.”
The Bureau arrested nearly a dozen people suspected of Islamic State sympathies in the lead-up to Independence Day on July 4, which they claim helped prevent an IS-inspired terrorist attack from taking place.
Arafat Nagi, a New York man, was the latest to be arrested, accused of attempting to provide material support and resources to IS through online activity. He was also flagged for international travel to Turkey, and purchases of combat gear and equipment.
The FBI found Nagi had not only talked of violent jihad with various people in his community, but also pledged allegiance to IS and the leader of the terrorist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The power of the internet to influence potential followers became the subject of a Congressional hearing, titled “Jihad 2.0,” in May.
During the hearing, the Senate Homeland Securities and Government Affairs Committee learned that IS has managed to attract the interest of at least 62 Wahabis/Deobandis in the US through social media.
Those people had either tried to join IS themselves (some successfully), or supported others in doing so. Of the 62 people, 53 were very active on social media, and had downloaded jihadist propaganda. Some of them had directly communicated with IS.
The hearing was part of an ongoing attempt by the US Congress to identify ways to thwart efforts by overseas terrorists to lure foreign fighters and incite jihadists to commit attacks inside the US.