The feds have arrested a Queens college student who plotted to attack targets in New York City on behalf of the Islamic State, an incident that shows once again how ISIS social media propaganda is incredibly successful at using the wider Web to recruit fighters.
Munther Omar Saleh, 20, who once tweeted his concerns that al Qaeda was becoming “too moderate,” had made extensive online searches on building explosives and baffling law enforcement. His computer contained several files of ISIS propaganda, court papers state. In the past, Saleh had embraced ISIS actions, twitting his support for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France, the beheading of a Japanese journalist, and more recently the terror attack at a controversial cartoon contest in Garland, Texas.
Aspiring jihadists such as Saleh are called ‘lone wolves’ and can create a Twitter account and say they’re members of ISIS even if they have marginal ties to the organization.
Yet this still leaves the question of why ISIS recruitment drive appears to be proving so successful.
ISIS SOCIAL MEDIA “PROPAGANDA WAR”
In the words of Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger authors of the book, “ISIS: The State of Terror,” ISIS has mastered “an arena no terrorist group had conquered before – the burgeoning world of social media.”
ISIS social media strategy includes advertising a “five-star jihad” lifestyle the group claims to offer its followers. Lured by the promise of a ‘good life’, many Muslims becoming radicalized, leave their homes to travel to the Middle East.
ISIS social media strategy is working. Up to 50, 000 fighters have joined the Islamic State’s cause since the group started invasions in northern Iraq and Syria nearly a year ago. An estimated 3,400 are Westerners, according to counterterrorism officials.
ISIS uses platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to reach its target audience, ill-using popular hashtags to disseminate their message. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told CNN that they are fighting 90,000 tweets a day.
The ISIS Twitter Census a study out of the Brookings Institution, used a sample of 20,000 ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts, to construct a snapshot of this “dark network”.
The study answers some basic questions, including such fundamental issues as “how many Twitter users support ISIS?” or “who are they, and how many of them take part in its highly organized online activities?” According to the data collected, ISIS-supporting accounts had an average of about 1,000 followers each and are considerably more active than non-supporting users.
THE CYBER CALIPHATE
Social media and messaging apps have made it easier for interested Westerners to connect with an ISIS recruiter and join the ‘cause’. ISIS recruiters update their followers regarding their lives with pictures and posts. Calls for terror affiliated with ISIS are easily accessible. Recent documents found in an online chat room came with directions on now to prepare a bomb in the kitchen as well as a list of tourist spots, such as Times Square, that will create “pictures of horror”.
While local imams are stepping up efforts to fight against the flow of young people who are turning to ISIS in increasing number, Twitter is struggling to shut down Islamic State accounts strategically marketing the “caliphate”. During a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel “Jihad 2.0: Social Media in the Next Evolution of Terrorist Recruitment,” experts pointed out to the fact that social media allows people to self-select and access information- radical Jihadists included. With ISIS social media strategy ramping up in full force, the international community is committed to fighting this “propaganda war.”