Help Wanted: Women as Recruiters for ISIS

The landscape of war has dramatically changed, casting conventional weapons as secondary to the power of propaganda.  The first social media war in history is now being fought by online soldiers.  From the comfort of their own homes, secretly playing keyboard jihadis, anonymous recruiters prey on the fantasies of the would-be recruit to serve on the virtual front line.

The most treacherous and damaging material support for ISIS is the online ability to manipulate and radicalize recruits worldwide.  Now ISIS posts "help wanted" announcements for online recruiters who have skills that kill – and business is booming.

The Tremendous Value of Women as Recruiters

Surprisingly, employment with ISIS as a recruiter is financially rewarding.  "That just shows how important it is to them and how much they treasure and value the recruitment capabilities of web pages and social media."  Dark web warriors are serving as front-line fighters with limitless access to millions of potential recruits on a 24-hour ISIS hotline, where social media addicts can call with questions about Islamism.  Not only hotlines, but Twitter and Tumblr accounts, radical and encrypted sites, and other outlets for wannabe jihadists keep recruiters connected worldwide.

Salafi-jihadi recruiting in chat rooms and encrypted sites is extremely effective, and women are leading the way.  A woman's traditional role within terrorist organizations has always been homemaker and baby factory, but it is evolving to include a supportive role for ISIS as online persuasive recruiters.

The Online Recruiting Revolution

A driving force in recruiting for the jihadi internet revolution is the online magazine Dabiq (replaced by Rumiyah), which transformed battlefield warfare by establishing the online recruiting industry.  Known as the terrorist who brought the influence of "media jihad" to ISIS was chief editor Ahmad Abousmara, an expert in computer engineering and emotional exploitation.  He amassed so much media power that he became a danger to himself and was killed.  "He departed, having known that media is for calling people to Allah, guiding them to His cause, and inciting them to kill His enemies."  There are many jihadis who have followed his lead by manipulating innocent youths online to gain power, prestige, and paychecks.

Birmingham, England resident Junaid Hussain was one such recruiter who took the power of this medium to the next level by weaving his way inside influential internet networks.  He was killed by an American drone – not because he lobbed off heads, blew up buildings, or rammed cars into pedestrians, but because he wielded too much control on social media sites.  Known as a member of the Cyber Caliphates, Hussain was a black hat hacker whose purpose was to bypass internet security and disseminate radical propaganda.  His success landed him in prison in 2012, for hacking into former prime minister Tony Blair's accounts and posting private information.

After just a few clicks, sophisticated crowdsourcing techniques enable aspiring jihadists to become employed as recruiters for terrorists.  The time from "flash to bang," or "thought to action," is tightening.  Ten years ago, it took one year to radicalize a jihadi newbie.  Now it takes only a single month or less.

How have radical recruiters become so effective?

Curious visitors join jihadi chat rooms and become swept up in the effects of groupthink, a mental resetting phenomenon that occurs when a group seeks conformity – often resulting in irrational decisions.  Surfing the web creates anonymity and a false sense of security; it is the Millennials' version of being approached at a bar.

Recruiters are predators, driving the hidden influencers inside the group.  Through electronic memes and jihadi slang, visitors are duped into playing a role in identifying with Islamism.  Master recruiters convince the newbies that they are not being manipulated, but are acting on their own free will.  Often prospective recruits experience a roller coaster of sentiments and cravings, much like the effects of drugs, as they fall down the rabbit hole into radicalization.  Finally, the vulnerable recruit may become dependent on his online "friend" because he has isolated himself in the real world while feeding his internet addiction.

American College Student Turned Jihadi Recruiter

A 20-year-old girl from Hoover, Alabama, Hoda Muthana, also known as "Umm Jihad" on Twitter, connected with extremists online and left the U.S. to join them in Syria.  She explained, "I felt like my life was so bland without it.  Life has much more meaning when u know why ur here."  Hoda stated that her parents approved of her changes "until they saw me getting jihadi."

A former friend in the University of Alabama, Birmingham's Muslim Student Association described Hoda with two different personalities. "I really think that her Twitter was her alter ego.  What she lacked in her personality, she would make up for on Twitter."  She stated, "she didn't want to associate with anyone who didn't share her interpretation of Islam, an interpretation that she said demanded every Muslim to move to ISIS-controlled territory."  As of this writing, Hoda remains in Syria, employed by ISIS as an online recruiter, brainwashing American women about her "glamorous" life as a jihadi bride, mother, and widow.  It is unlikely that she will return to the U.S. without significant jail time for providing material support to a terrorist organization.

Women in the Theater

As much as it is counter to Islamic teachings, some predict that as ISIS loses ground and recruits, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may impose combat roles on women.  From a public relations perspective, the death of a woman on the front line will create a huge amount of attention and response, which will increase ISIS's "media platform."  This unprecedented move would not be unlike the brutality that created hundreds of thousands of viewers and massive recruits through YouTube videos of Jihadi John's brutal beheadings. "Women believed to have been planning a series of suicide attacks, connected with ISIS elements via the internet and were brainwashed into committing destructive acts[.] ... This is the first time we have found a terrorist cell that was entirely composed of women," stated Abdelhak Kiame, who leads Morocco's Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations.

The evolution of terrorist soldiers is progressing from a traditional Salafi-jihadi role, where women must be covered from head-to-toe and are not allowed to leave home without a male relative, to female online recruiters, female front-line soldiers, and even female suicide bombers, who are willing to die in battle for a fanatical Islamic State.

Valerie Leiser Greenfeld is the author of Backyard Caliphate: Radicalization in our Neighborhoods, which will be available in June 2017 on Amazon.com.

The landscape of war has dramatically changed, casting conventional weapons as secondary to the power of propaganda.  The first social media war in history is now being fought by online soldiers.  From the comfort of their own homes, secretly playing keyboard jihadis, anonymous recruiters prey on the fantasies of the would-be recruit to serve on the virtual front line.

The most treacherous and damaging material support for ISIS is the online ability to manipulate and radicalize recruits worldwide.  Now ISIS posts "help wanted" announcements for online recruiters who have skills that kill – and business is booming.

The Tremendous Value of Women as Recruiters

Surprisingly, employment with ISIS as a recruiter is financially rewarding.  "That just shows how important it is to them and how much they treasure and value the recruitment capabilities of web pages and social media."  Dark web warriors are serving as front-line fighters with limitless access to millions of potential recruits on a 24-hour ISIS hotline, where social media addicts can call with questions about Islamism.  Not only hotlines, but Twitter and Tumblr accounts, radical and encrypted sites, and other outlets for wannabe jihadists keep recruiters connected worldwide.

Salafi-jihadi recruiting in chat rooms and encrypted sites is extremely effective, and women are leading the way.  A woman's traditional role within terrorist organizations has always been homemaker and baby factory, but it is evolving to include a supportive role for ISIS as online persuasive recruiters.

The Online Recruiting Revolution

A driving force in recruiting for the jihadi internet revolution is the online magazine Dabiq (replaced by Rumiyah), which transformed battlefield warfare by establishing the online recruiting industry.  Known as the terrorist who brought the influence of "media jihad" to ISIS was chief editor Ahmad Abousmara, an expert in computer engineering and emotional exploitation.  He amassed so much media power that he became a danger to himself and was killed.  "He departed, having known that media is for calling people to Allah, guiding them to His cause, and inciting them to kill His enemies."  There are many jihadis who have followed his lead by manipulating innocent youths online to gain power, prestige, and paychecks.

Birmingham, England resident Junaid Hussain was one such recruiter who took the power of this medium to the next level by weaving his way inside influential internet networks.  He was killed by an American drone – not because he lobbed off heads, blew up buildings, or rammed cars into pedestrians, but because he wielded too much control on social media sites.  Known as a member of the Cyber Caliphates, Hussain was a black hat hacker whose purpose was to bypass internet security and disseminate radical propaganda.  His success landed him in prison in 2012, for hacking into former prime minister Tony Blair's accounts and posting private information.

After just a few clicks, sophisticated crowdsourcing techniques enable aspiring jihadists to become employed as recruiters for terrorists.  The time from "flash to bang," or "thought to action," is tightening.  Ten years ago, it took one year to radicalize a jihadi newbie.  Now it takes only a single month or less.

How have radical recruiters become so effective?

Curious visitors join jihadi chat rooms and become swept up in the effects of groupthink, a mental resetting phenomenon that occurs when a group seeks conformity – often resulting in irrational decisions.  Surfing the web creates anonymity and a false sense of security; it is the Millennials' version of being approached at a bar.

Recruiters are predators, driving the hidden influencers inside the group.  Through electronic memes and jihadi slang, visitors are duped into playing a role in identifying with Islamism.  Master recruiters convince the newbies that they are not being manipulated, but are acting on their own free will.  Often prospective recruits experience a roller coaster of sentiments and cravings, much like the effects of drugs, as they fall down the rabbit hole into radicalization.  Finally, the vulnerable recruit may become dependent on his online "friend" because he has isolated himself in the real world while feeding his internet addiction.

American College Student Turned Jihadi Recruiter

A 20-year-old girl from Hoover, Alabama, Hoda Muthana, also known as "Umm Jihad" on Twitter, connected with extremists online and left the U.S. to join them in Syria.  She explained, "I felt like my life was so bland without it.  Life has much more meaning when u know why ur here."  Hoda stated that her parents approved of her changes "until they saw me getting jihadi."

A former friend in the University of Alabama, Birmingham's Muslim Student Association described Hoda with two different personalities. "I really think that her Twitter was her alter ego.  What she lacked in her personality, she would make up for on Twitter."  She stated, "she didn't want to associate with anyone who didn't share her interpretation of Islam, an interpretation that she said demanded every Muslim to move to ISIS-controlled territory."  As of this writing, Hoda remains in Syria, employed by ISIS as an online recruiter, brainwashing American women about her "glamorous" life as a jihadi bride, mother, and widow.  It is unlikely that she will return to the U.S. without significant jail time for providing material support to a terrorist organization.

Women in the Theater

As much as it is counter to Islamic teachings, some predict that as ISIS loses ground and recruits, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may impose combat roles on women.  From a public relations perspective, the death of a woman on the front line will create a huge amount of attention and response, which will increase ISIS's "media platform."  This unprecedented move would not be unlike the brutality that created hundreds of thousands of viewers and massive recruits through YouTube videos of Jihadi John's brutal beheadings. "Women believed to have been planning a series of suicide attacks, connected with ISIS elements via the internet and were brainwashed into committing destructive acts[.] ... This is the first time we have found a terrorist cell that was entirely composed of women," stated Abdelhak Kiame, who leads Morocco's Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations.

The evolution of terrorist soldiers is progressing from a traditional Salafi-jihadi role, where women must be covered from head-to-toe and are not allowed to leave home without a male relative, to female online recruiters, female front-line soldiers, and even female suicide bombers, who are willing to die in battle for a fanatical Islamic State.

Valerie Leiser Greenfeld is the author of Backyard Caliphate: Radicalization in our Neighborhoods, which will be available in June 2017 on Amazon.com.

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