Islamic State recruiting violent criminals
> Terror network offers ‘redemption’ to European gang members
LONDON: “Sometimes people with the worst pasts create the best futures,” reads the slogan, emblazoned on an image of a masked fighter wielding a Kalashnikov, walking into blinding light.
The poster was shared on Facebook by Rayat al-Tawheed, a group of British Islamic State fighters from London calling themselves the “Banner of God”.
Their target is young men looking for redemption from crime, drugs or gangs who are willing to save their souls by waging war for IS.
For all of its professed piousness, new research shows that the majority of the terrorist group’s recruits have criminal histories.
A report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) shows that criminal and terrorist networks across Europe are merging to create a dangerous brand of jihadi for whom violence is not just a holy pursuit, but a way of life.
Professor Peter Neumann, director of the ICSR at King’s College London, said the new “crime-terror nexus” was making radicalisation harder to spot for European security services.
“A lot of analysts continue saying terrorists are middle or upper-class, Osama bin Laden was the son of a millionaire and the 9/11 attackers were students for instance.
“But I don’t think that doesn’t reflect the reality we have with IS – we need to rethink our strategy,” he said.
Neumann said that of the jihadis examined for the study, two-thirds had not just a criminal history but a violent history.
In European countries where the figure is known, more than half of IS fighters were previously known to the police.
“It gives criminals a moral justification for doing what they’ve been doing – only now they will go to heaven,” Neumann said.
The terror group also aims to portray membership as a route to action, adventure, power and the sense of brotherhood desired by frequently vulnerable recruits searching for purpose and belonging.
Alain Grignard, a senior member of Belgium’s counter-terror agency, said IS can be seen as an extension of inner-city crime for many European members.
“Young men with a history of social and criminal delinquency are joining up with the IS as part of a sort of ‘super-gang’,” he told the Combating Terrorism Centre.
The link is being reinforced by what has been dubbed the “gameification of jihad”, with IS styling its gory propaganda videos like first-person-shooter console games, complete with graphics, crosshair views and even chilling recreations of maze challenges.
The method of recruitment is seeing radicalisation speed up, with the process commonly happening in weeks or months for the vast majority of IS militants, compared to months of years for groups like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Some continued to drink and even take drugs up until their departure for IS.
“In many cases in the past, someone might become a student activist and start supporting the jihadi ideology but then it would be a huge hurdle to convince that person to vary out a violent attack and kill somebody,” Neumann said.
“But with these criminals they are already used to violence, so for the jump from being an extremist to being a violent extremist is much smaller.” – The Independent
An anti-IS fighter climbs out of a hole on the wall of a house during a firefight in the Libyan city of Sirte on Monday.