THE NEW SIGNATURE OF TERRORISM IN THE DIGITAL ERA
By: Rommel K Manwong; Emerjhon D Hernandez; Leandro Y Paralisan
POST GRADUATE DIPLOMA IN TERRORISM STUDIES
We explore the process of radicalization and highlighting the shift from traditional to modern recruitment patterns made by extremist groups in this issue. We find out how the internet and social media play a major role in the current trends in radicalization in this digital age.
The notion of radicalization is widely used to convey the idea of a process through which an individual adopts an increasingly set of beliefs and aspirations. This may include, but is not defined by, the willingness to condone, support, facilitate or use violence to further political, ideological, religious or other goals. This is the reason why radicalization becomes a means of extremism.
Extremism is the holding of strong political or religious views considered to be beyond the mainstream norms of the society. For any contradicting social system, this ideology may trigger the use of violence against it and as a means to claim what they are fighting for, hence the existence of terrorism as universally defined. Terrorism is the inevitable product of radicalization.
THE RADICALIZATION PROCESS
Radicalization has four-stage process. First is pre-radicalization, the period where individuals have not been exposed to an extremist belief system and live normally, although there may be aspects of their experiences and environments, for instance isolation and discrimination, that potentially make them more vulnerable to radicalization.
The second stage is self-identification which involve individuals’ introduction to and eventual embrace of an extremist belief system. This usually occurs when they are experiencing economic, social, political, or personal crises and they are exposed to extremist views and narratives through the existing social networks, including their friends and family, or through movements promoting these beliefs.
The third stage is indoctrination where individuals’ extremist beliefs intensify. They view violence as necessary to supporting these beliefs. They tend to join groups that embrace the same terrorist views and detach themselves from their normal lives.
The final stage is jihadization which allows the terrorist groups goal take complete precedence for individuals, and the final steps are taken toward violence as individuals train, acquire weapons, and ultimately attempt to carry out attacks.
PATTERNS OF RECRUITMENT
The recruitment patterns that can effectively be replicated in the context of online recruitment are as follows:
The net - this is where violent extremist and terrorist groups disseminate undifferentiated propaganda, such as video clips or messages, to a target population deemed homogeneous and receptive to the propaganda.
The funnel - entails an incremental approach to target specific individuals considered ready for recruitment, using psychological techniques to increase commitment and dedication. Even targeted children who resist complete recruitment may develop positive outlooks on the group’s activities.
The infection - when the target population is difficult to reach, an agent can be inserted to pursue recruitment from within, employing direct and personal appeals. The social bonds between the recruiter and the targets may be strengthened by appealing to grievances, such as marginalization or social frustration.
Individuals are said to have push and pull factors that may lead them to be radicalized. The push factors are the sociological aspects that are structural in nature within the society. These are conducive to radicalization as individuals become vulnerable. Examples are - lack of socio-economic opportunities; marginalization and discrimination; poor governance; violations of human rights and the rule of law; prolonged and unresolved conflicts; and prison proselytization. The pull factors on the other hand, are the psychological aspects that can render an individual more susceptible to undertaking violent extremist behavior to which they are motivated to transform their ideas and grievances. Some examples are individual backgrounds and motivations; collective grievances and victimization stemming from domination, oppression, subjugation or foreign intervention; distortion and misuse of beliefs, political ideologies and ethnic and cultural differences; and leadership and social networks.
From the beginning, terrorist groups have been unyielding when it comes to recruitment of members. The push factors are the most considerable pathway to connect with their targets. They search individuals having behaviors indicative of cognitive opening. Recruitment processes are often characterized by elements of both compulsion and voluntariness. Forced recruitment continues to be prevalent and the most vulnerable are people living in poverty, children without parental care, and the street children. Although some individuals may appear to join voluntarily, they are usually enticed by economic reasons when extremist groups offer payment, food, accommodation and protection, encouraging loyalty.
There are also recruitment through ties between the group and community leadership. In some instances, communities support an armed group listed as a terrorist group because the group is perceived as defending the community against threats from other armed groups. In such a situation, families and community leaders may encourage children to join the armed group. The most common form of recruitment used is propaganda.
EXTREMIST WEB-BASED CAMPAIGNS AND STRATEGIES
The internet has proven to be a highly potent platform of communication stretching to millions of audiences in the global scene. The increasing development of sophisticated technology has created and easy approach to communicate with fair anonymity, swiftly and effectively across borders, to an almost boundless assemblage.
While using internet technology is a matter of human right. Nonetheless, it must become an inherent awareness of each individual that the same technology that alleviates vital communication can also be exploited for the purposes of terrorism.
The use of the internet in crime and terrorist purposes opens varying levels of challenges and opportunities in countering terrorism. Under the united nations counter terrorism implementation task force, a functional approach has resulted to the identification of overlapping categories by which the internet is used to promote and reinforce acts of terrorism, as follows:
Propaganda - one of the primary exploits of the internet by terrorist is for the dissemination of terror attacks in order to gain immediate, fast and high impact global recognition. This include recruitment, radicalization and incitement to terrorism. As a case in point - that deadly Christchurch shooting in New Zealand march of 2019 was live-streamed over Facebook by the attacker himself under an account named Brenton Tarrant. The event showed a distressing footage that shows him firing indiscriminately at men, women and children. At the height of the ISIS invasion in Iraq and Syria, Local terrorist groups in the Philippines aired their pledge of allegiance by posting videos in various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The dissemination of extremists’ rhetoric and promotion of violent acts is also an increasing trend across growing range of internet-based platforms that sets a user-generated content. These contents are easily distributed through a wide-range of tools and dedicated websites, virtual chat rooms and private forums, on-line reading materials, social networking platforms and video or file sharing internet instruments. In summary, the rudimentary threat posed by extremist propaganda is associated to the manner in which it is formed, used and the intent with which the information is disseminated.
Financing - the way in which terrorist exploit the internet in raising and collecting funds are categorized into the following general categories:
Direct solicitation direct solicitation - is the use of websites, chat groups, mass mailing system and targeted communications to request financial support from sympathizer institutions or individuals.
E-commerce - is the exploitation of legal on-line stores to sell extremists books, audio and video recording materials, electronic flyers with extremism contents and other items to supporters.
Exploitation of on-line payment platforms - counter terrorism organizations has widely uncovered the exploitation of prominent on-line payment facilities that offer a dedicated website or communication platform that provides ease of money transfers electronically between terrorist cells through wire transfers, fictitious credit cards. It has also been noted that terrorist organizations had been exploiting prominent payment facilities such as PayPal and Skype in moving financial transactions.
Charitable (front) organizations - the system employed similar to that of the CPP-NPA, International terrorist organizations funnel their funds through the guise of seemingly legitimate organizations such as charities, foundations under the guise of philanthropic intent yet potentially be delivered for illicit purposes particularly in support to its tactical operations. These institutions may assert to support humanitarian initiatives as a cover while in fact donations are reverted in funding acts of terrorism.
Training - there has been an increasing number of internet platforms used in disseminating a wide range of terrorist related training materials and practical guides in the form of on-line instructional manuals, audio and video clips, coaching information and technical advises. This information is presented in multiple languages that stems from showing how to join a terrorist organization, use of firearms and weapons, how to execute an attack and go as far as teaching in detail how to construct explosives or improvised explosive devices. A prominent example is an on-line magazine dubbed as “inspire” which is said to be a publication of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula where it teaches Muslims to train and prepare for jihad right at the very comforts of their homes. The magazine disseminates a large amount of ideological materials for purposes of inciting terrorism to include random speeches from the high-ranking officers of the group.
Planning - counter terrorism experts, theorists and criminal justice practitioners have suggested that almost all cases of terrorism involved the use of internet technology. Records of remote communication involving several terrorist personalities have been uncovered indicating a collective planning effort in carrying out terrorist attacks. In one case in France an information was obtained illustrating various forms of communication through social media platforms within and between terrorist organizations inciting violent extremism even across borders. The arrest of Adlene Hicheur, an Algerian-born French national for participation in a criminal conspiracy for the preparation a terrorist attack, was triggered by an electronic email communication containing jihadist content that prompted an investigation in 2008. The email was allegedly sent to a website linked to the president of the French Republic and eventually traced to a member of an Al-Qaeda cell.
Execution - at the height of kidnapping activities of the Abu Sayyaf group in southern Mindanao, explicit threats of violence to include beheading landed ostensibly appeared to the internet where executions are published live over YouTube and other social media platforms purposely to sow panic, anxiety and fear among the populace. Through an open or public display such acts, terrorist organizations aim to undermine any government capabilities to protect its citizens and create an impression of insecurity therefor reducing public confidence to the government particularly its armed forces. As such, this method further boosts recruitment activities, radicalization and creates increased confidence among its supporters and to any potential institution who carries idealism towards violent acts of extremism.
Cyber Attacks - one method is grooming, which is based on the perpetrators’ learning about the individual’s interests in order to tailor the approach and build up a relationship of trust. Another technique is targeted advertising, by tracking the online behavior of internet users, a group can identify those vulnerable to its propaganda and tailor the narrative to suit its target audience.
The trends in terrorism is dynamic. It changes as global condition changes. In this digital age, cyber-radicalization is the new signature of extremist groups. The global counter terrorism forces must provide greater flexibility in the current technological advancements and should always outweigh the terrorists’ innovative movements.
In the late 20th until this 21st century, there have been a remarkable shift from traditional to advance industrialization. Personal computers and other subsequent technologies were introduced to provide users the ability to easily and rapidly transfer information with the use of internet. The dissemination of propaganda as most commonly used means of recruitment has now gone online.
The internet is now playing an increasingly prominent role in radicalization. Specific websites advertise the existence of the extremist groups and, in many instances, multiple sites in different languages include different messages tailored to specific audiences. Social media platforms, including email, chat rooms, e-groups, message boards, video recordings and applications like Twitter and Facebook are especially popular recruitment tools that can also facilitate tailored approaches.
ISIS fighters have been reported to have been using twitter to post pictures of beheading. In one such case, ISIS sympathizers and fighters were using the hashtag world cup with the accompanying terrifying words. For ISIS’s media wing Al-Furqan, Twitter used as a platform for them to be able to provide messages with speed and reinforce that narrative with retweets to thousands of followers. Twitter therefore acts as a megaphone by which ISIS are able to send out live updates of fighters tweeting about what it feels like to be in Syria.
COUNTER RADICALIZATION APPROACH
In line with the united nations global counter-terrorism strategy, different nations across the globe should provide countermeasures in addressing the radicalization of the extremist group. There should be strategic suppression of terrorists’ radicalization such as but not limited to:
Trace and mediate – governments around the globe must continuously fight against terrorism and should take into consideration the listings of possible factors that make individuals vulnerable to recruitment for radicalization. Inter-agency cooperation remains effective and should be use to trace individuals that satisfy all those listed radicalization factors and bring them into mediation. Mediation requires the process of understanding their grievances and triggering events and helping them to cope up through various programs.
Convene and intervene – regular international forum among stakeholders and experts in counter-terrorism must keep up. Owners of social media platforms maybe called upon to help address the issue on online radicalization via strategic interventions. Technological solutions should be developed to facilitate the speedy removal of terrorist propaganda and automatic tracing and deactivating sympathizers who spread terrorism interests on social media.
Smith, a. G. (2018, June). How Radicalization to Terrorism occurs in the United States: What research sponsored by the National Institute of Justice tells us (US, Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs - National Institute of Justice).
UNODC, The Doha Declaration: Promoting a Culture of Lawfulness (July, 2018). Drivers of Violent Extremism.
Strategies for Preventing Recruitment of Children by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups. (2017). UNODC, Handbook on Children Recruited and Exploited by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups: The Role of the Justice System.
Awan, Imran. (2017). Cyber-extremism: ISIS and the Power of Social Media Society.