West struggles to cope with online recruitment for Syria jihad

(Reuters) – “I am French,” explains the young man in the YouTubevideo carrying a Kalashnikov and wearing a kufiya cotton headdress as he sits in front of a waving black-and-white flag of al Qaeda.

“Oh my Muslim brothers in France, Europe and in the whole world, Jihad in Syria is obligatory,” says the fair-skinned youth with sandy hair, wispy beard and southern French accent, imploring viewers to join him and his younger brother in Syria.

“There are many Muslims in the world and we need you.”

Although the United States and its European allies support rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, they consider some rebel groups to be dangerous terrorist organizations linked to al Qaeda.

Officials in Western countries say they are worried about the threat from their own nationals going abroad to fight in Syria and one day returning to carry out attacks at home.

“There is a key factor in the Syria war now: the number of French nationals who are fighting there. It is a problem of national security,” a senior French diplomat told Reuters.

Radicals heading to Syria are learning about the war online from social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and user forums. Security experts say that makes it harder than ever to disrupt the networks that might lure them in.

“The Islamist radicalization going on today isn’t with preachers anymore, acting within mosques, but individuals who are using the Internet as a means of propaganda,” said sociologist Samir Amghar, author of the book “Militant Islam in Europe.”

As the West considers strikes on Syria to punish Assad’s government for suspected chemical weapons attacks, as many as 600 Europeans have already joined the rebellion against him, according to the European Union, which in May recommended better tracking of social media to spot foreign fighters.

A much smaller number of Americans are also believed to be fighting. A Muslim convert from Michigan was the first U.S. woman believed to have been killed alongside the rebels in May.

Computer experts and police say online recruitment is particularly difficult to disrupt because of the dizzying volume of material, time lags in capturing digital evidence, the difficulty of cross-border cooperation and the uncertainty of securing convictions in countries that safeguard free speech.

“I describe it as a Sisyphean task,” said Shiraz Maher of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, London. “You try and pull it down and it will come back in one form or another.”

“How do you begin to challenge this? It’s just practically impossible to do, it’s out there in such quantity.”


Reuters has the full article

You may also like...