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Warning Signs of Radicalization : Understanding What Makes a Terrorist

The internet is an irrefutable aspect of modern life. But do you know what your child is doing online?

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Radicalization
What motivates children to join terrorist outfits and participate in extremist activities? Pixabay
  • Radicalization is the process by which young individuals are introduced to a blatantly ideological message that accompanies extreme views
  • Over 50 per cent of the radicalization operations carried out by terrorist organizations are conducted over the internet
  • Parents must observe any change in their child’s behavior to gauge potential radicalization

New Delhi, September 4, 2017 : Imagine looking at a video of adolescents in camouflage, wearing ISIS bandanas in a barren dessert, learning hand-to-hand combat. Imagine ISIS fighters wielding long daggers standing behind them, wearing black scarves that mask their faces.

Imagine watching these masked men address the government; they claim that the government is no longer fighting an insurgency but an entire army of young adolescent recruits- kids who should have stayed in school.

ISIS has made shocking progress in expanding its operations in recent times due to the upsurge in enthusiasm that would-be jihadist from all parts of the globe demonstrate to join their fight in Iraq and Syria.

However, one of the most frequently asked questions about terrorism traces the very root of the matter.

Why do children join terrorist outfits and participate in extremist activities?

The ISIS runs an elaborate operation that targets, manipulates and eventually recruits young people to believe and uphold their twisted ideologies- a process understood as radicalization.

 

What is radicalization?

According to a report published by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in 2009, radicalization is understood as the process by which young individuals are introduced to a blatantly ideological message that accompanies extreme views.

While radicalization is not always negative, it becomes problematic when it culminates into acts of violence, a phenomenon common to organizations like ISIS, IRA and Al Qaeda.

Over 50 per cent of their radicalization operations are conducted over the internet- a space flocked and dominated by young, impressionist minds.

 

Online risk of radicalization

According to John Horgan, a psychologist at UMass- Lowell who specializes in terrorism, terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, and ISIS can be viewed as amateur psychologists, who are also adept marketers. They provide youngsters, usually very young people, with a ‘one time offer’ and encourage them to act fast.

These extremist organizations make use of internet and the social media to communicate and spread their messages, and recruit people to join their forces.

In an attempt to brainwash and lure young individuals to join forces, their messages usually present extremist vision as an exciting alternate to the ‘mainstream’.

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Who are most vulnerable to radicalization?

Personal attributes or local factors can make an individual more susceptible to extremist influence. An absence of a positive, supportive force can additionally accelerate the process of radicalization.

  • Children struggling with independent identity

Some children can have a hard time accepting the culture they practice, which can make them question their place in the society. Young children tend to struggle establishing a sense of independent identity which often makes them vulnerable to extremist influence.

  • Personal circumstances

Instances in a child’s personal life such as fights within the family, or undergoing any trauma can increase their vulnerability to radicalization. Extremists prey on children with low-self esteem, who harbor feelings of injustice, such as those who believe they have been subjected to racial discrimination.

Additionally, kids who feel detested by their peers or abandoned by their family members are also at a greater risk of harboring feelings of vengeance that can motivate them to indulge in extremist behavior.

  • Emotional response

Kids who seek adventure and excitement tend to indulge in activities just for the adrenaline rush, without thinking about the consequences. Additionally, kids who yearn to dominate or control others and those who are comfortable with violence can also be an easy target for radicalization.

  • External factors

A child can also be influenced by what he experiences in the local community, country or when exposed to people who have joined any extremist group.

  • Criminal background

Individuals with a previous criminal background or those who find it difficult to integrate with the mainstream society after serving sentence in a jail, or a reprimand home may also be at a greater risk.

  • Exposure and indulgence with technology

Additionally, kids who spend increasing amount of time online, or have no supervision on their online interaction are at a greater risk.

Radicalization
FILE – Indonesian youths browse their social media accounts at an Internet cafe in Jakarta, Indonesia. VOA

Signs of Radicalization

There is no single route to radicalization- it can either occur quickly, or over a long period. Sometimes, there can be clear warning signs that can intimidate you when a child acts out of character. But, sometimes, these changes may not be very obvious,

  • Change in appearance and personal relationships

Young individuals may distance themselves from people, bring a significant change in their appearance and dressing style and refrain from activities that were previously a part of routine.

  • Change in political orientation

The children may exhibit sudden indulgence in a particular behavior or growing interest in politics especially relating to trouble areas. They may additionally become intolerant to those who do not share the same beliefs as them (other religions, races and ethnicity) and may begin to look down upon them.

ALSO READ How a young Astronomer from Turkey turned into an Islamic State Fighter

  • Change in online identity

A change in the online identity of the individual such as changing their username on various social media accounts or the profile picture. Alternately, the individual may make two parallel profiles- one being the ‘normal’ one and the other used for extremist purposes, more often than not with a pseudonym.

Spending long hours on the internet, being secretive and showing reluctance to divulge personal details and information about their whereabouts also comprise suspicious behavior.

  • Additional signs can also include a growing fondness, sympathy or justification for extremist ideologies, increasing interest in accessing more extremist material online, being in contact with extremist recruiters or jihadis, etc.

Exhibition of one of these signs does not necessarily mean that a child is being radicalized. They can also point out to other issues that a child might be facing, such as depression.

At the heart of it all is – COMMUNICATION.

Talking to children regularly and honestly is the best way to keep them safe. Making sure that the individual is safe online is also of equal importance.

An individual undergoes several changes during adolescence that can either make children react in different ways. As a parent, you should try and recognize these changes and trace their roots. Also, we would suggest addressing all issues, rather than simply ridiculing or ignoring them.

 


 

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U.S.-Backed Syrian Democratic Forces Celebrate The Death Of Self-Declared “Caliphate”

“The threat remains,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter. “The fight against terrorist groups must continue.”

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Syria
Smoke rises from a strike on Baghuz, the last of the Islamic State group's holdouts in Syria, March 22, 2019. VOA

For consecutive nights, bombs rained down on the last scraps of Islamic State-held territory, lighting up the night sky over the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz.

By Saturday morning, all that remained was a landscape littered with burned-out vehicles, abandoned campsites and other provisions the last of the terror group’s fighters and their families left behind.

On one of the few buildings that still stood, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces raised their flag and celebrated the death of a self-declared caliphate that inflicted terror and death on the people it tried to rule.

“After five years of fighting, we stand here to declare the physical defeat of ISIS and the end of its public challenge over all humanity,” SDF Director General Mazloum Kobani told officials and coalition partners at a ceremony to mark the long-awaited victory, using an acronym for the group.

FILE - Mazloum Kobani, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), speaks during an interview in the countryside outside the northwestern Syrian city of Hasakah, in a province of the same name, Jan. 24, 2019.
Mazloum Kobani, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), speaks during an interview in the countryside outside the northwestern Syrian city of Hasakah, in a province of the same name, Jan. 24, 2019.. VOA

“We announce today the destruction of the so-called Islamic State organization and the end of its ground control in its last pocket in Baghuz region,” he said.

Yet in between the applause and the music of a marching band, SDF commanders and coalition officials paid tribute to the SDF forces, which paid for the victory in blood and treasure — an estimated 11,000 killed in the campaign to roll back IS, which at its height controlled nearly a third of Syria and almost as much of Iraq.

And even until the end, sometime Friday night into Saturday morning, IS put up a vicious defense, using suicide bombers and even children as human shields in an attempt to cling to one last scrap of land over which they could fly their black flag.

The fate of the last of the IS fighters, perhaps several hundred of the terror group’s most hardened and devoted followers, was not clear Saturday.

Observers on the ground said some appeared to have surrendered following the airstrikes that began Thursday night, targeting IS positions next to the Euphrates River and another sliver where IS fighters were backed up against a cliff overlooking the town.

By early Saturday, the airstrikes seemed to focus solely on the area by the cliff, where SDF and coalition officials said the IS fighters might have access to an extensive system of tunnels that helped to hide tens of thousands of people, the last of whom surrendered earlier in the week.

The first indications the fight against IS in Baghuz had ended came early Saturday, said SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali, using Twitter to announce the “total elimination of so-called caliphate.”

Only about 12 hours earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump made a similar declaration, telling reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force One that IS had been “100 percent defeated.”

But Trump’s announcement was quickly rejected by U.S. defense officials and the SDF, who said fighting had not yet ended and more airstrikes were being called in.

On Saturday, Trump again hailed the victory over the terror group in Baghuz.

“ISIS’s loss of territory is further evidence of its false narrative, which tries to legitimize a record of savagery that includes brutal executions, the exploitation of children as soldiers, and the sexual abuse and murder of women and children,” he said in a statement.

“While on occasion these cowards will resurface, they have lost all prestige and power,” he added. “They are losers and will always be losers.”

On Saturday, the SDF’s Kobani was careful to note that while IS’s caliphate had finally been brought down, the danger was far from over, with numerous IS “sleeper cells, which continue to present a great danger in our region and the wider world.”

Top U.S. defense and intelligence officials repeatedly have warned that the terror group had long been planning for the demise of its caliphate, and that a clandestine insurgency already had taken root.

“While this is a critical milestone in the fight against ISIS, we understand our work is far from complete,” acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a statement. “We will continue our work with the Global Coalition to deny ISIS safe haven anywhere in the world.”

One senior defense official warned IS still has, at minimum, “tens of thousands” of fighters and supporters across Syria and Iraq, and that much of the group’s senior leadership, including self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large.

FILE - Men suspected of being Islamic State fighters wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 27, 2019.
Men suspected of being Islamic State fighters wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 27, 2019. VOA

There also are concerns that IS has thousands more supporters and sympathizers — including upward of 60,000 people who have surrendered since the SDF and coalition launched their final assault last month.

So, too, there are concerns about more than 1,000 foreign fighters being held by the SDF, which has asked repeatedly that they be taken back and prosecuted by their home countries.

“These folks are unrepentant,” the official said. “The seeds for a future caliphate or certainly a persistent clandestine insurgency exist in these large numbers of people who … are looking to reposition for future perpetuation of ISIS in some form or fashion.”

Speaking Saturday at the victory ceremony near Baghuz, the U.S. adviser to the coalition pledged Washington would not abandon the SDF or its other partners, even though Trump has said most of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria will be leaving.

“We will continue to support the coalition’s operations in Syria to ensure this enduring defeat,” William Robak said. “We will do what is necessary in the region, including here in Syria and across the globe, to ensure the defeat of this threat.”

France and Britain also reaffirmed their commitment, though disagreements with the U.S. over the next steps remain.

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“The threat remains,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter. “The fight against terrorist groups must continue.”

“We will continue to do what is necessary to protect the British people, our allies and partners from the threat Daesh poses,” said Prime Minister Theresa May, using an alternate acronym for IS. (VOA)