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Terror groups ramp up online marketing to find recruits

CINCINNATI — At first blush, the online magazine looks like any other slick electronic publication. The color graphics are eye-catching, the production values are good, and the layout could have been done by a design school grad.

Even the magazine’s name – Inspire – suggests the content could be about improving your health, or maybe gardening.

It’s not.

Page 62 features an article titled “Car Bombs Inside America,” with a how-to guide for building bombs in your kitchen. Page 15 promotes the setting of forest fires in America as part of an “arson jihad.” And page 33 boasts a first-person account of “Why I Joined al-Qaida.”

Welcome to the world of the modern-day jihadi recruiter, where an Islamic radical makes a pitch to potential converts with the fervor of a religious zealot and the skill of a Madison Avenue ad executive.

The “radicalized” suspect who killed eight people by driving his rented truck into a bicycle path in Lower Manhattan had planned the attack for weeks and left a note in his vehicle proclaiming that the “Islamic State would endure forever,” New York law enforcement authorities said Wednesday. 

The suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old truck driver from Uzbekistan, was shot and arrested by police Tuesday afternoon after emerging from the truck and waving what appeared to be a weapon. 

“He appears to have followed almost exactly to a ‘T’ the instruction that ISIS has put out on social media on how to carry out some attack,” John Miller, New York Police deputy commissioner, told reporters. “It appears that he has been planning it for a number of weeks.”

The far reach of the Internet gives jihadis an opportunity to connect to a global audience of lost, disaffected young people who, experts say, are particularly susceptible to their message. By some estimates, foreign recruits from Western nations now account for more than 5% of those fighting for the Islamic State militant group, which also uses the acronym ISIS.

More: NYC terror attack: ‘Radicalized’ suspect plotted for weeks, hailed ISIS

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“The phenomena of social media recruitment is key,” said Ed Bridgeman, a criminal justice professor at the University of Cincinnati. “There’s an al-Qaeda and ISIS recruiter in every living room now, potentially.”

Among the differences today are the tools of the recruiter’s trade. The Internet is full of opportunities to share and package propaganda in ways never before possible.

Hard-core believers and sociopaths can find inspiration from grisly videos of beheadings and executions. The alienated and impoverished might feel kinship with Islamist rappers who extol the virtues of violent jihad.

Others, including non-Muslims, could find common ground with anti-government rants or the gussied-up content found in magazines like Inspire, which is the official publication of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The goal of all those approaches is the same: recruit people to kill the enemies of radical Islam. It’s just that sometimes the message sounds like a primal scream, and sometimes like reasoned debate.

 

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