Cómo recluta el ISIS a sus miembros

How does ISIS recruit its members?


21 | 03 | 2022


The rapid rise of group had to do with the adaptability and flexibility of its successful procedures for attracting followers.

In the picture

Internet use and radicalism [Mati Mango].

After breaking away from the common trunk of al-Qaeda in 2013, the group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) became the main concern of those fighting jihadist terrorism, both in the Middle East and globally. A major reason for its rise was its ability to adapt and flexibilise procedures for recruiting followers. Here we review the main processes of radicalisation and recruitment of individuals carried out by ISIS, both minors and adults, in family and neighbourhood settings, in cultural centres, prisons and through cyberspace.

When analysing the reasons why ISIS was able to achieve such notoriety, taking over the prominence that Al Qaeda once had, it is necessary to take into account factors such as the enormous military pressure that the West has exerted on the latter group, which has significantly reduced its capacity for manoeuvre; the unusual brutality exhibited by the new group; or the fact that it obtained a territorial base in Iraq and Syria whose resources it could exploit to its advantage, and from which it could operate safely.

Another not insignificant part of ISIS's rapid rise has to do with the adaptability and flexibility demonstrated in its successful procedures for recruiting followers. In this sense, ISIS recruitment methods have continuously evolved and adapted, modernising in order to expand its ideology and reach more people.

As the Elcano Royal high school states, the ISIS recruitment system is based on three pillars: recruitment of followers at an early age, radicalisation in prisons and exploitation of social networks. The latter procedure is particularly important and plays a fundamental role in the propaganda and mobilisation of young terrorists.

Radicalisation and jihadist recruitment of minors

Intra-family formula

The family is the child's first place of belonging group . It is in the family nucleus that basic political socialisation takes place and where fundamental social norms and values are transmitted. It is therefore an environment in which ideologies and behaviours are adopted from a very early age. In the intra-family formula, the alignment of parents with jihadist Salafism and their involvement in activities of this nature tends to generate a favourable climate for the radicalisation of minors belonging to the family nucleus itself.

Extra-familial formula in immediate context

With entrance in adolescence, the individual expands his or her social circle and is exposed to the influence of other agents of socialisation. Without the family losing its relevance, at this stage of development life the child can be influenced by other agents, such as partners and friends. goal Partners can instrumentalise the sentimental link with the aim of getting the other party to adopt the ideological principles of global jihadism. In addition, with friendships, feelings of belonging or social recognition come into play; these are triggers, as the adolescent will look to group for acceptance, as well as for meaning and value for their own existence. And when it is not friends or partners, indoctrination may be done by adults who know the child. For example, adult neighbours, who may live in the same neighbourhood or frequent the same cultural centres, etc.

Extra-familial formula in non-immediate context

Recruiters use the Internet and social networks to establish contact with adolescents whom they do not know and with whom they would not otherwise have been able to establish a relationship. This medium is particularly effective for the recruitment of minors, as they represent a large proportion of the users of such networks. This form of recruitment will be explained in more detail below.

Radicalisation and recruitment in prisons

Prisons have become another of the areas where there is a higher rate of indoctrination with regard to the most radical Islamist statement of core values . Recruiters take advantage of the psychological characteristics of inmates and their deprivation of liberty to inculcate them with jihadist values. The time spent in prison by some of the current leaders of jihadist organisations, as well as the attacks carried out by terrorists who have been released from European prisons, are evidence of the radicalisation processes that take place in these environments.

Radicalisation and recruitment for cyber-jihadism

One of the most powerful tools of radical propaganda is social media. In 2007, the Saudi Interior Ministry claimed that 80 per cent of all young Saudis who had been recruited by jihadists in the country had been recruited using the internet.

As stated in the book Weapons of Mass Seduction, the Islamic State embodies what is called modern terrorism, which uses the tools of the new generations to get its messages across. In other words, ISIS presents itself as a global social movement that uses local speech campaigns that spread around the world and whose terrorist acts are used as a mere "performance" within a broader speech strategy. ISIS is thus defined as a leaderless movement that, paradoxically, moves away from the more purely religious elements to suit the concerns of the youthful audience it plans to seduce.

ISIS is a terrorist group that uses social media very effectively and whose internal structure allows it not only to influence, but also to be in possession of some of the media from speech. Its strategy consists of both developing its own media and using what are called "earned media". The former refers reference letter to ISIS's large communication structure based on press releases, infographics, photo reports, magazines in different languages, the Al Amaaq news agency, the Al Bayan radio station.... In turn, the media won is measured in terms of the number of times that the terrorist group manages to make its actions condition the diary of the traditional media speech .

ISIS video games, meanwhile, promote and glorify acts of terrorism, such as suicide bombings. They also promote the use of violence against a state or prominent political figure by rewarding virtual success, and can be offered in multiple languages to appeal to a wider audience. In this sense, it is worth emphasising the effectiveness with which ISIS, making use of the new media of speech, camouflages real executions among images of video games ('Call of Duty') or fictional films ('Saw', 'Hunger Games', 'Sin City') in order to blur the line between reality and fiction, creating what is called a transmedia narrative. The idea is simple: how are these images going to seem cruel to you if they are similar to the ones you see in a cinema conference room eating popcorn?

Multiple platforms such as popular websites, forums, virtual rooms, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram, Twitter, etc., are key networks for recruiting fighters.

This extensive use of cyber media to support jihadist ends has led to the coining of the term 'cybercaliphate' to refer to the network woven by ISIS on the internet. This network is professionally structured, with individual jihadists forming their own multilingual production agencies and digital magazines. On Twitter and Telegram there are accounts that are easy to identify and are dedicated to military training or to publishing jihadist material. Other accounts, on the other hand, are difficult to locate. This is because they do not use the words core topic such as jihad or ISIS, but try to remain unnoticed.

On Telegram there are different groups and each has its own specialization. There are groups dedicated to inciting violence, others deal with theological questions to justify violence and its acts, others are dedicated to showing the injustices done to Muslims in the world and there are many others aimed at military training , groups that teach how to make bombs or even how to carry out a terrorist attack. 

The relevance of the intra- and extra-familial formula in the immediate context of terrorist recruitment cannot be denied. The Education received and the values instilled mark a person in an important way. On the other hand, ISIS also uses prisons and takes advantage of prisoners' situations to recruit new members.

However, the fundamental role of social networks in the recruitment of terrorists is evident. Jihad has demonstrated its ability to adapt and modernise, developing new ways of recruitment. From using popular platforms such as Twitch to creating its own network, the 'cybercaliphate'. Consequently, it could be said that ISIS is reinforced through social media, thus increasing the issue of future terrorists.