ISIS and the Lonely Young American

Photo from NYTimes

Ever wonder how ISIS gets its grip on Americans and radicalizes their followers? It all seems so foreign and strange until you put it into perspective. This revealing article from the New York Times shows us how ISIS targets the vulnerable. Here’s an excerpt, and check out the full story here.

She has lived with her grandparents for almost all her life: When she was 11 months old, her mother, struggling with drug addiction, lost custody of her. Her therapist says that fetal alcohol syndrome, which has left Alex with tremors in her hands, has also contributed to a persistent lack of maturity and poor judgment.

That only partly explains what happened to her online, her family says.

After dropping out of college last year, she was earning $300 a month babysitting two days a week and teaching Sunday school for children at her church on weekends. At home, she spent hours streaming movies on Netflix and updating her social media timelines.

“All the other kids spread their wings and flew,” says her 68-year-old grandmother, who has raised eight children and grandchildren in a modest but tidy home the size of a double-wide trailer. “She is like a lost child.”

Then on Aug. 19, her phone vibrated with a CNN alert.

James Foley, a journalist she had never heard of, had been beheaded by ISIS, a group she knew nothing about. The searing image of the young man kneeling as the knife was lifted to his throat stayed with her.

Riveted by the killing, and struck by a horrified curiosity, she logged on to Twitter to see if she could learn more.

“I was looking for people who agreed with what they were doing, so that I could understand why they were doing it,” she said. “It was actually really easy to find them.”

She found herself shocked again, this time by the fact that people who openly identified as belonging to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, took the time to politely answer her questions.

“Once they saw that I was sincere in my curiosity, they were very kind,” she said. “They asked questions about my family, about where I was from, about what I wanted to do in life.”

One of the first relationships she struck up was with a man who told her he was an ISIS fighter named Monzer Hamad, stationed near Damascus, the Syrian capital.

Soon they were chatting for hours every day, their interactions giddy, filled with smiley faces and exclamations of “LOL.”

“Hole,” she wrote at 10:13 a.m. on Oct. 6.

A minute later, she added: “Hello* stupid autocorrect.”

He replied: “haha how are you?”

“did you think of what i said aboyt islam,” he asked, his messages sprinkled with typos.

What happened next tracks closely with the recommendations in a manual written by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that became the Islamic State, titled “A Course in the Art of Recruiting.” A copy was recovered by United States forces in Iraq in 2009.

The pamphlet advises spending as much time as possible with prospective recruits, keeping in regular touch. The recruiter should “listen to his conversation carefully” and “share his joys and sadness” in order to draw closer.

Then the recruiter should focus on instilling the basics of Islam, making sure not to mention jihad.

“Start with the religious rituals and concentrate on them,” says the manual, which was reviewed in the archive of the Conflict Records Research Center at the National Defense University in Washington.

Hamad instructed Alex to download the “Islamic Hub” app on her iPhone. It sent her a daily “hadith,” or saying by the Prophet Muhammad.

She felt as if she finally had something to do.

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