ISIS and the lonely young American – Comment on the NYT article

I have just finished reading this article appeared on the NYT few days ago.

Going through the story, I noticed many intersting and meanigful elements which could well represent the procedure used by AQ and then ISIS to recruit new blood.

1. “Look for people who are isolated and if they are not isolated already, then isolate them”. In fact, Alex, the 23-years-old girl come in contact with the Islamic recruiters, tells that “My grandparents – with which she lives – enjoy living in the middle of nowhere. I enjoy community. It gets lonely here.” She has a little physical problem and a “persistent lack of maturity”, but the story does not highlight any effective défaillance. Her daily life, instead, seems too empty for a young woman. She dropped out of college and works two days a week as babysitter and on Sunday as a teacher for children at her church. On the other days, “she spent hours streaming movies and updating her social media timelines“.

Key elements: loneliness, use of social networks.

2. A shocking event – the beheading of James Foley – pushs her to search information about ISIS on Twitter as to “understand why they were doing it”. Surprisingly, she discovers that many people who openly identified as belonging to the Islamic State, took the time to politely answer her questions. “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”. “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. “If before she waited hours to hear back from friends, now her iPhone was vibrating all day with status updates, notifications, emoticons and Skype voice mail messages”.

“Roughly two months after she first began communicating with ISIS supporters, Alex asked to see the pastor of her Presbyterian church. She wanted to know whether the idea of the Trinity that Christians believed in — God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit — meant they were polytheists.Friendly at first, the pastor ushered her out after 15 minutes, telling her she needed to trust in the mystery of God“.

Key elements: recruiters readily available and always forthcoming vs distant friends and adults of real life,  assignment of tasks/purposes > the recruit feels like her life makes sense.

3. “One of her new Muslim “sisters” sent Alex a $200 gift certificate to She and others chose books for Alex and mailed them to her home. They included an English-language Quran and a basic study guide”. “Starting in January, packages began arriving on the stoop of Alex’s home, bearing the Royal Mail logo and Faisal’s address in England. Inside were pastel-colored hijabs, a green prayer rug, and books that took her into a stricter interpretation of Islam“. “Each bubble-wrapped package Faisal sent her included bars of Lindt chocolate“.

“By late January, she had split her life in two, heeding Faisal’s admonition to keep a low profile“.

“The only person who knew of her conversion was her cousin, who was starting to flirt with the idea herself“.

Key elements: reward schemes to encourage requested behaviors, recruit pushed to keep conversion secret, indirect recruitment through contagion.