The Federal Government has urged parents and guardians to monitor the activities of their children and wards in order to prevent them from being recruited by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In a statement issued in Abuja on Monday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, cited the recent recruitment into ISIS of 27 medical students of the University of Medical Sciences and Technology (UMST) in Sudan as an example of the new strategy being used by the organization to recruit more members.
He warned that the terrorist group has now resorted to targeting vulnerable individuals, including foreign students, using financial inducements to recruit them into the terrorist organization.
The Minister, quoting a report received by the Nigerian Intelligence Community, said 22 of the 27 students, who travelled to Syria to join ISIS, are Britons.
“According to the report, the students were recruited by one Mohammed Fakhri Al-khabbas, a former UMST student from Middlesborough, United Kingdom.
“Many of the students are children of reputable doctors in the UK. Their Social Media accounts also revealed them as praising Jihadists and championing ISIS’ cause,” he said. The Minister however, appealed to Nigerians, especially those who have children and wards in foreign academic institutions, to pay more attention to their activities, while urging schools across the country to enlighten their students on the new ISIS’ recruitment strategy.
It is also important to note that, In an attempt to expand their caliphate, the dreaded Islamic State group is providing training to children of foreign militants in their territories in Syria and Iraq, said Europe’s law enforcement agency.
According to a report in the Independent, ISIS has been portraying children as suicide bombers and terrorists in their recent propaganda videos.
This revelation comes in the wake of Islamic State’s efforts to lure women into becoming jihadi brides and joining their fold. These recruiters often resort to social networking websites to execute their nefarious activities.
They try to convince women to join their fold with the promise of a ‘handsome’, ‘rich’ husband. These women are then married off to ISIS fighters who impregnate them and later make way for ISIS’s future generation of terrorists. In its statement, Europol, the law enforcement agency of Europe, said that these ISIS children are of ‘particular concern’, especially to the Western countries which have been the target of ISIS in the recent times. Earlier this year, Quilliam, a UK-based think tank released a detailed report titled ‘Children of Islamic State’, which reveals how ISIS recruits children and then gives them jihad training by indoctrinating them at school, and sometimes at home too.
These children are provided with rigorous training to become lethal fighters of the terror group. They are then infiltrated into the terror group’s caliphates.
The report also focuses on how these jihadi children are inculcated with extremists’ values since their birth or when they are too small to distinguish between right and wrong. Tagged ‘blank slate’ by militants, these kids are provided with extreme martial arts training.
The report also stated how around 31,000 women were held captive by Islamic State group and are being used for breeding the next generation of terrorists.
“There’s a systematic creation of the next generation of mujahideen – the next generation of fighters,” said Nikita Malik, a senior researcher at Quilliam, who was quoted in the report. ISIS Terrorists are tapping organized crime to infiltrate Europe with the help of organized criminal elements. Islamic State terrorists reportedly are buying legitimate British passports that can evade security detection from security authorities. An Italian intelligence investigation into the Camorra mafia discovered an advertisement on the deep web that linked to a Naples firm capable of producing sophisticated biometric passports.
“We are selling original UK Passports made with your info/picture. Also, your info will get entered into the official passport database,” the advertisement reads.
“So its (sic) possible to travel with our passports. How do we do it? Trade secret!
“Information on how to send us your info and picture will be given after purchase!
“You can even enter the UK/EU with our passports; we can just add a stamp for the country you are in.” Other investigations also shed light onto the broader ties between terrorists and European criminal organizations, including in the smuggling of weapons and forged documents. Last year Italian authorities arrested an Iraqi man in Naples for facilitating weapons and document transfers to the Islamic State.
“Naples has been, for many years, a central logistics base for the Middle East,” prosecutor Franco Roberti said last year, adding that “the Camorra (mafia) is also active in the world of jihadist terrorism that passes through Naples.”
Terrorists are diversifying their funding sources through various criminal means to underwrite their violent and nefarious activities.
The criminal-terrorism nexus manifests itself in several ways: mainly in the form of cooperation between terrorist groups and organized criminal elements, and crimes by terrorists which are conducted to finance their own operations. Terrorists’ reliance in counterfeiting in particular has attracted more attention recently with the rise of Islamic State networks in Europe and other parts of the world. Lacking a formal state sponsor, and facing setbacks in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State may start to depend more on criminal relationships to fuel their operations and to infiltrate terrorists into Western for the purposes of carrying out attacks abroad.
Furthermore, the nature of ISIS’s online presence is intended to do three things.
Firstly, and most importantly for the longevity of its existence, it’s intended as a mechanism to attract and recruit members to its ranks.
Secondly it’s a means through which ISIS aims to strike fear into the hearts of all that come across its frequently gruesome propaganda. Both objectives are well documented, but a third dimension to the ISIS presence online is emerging: their attempts to use cyberspace for offensive purposes. By “offensive” I don’t mean delivering cyber-attacks that involve some kind of kinetic impact, but rather I refer to attempts to use the cyber domain to disrupt services, damage reputations and reveal sensitive data.
Over the past five months we’ve seen an uptick in offensive cyber activities by groups claiming an association with ISIS. In January U.S. CENTCOM Twitter and YouTube accounts were suspended after Cyber Caliphate—a group claiming to support ISIS—had hacked into both, defacing them with pro-ISIS messages.
While the hacks didn’t have a direct impact on CENTCOM’s operations, they were certainly embarrassing and akin to acts of ‘hacktivism’ we’ve seen from groups like Anonymous. Following up in February, the same group hacked into Newsweek and, of all things, Taylor Swift’s twitter account, defacing both with pro-ISIS messages and sending threatening messages to President Obama.
In March a group claiming to be the Islamic State Hacking Division published on JustPaste.it a list of photos, names, addresses and branch of U.S. service personnel, which it claimed was taken from US military data servers. Accompanying the data was a statement from the group: “With the huge amount of data we have from various different servers and databases, we have decided to leak 100 addresses so that our brothers in America can deal with you…Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe.”
In April we saw the most significant effort from a group purporting to be part of ISIS. The group managed to orchestrate a complete three-hour blackout of the French channelTV5Monde.
They hacked into all 11 channels run by the company, along with its website and social media outlets. While the attack took place, the hackers placed documents on TV5Monde’s Facebook page, which they claimed were identity cards and CVs of relatives of French soldiers involved in fighting ISIS, accompanied by threats against the troops themselves. The Islamic State Hacking Division again claimed responsibility.
What this attack illustrated was the group’s increased degree of sophistication. There had clearly been an amount of pre-attack planning, including a degree of social engineering that had gone on in order to completely shut down the stations computer systems. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen terrorist groups utilize the power of online systems and networks in their operations. In February 2010 Rajib Karim, an IT employee for British Airways (BA), was arrested for terrorism offenses.
Having been in contact with radical preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, he explained that he had access to BA’s servers and could erase all the data, causing massive disruption and financial loss of £20 million per day. Luckily he was arrested before he was able to carry out any kind of nefarious activity.
Giving evidence at a UK House of Commons hearing on Cyber Security in 2013, Thomas Rid was asked the question, “Why hasn’t al-Qaeda carried out a cyber-attack on a national infrastructure delivery point?” He replied that “al-Qaeda are too stupid… You need skills and intelligence. Right now militants don’t have that.” But ISIS, or at least those claiming to support the group, are now looking to take their cyber offensive to the next level.
Should we be worried about the self-styled Cyber Caliphate and the potential for ISIS to launch highly sophisticated attacks against sensitive networks, similar to the STUXNET virus that was unleashed on Iran? At present, despite a clear elevation in capability, the answer would be ‘not yet’.
Attacks of the magnitude of STUXNET require a level of financing, highly-skilled personnel and human intelligence gathering that an organization such as ISIS simply can’t. The more likely scenario is that we continue to see websites defaced and social media accounts hacked.
ISIS is such a dangerous terrorist group that must be well avoided by all means, hence, there is the exigent need for parents to monitor their children and wards to ensure that they are not in any way brainwashed to join the illegal and nefarious group under any guise.
Ayobolu, a public affairs analyst contributed this piece from Lagos State.