The Anatomy of an ISIS Supporter

By Bachir El Nakib (CAMS), Senior Consultant, Compliance Alert (LLC).


What's the anatomy of an ISIS supporter? 

"ISIS is looking for someone that's vulnerable, hurt … has something that they're angry about and can be drawn into a mindset of geopolitics that shows that Muslims are under attack and there's something they can do about it."

Newsy spoke with Anne Speckhard, an adjunct professor in the psychiatry department at Georgetown University Medical School and the director of the Center for the Study of Violent Extremism.

She's interviewed almost 500 terrorists/extremists or their family members. So we asked her what she thought the typical profile of someone wanting to join ISIS looks like.

"There is no profile of someone that's going to join ISIS. So they have to do it over the internet, and they're very happy to recruit extremely mentally ill people and ask them to go get a gun or drive their car and kill a lot of people in the name of ISIS." 

"But there's also lonely people, people that are off their track, people that are angry about geopolitics, people that have different needs. Maybe they feel discriminated against, maybe they're not feeling good in their lives, and suddenly ISIS comes over the internet and starts talking to them and starts meeting their needs." 

"Anybody that they can get their talons into is ideal for them."

From her interviews, Speckhard found there's a difference between radicalization in the U.S. and radicalization in Europe. Marginalized groups throughout Europe make for easy targets for ISIS recruiters. 

"It's easier to recruit in Europe because they can do it face-to-face, so there's actual recruiters on the street. They go to ghettoized neighborhoods, and they can pour gasoline on low-level fires."

"In Paris, in Brussels, in Antwerp, there are whole neighborhoods of North Africans and other immigrant groups, second-generation. Some of them went to college, but they're facing high unemployment, higher than normal, relative deprivation. They feel discriminated against, alienated and marginalized. So they have this low-level anger."

"They know it's not fair, and they don't know what to do about it. ISIS comes and says: 'This is your religion' — because these are Muslims they are talking to — 'This is your religion, and I can offer you something much better. And it's an alternative world governance, and come to the caliphate.'"

"They're talking to people that were angry about Afghanistan, angry about what's going on in West Bank and Gaza, angry about Iraq, and now they're angry about Syria. And now they have someplace to go, and it's easy to get to — all you have to do is fly to Istanbul, keep going."

"If you're a young kid in Molenbeek, you're facing 45 percent unemployment. They offer you a job, an adventure, meaning, purpose, dignity, inclusion — being Muslim is a good thing — and a wife and a sex slave." 

Even sex can be a motivating factor for some potential recruits. 

"I call it sex now. When women offer themselves to a young guy and say, 'I want to be with a mujahideen, and I'm willing to marry you and have sex with you,' I mean, come on, that's a real motivator. There are, you know, if you're unemployed and you're not going anywhere, it's hard to attract a woman to be sexual with you."  

As for what can be done to help prevent radicalization, Speckhard says there needs to be more involvement from both religious and medical professionals. 

"We need hotlines, we need rapid intervention teams, we need psychologists that will go out and talk to these kids or older adults, and also we need imams that can say, 'You know, you don't really have the right version of Islam and most people don't even consider this Islam and this is really hateful.' you know, between an imam and a psychologist they can get to, 'How did this hook you? What's inside of you that resonates to this?'" 

Put yourself in the shoes (and seventh-century black robes) of ISIS' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mysterious boss of the terror group that is striking fear into the hearts of leaders around the world.

In the past couple of years you've managed to avoid drone attacks and survive civil wars, unify militant groups in two different countries under your banner, raise an army of jihadis from across the globe, and seize a chunk of land stretching from northern Syria to central Iraq.

Your newly-declared "Islamic State" is the size of Pennsylvania, so how do you govern it? You compartmentalize.

New data from the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) has revealed that ISIS is putting governing structures in place to rule the territories the group conquers once the dust settles on the battlefield.

The research shows how ISIS has gone from being a purely military force to building a system that can provide basic services, such as making sure that gas and food are available, to its new citizens.

From the cabinet and the governors to the financial and legislative bodies, ISIS' bureaucratic hierarchy looks a lot like those of some of the Western countries whose values it rejects -- if you take away the democracy and add in a council to consider who should be beheaded.

Baghdadi, his Cabinet advisers and his two key deputies comprise the executive branch of the government, known as "Al Imara."

The two deputies -- Abu Ali al-Anbari and Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, veteran Iraqi military officials who served under Saddam Hussein -- oversee Syria and Iraq, respectively.

ISIS has probably split the governance of the "Islamic State" into Syrian and Iraqi branches simply to make it easier to run, according to Jasmine Opperman, TRAC's Southern Africa Director.

"They see the caliphate as one state, yet there are two different governments," Opperman told CNN. "I believe this split is purely administrative at this time. They don't want to be seen as downplaying the caliphate, but to make it easier to govern they were forced to make a separation between Syria and Iraq."

The two deputies deliver orders to the governors in charge of the various sub-states in Syria and Iraq under ISIS control, who then instruct local councils on how to implement the executive branch's decrees on everything from media relations and recruiting to policing and financial matters.

The Shura council -- which reports directly to the executive branch -- is the caliphate's religious monitor, appointed to make sure that all the local councils and governors are sticking to ISIS' version of Islamic law.

The recent murders of Western hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines would have fallen under the Shura council's purview, according to Opperman.

"Let's say a significant execution is going to take place, something that will get ISIS on the front page of the newspaper," Opperman said. "It cannot be done without Shura council approval."

The Shura council also has the power to censure the leadership for running afoul of its interpretation of Sharia law, according to Opperman.

"The Shura council has the right to tell Baghdadi to go if he's not adhering to ISIS' religious standards," she told CNN. "It would most probably never happen, but the fact that it's possible indicates the council's prominence."

Baghdadi -- who was once imprisoned by U.S. forces in Iraq -- seems to have incorporated the American military's own counter-insurgency mantra of "Clear and Hold" to win territory, establish control over the area, then get the locals to help govern it.

As time goes on, ISIS is evolving into a government whose political decision-making cannot be separated from its military capabilities, according to Opperman.


"It's two sides of the same coin," she said. "We've seen the military side, with the war cabinet that directs brigades. But now on the other side we're seeing how ISIS wants to govern. The two processes inform one another."

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