ISIS sympathizers using social media to recruit new militants are in Alabama and every state, according to a new report that looks at terrorist infiltration in the U.S.
George Washington University's Program on Extremism developed the report to determine how militants are using social media – especially Twitter – to foster sympathy and recruit new members. The study identified as many as 300 American or U.S.-based ISIS sympathizers who are using social media to connect and disseminate information.
The ISIS sympathizers are located in every state, the report shows. Their preferred social media is an ever-changing array of Twitter accounts, though they also use Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr, as well as messaging services and the dark web.
"The spectrum of U.S.-based sympathizers actual involvement with ISIS varies significantly, ranging from those who are merely inspired by its message to those few who reached mid-level leadership positions within the group," the study's authors, Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes wrote.
In the wake of deadly attacks last month in Paris, authorities have been growing increasingly concerned about the threat to the homeland posed by Islamic militants or "lone wolves" who identify with ISIS. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI has confirmed ISIS-related investigations are underway in Alabama and every U.S. state.
The latest report looks at social media accounts and legal cases against ISIS recruits. Based on the cases currently within the justice system, New York and Minnesota are the states with the most activity; other hot spots are California, Illinois and North Carolina. Texas, Ohio and Mississippi all report an increased level of activity. Alabama is on the low end of the spectrum, with no reported legal cases involving ISIS sympathizers.
That doesn't mean they don't exist in states like Alabama, however; it just means they aren't in the court system.
"The indictments are the tip of the iceberg," researchers said.
So far this year, U.S. authorities have arrested almost 70 people for supporting or plotting with ISIS. That's the largest number of terrorism-related arrests in the county in a single year since September 2001. Social media is a big part of that communications, the researchers said.
"While some seek to join the self-declared caliphate in ISIS-controlled territory, others plan attacks within the U.S.," Vidino said. "It's a growing and disturbing phenomenon."
Hoover girl's ISIS involvement
The report showed the average age of an ISIS sympathizer is 26; 40 percent have converted to Islam; and 10 percent are women.
One of those female ISIS supporters is Hoda Muthana, a Hoover teenager who left America to join ISIS in Syria and remains an active recruiter on Twitter. Muthana's case is one of the ones detailed in the report.
Muthana, a Yemeni-American, used Twitter to connect with other Islamic militants online before she left the U.S. It was online that she met Aqsa Mahmood, a 19-year old from Scotland who was one the first Western females to travel to Syria, researchers said. The two communicated frequently and Muthana modeled her departure from the U.S. to Syria via Turkey on Mahmood's.
Muthana later went to Syria where she married an Australian ISIS fighter, Suhan al Rahman, who has since been killed in an airstrike. Muthana, who now lives in Raqqa, Syria, remains active on Twitter, recently posting images of four burning passports with the message "Bonfire soon, no need for these anymore."
She and others like her use the social media messages to spread ISIS' message and lure others into their activities.
Her story is not that unusual for those who are seeking out ISIS, Vidino said.
"We have seen cases in big cities and rural towns. The individuals involved range from hardened militants to teenage girls, petty criminals and college students," he added.
Posted by Women Against Shariah on Wednesday, December 2, 2015