U.S. Africa Command Staff
Some problems don’t have simple solutions. The confounding decision by a young man or woman to leave home and join a terror group such as ISIS, al-Shabaab or Boko Haram is one of those problems.
An estimated 5,600 people have left Africa to fight in Iraq and Syria. ISIS and other terror groups with similarly twisted ideologies have successfully recruited on the continent and as far away as Western Europe and North America. These recruiters inhabit cyberspace, schools and places of worship. They promise all sorts of things, including a thrilling adventure and eternal salvation. A recent recruiting video by al-Shabaab even compared life inside the terror group to a safari, complete with big-game hunting.
Recruits are the lifeblood of these terror organizations, and without a steady stream of new members, they wither and die. So it is essential to understand recruiting tactics and the groups’ appeal to their target audiences. This is a tough task, but with so much at stake, security professionals cannot cede ground on this ideological battlefield.
Fortunately, African nations are answering the call. In Kenya, community policing programs are asking law enforcement officers to work hand in hand with citizen groups to weed out extremists and make the streets safer. In Morocco, the kingdom has financed a $20 million center to train religious scholars and imams from around the world in moderate religious practices. In Somalia and Algeria, governments are investing money in deradicalization programs to reform and heal young people who have become entangled in the web of terror. In Djibouti, a center of excellence to counter violent extremism is in the works. All over the continent, good people are looking at the underlying causes of teen anger and trying to show an alternate path to extremism.
The good news is that extremists cannot win in a head-to-head battle of ideas. They have nothing to offer. The brutal reality inside groups such as ISIS does not match the rhetoric. If everyone works to expose the lies used by extremists for recruitment, these malign forces don’t stand a chance.