ISIS' Peer-To-Peer Recruiting Style Concerns U.S. Authorities
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We're learning more about how ISIS is attracting new recruits in the United States. After a 10-month investigation in Minnesota, U.S. authorities arrested six young Somali-Americans. They allegedly had been trying for months to travel to Syria to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State. What makes this case unusual is how these young men were lured to the fight. There was no mastermind recruiter, instead they were convinced to travel by what authorities call peer-to-peer recruiting, basically friends getting friends to join terrorist organizations. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is on the line with more. Dina, good morning.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So tell us about this case.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, all the men were between the ages of 19 and 21. Four of them were arrested in Minnesota over the weekend and two others were picked up in San Diego where they allegedly had gone to buy fake passports to help them travel to Syria. Authorities have been watching this group for almost a year, and we're told that they finally arrested them over the weekend because they allegedly were really close to actually traveling to Syria, so the FBI stepped in before that happened.
GREENE: And you're talking about traveling to Syria. Let's just make sure we have something clear. Was there any talk that they might've been trying to launch some kind of attack in the United States or that ISIS may have been trying to set up a cell in this country?
TEMPLE-RASTON: No. This is all about young men wanting to go to Syria and allegedly to go join ISIS.
GREENE: OK. Well, tell me more about this peer-to-peer method of recruiting. This is different from sort of being drawn into this by strangers on the Internet.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. You know, according to the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Andrew Luger, these men were convinced to go to Syria by one of their own, this 21-year-old Minneapolis man named Abdi Nur. He'd left the Twin Cities last May and joined ISIS. And because he had contacts and information about how to get to Syria, he became a sort of recruiter for the group, contacting his friends in Minneapolis and telling them that they ought to come and join him in Syria. This is how the U.S. attorney described his role.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ANDREW LUGER: Because he made it to Syria last year and knows different routes and has different contacts, Nur has become a de facto foreign fighter recruiter for those in Minnesota.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You know, a criminal complaint was unsealed yesterday, and it showed that Nur was in regular contact with his friends and that he was goading them to action.
GREENE: And, I mean, scary as this sounds, I mean, it's like a kind of a peer pressure that it sounds like it was working. I mean, they were ready to go.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes. They were working together actually to try to make this trip happen. They were allegedly helping each other raise money for airline tickets. The criminal complaint says they took test flights around the country to see if they would get stopped or caught by authorities. Three of them drove to San Diego together to find somebody who could provide them with forged passports. And what's even more amazing about this is that three of them were actually prevented by the FBI from boarding a flight to Europe last November. They were warned of the consequences if they went to Syria and joined ISIS, but they didn't stop. One of their friends was actually removed from a plane minutes after boarding, and he was charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization. That was back in February. But all those encounters with authorities didn't seem to deter them. They ended up allegedly selling a car and emptying a college fund so they could pay for flights and go to Syria.
GREENE: Dina, do the authorities think they've actually broken up a ring here and done sort of a major move to stop this from happening, or do they expect this kind of recruiting to keep going?
TEMPLE-RASTON: They clearly expect this to continue. You know, authorities told NPR that there are as many as 40 young men in the Twin Cities who are either under investigation for perhaps planning to go to join ISIS or have succeeded in getting to Syria to join the group or, as in this latest case, have been prevented from doing so. You know, a lot of these cases are still under seal or still in the early stages, but the U.S. thinks, you know, 40 people just out of one city is a really big number.
About seven years ago, Minneapolis had more than two dozen young men from the Somali community join an al-Qaida offshoot in Somalia called Al-Shabaab, and that history has a hand in this, too. Some of the young men who went to Syria to - sorry - Somalia have been encouraging their friends back home to now go join ISIS. In fact, one of the young men charged yesterday was the younger brother of a man who joined Al-Shabaab in 2007.
GREENE: All right. We've been speaking about peer-to-peer recruiting when it comes to ISIS with NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Dina, thanks very much.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.