Youth vulnerable to Internet-savvy terror groups
ISIS highly skilled in using online propaganda to woo young recruits
The Iraq War and the Arab Spring played big roles in the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but the terrorist group grew in strength over the years because its leaders understood how powerful a recruitment tool the Internet can be.
With terrorists becoming even more Internet-savvy, youngsters will be more easily seduced to swell their ranks.
Experts The New Paper spoke to yesterday were united in issuing the warning.
Dr Rohan Gunaratna, professor of security studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University, said: "The age of terrorism is becoming younger. With terrorist mastery of cyberspace, impressionable children and teenagers will be influenced by terrorist propaganda.
"Increasingly, the world will witness more youth, teenagers and even children radicalised and joining terrorist groups."
Dr Rohan is also the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR).
On Monday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revealed that it had detained Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, 22, earlier this month after she became radicalised by ISIS through online propaganda.
Izzah, the first local woman to be detained under the Internal Security Act for radicalism, began to be indoctrinated in 2013.
Responding to TNP queries, a spokesman on Monday said the MHA had "detected radicalised individuals of various ages".
Another research fellow from the ICPVTR, Mr Remy Mahzam, said that last year alone, the Singapore authorities detained or placed a total of nine people under Restriction Orders.
Among them was a 19-year-old who was detained in May 2015. He became the first known youth to harbour the intention of carrying out attacks here after being substantially exposed to terrorist propaganda online.
Citing another 18-year-old who wanted to train with ISIS and die as a martyr in Syria, Mr Remy said: "The indoctrination of young minds with radical tendencies marks a troubling shift in how young people have been co-opted into the extremists' propaganda strategy.
"For extremist groups, the young generation represents the future, as they will become the next generation of stakeholders or fighters to champion the extremist ideology and radical beliefs."
Dr Rohan said that while ISIS is shrinking in Iraq and Syria, it is "expanding worldwide".
Dr Mohamed Ali, vice-president of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, said the strength of ISIS lies not in its resources or territories but how it uses religion and broadcasts messages, recruiting through the Internet.
"The group's use of online media will result in more youth being influenced, because the youth are the ones who use it the most," said Dr Mohamed.
"ISIS is IT-savvy, and it will be more so in the future. This has already been happening, and it will result in more indoctrination."
He recalled his shock when he read about a controversial book series in the junior sections of national libraries here, which TNP first reported on last week.
He stressed that such materials could stoke radical beliefs, on account of how impressionable young minds can be.
Mr Remy agreed, saying: "The youth are the most vulnerable as they consume more media and are being exposed to a myriad of influences, including religious extremism.
"There is a need to reach out to those who are in danger of being self-radicalised, especially by crafting initiatives for a technology-savvy generation."