Lone Wolf: Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation, How Internet Changes The Life of Young Europeans

 

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Lone Wolf

Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation: Interview With Finn Abu Muhamad al-Finlandi @AlFinlandi, previously known as Abdullah .

10 May 2016.

Published by AL RAI: http://alrai.li/9gqbrv2 via @AlraiMediaGroup

Key terms: IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, AQ, Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Terrorism, Lone Wolf, Lone Wolves, Syria, Sham.

By Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai

Profile

 

Background information on Abu Muhammad al Finlandi, aka Abdullah.

“[The] broader picture is that radicalisation appears to be caused by various combinations of personal problems, social frustrations and grievances, deprivation and yarning for identity, adventure and youth rebellion, and political grievances related to Europe, the Muslim World, as well as global politics.” (Nesser 2010:91).

Abdullah is a native-born Finn who grew up in an atheist family[1]. At school, he was bullied by his classmates and spent most of his time online[2]. Internet provided him with a relatively secure way to communicate without revealing his real identity. As an adolescent he studied theology but, Abdullah, which means “slave of God” in Arabic, continued as an atheist until age 17. He then became agnostic and started to look into religions[3].

Abdullah was a student in Southern Finland. His parents were not pleased when he converted to Islam, but respected his choice. His unusual behaviour for his western surroundings led to isolation: “I was already unhappy with their un-Islamic behaviour”. In 2011, he decided to travel to Syria to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra[4] (JAN). He was under surveillance by the Finnish Intelligence Service (SUPO), aware of his online involvement, put restrictions on his travel[5].

Because he could not embrace the Jihad in Syria, Abdullah decided to exert Jihad online. When he first appeared on social media, he called himself “Mujaahid4life”. He used a profile picture of a black-scarfed-armed man, with the desert as a background, in military outfit, and his index finger up, a sign used mainly by Sunni Muslims[6].

He became one of the best-known jihadist supporters, with good contacts with Mujahedeen and with activists in Syria, posting breaking news on Twitter, terrorist propaganda, brutal killings, and spending time translating, editing, and spreading terrorist material. In 2014, he switched loyalty to the “Islamic State” terrorist group, ISIS[7]. He carried out his cyber-jihad for almost two years, attracting thousands of Twitter followers.

Today, he is 21, educated, has a degree, a home, a regular income and a Muslim born wife. He speaks Finnish, English and Arabic and is learning the Quran.

A few years after his radicalisation, Abdullah decided to disengage. He challenged ISIS militants and supporters who accused him of treason, of being a spy, and an apostate with a guaranteed place in hell. He is still, to date, standing firm against many re-radicalisation attempts and went all the way to de-radicalising himself, rejecting extremist ideology but maintaining Muslim Salafi ideology as a religious obligation.

 

Assessment

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Abdullah trajectory with regard to his role played, ‘becoming involved’, ‘being involved’, and ‘ending involvement.

In November 2012, in his room, Abdullah[8] was converted to Islam, self-declared the Shahadah[9] and wanted to embark one the full Jihad. In 2014, following the split between ISIS and JAN, Abdullah could not remain neutral and he chose his side[10]. Abdullah was not involved in homeworking, research or distance learning but relied on the Internet to make friends. He was fully dedicated to his cause, embracing, disseminating and cheering daily jihadi propaganda. He maintained regular contacts with fighters in the battlefield. Abdullah wanted to be part of a big organisation that he believed in. He helped propagate ISIS’ message internationally, agreeing with all it was doing. He enjoyed the fame, being interviewed by mainstream media, remaining anonymous, and becoming a news reference for Jihadist online supporters. He considered himself the “ISIS European Ambassador online”. He challenged the United States: ”America is coming (to Syria and Iraq). Let them come. Lions[11] await”. Basically, Abdullah was enjoying the spontaneous emotional response of being part of a social group, and, simultaneously, observing and learning. This led to a tremendous internal struggle and a long process[12].

He then changed and distanced himself, not only by dropping his cause, but also giving up on his jihadist friends who had praised him for his role on social media. Abdullah had to face his main fear: rejection by his social group and loss of its solidarity. To survive that, he needed new perspectives. Abdullah resisted and “found strength by falling back to the roots of Islam”[13], justifying his previous belonging. He has managed to self-modify as indeed he did when he embraced alone a religion, Al-Qaeda and then ISIS. From 2011 to 2015, there were many changes in his life.

Abdullah’s activities represented a low threshold, as argued by Van Laer. He was not at direct risk; therefore he could not be accused of illegal activities online, providing verbal support for acts of terrorism[14], despite his support to any indiscriminate ISIS killing. He safely crossed virtual borders and managed to attract a substantial part of the World media. Although part of the social online community for many years, he has acquired a wide reputation, enjoying “dissociative anonymity, invisibility and minimising the authority”[15]. Fame prevailed and the ISIS adrenaline-effect was sweet. Nevertheless, he was one of the very rare ISIS supporters who refrained from using rude and insulting arguments when putting forward the case he believed in, unlike the vast active majority of ISIS online-supporters around the World.

Abdullah falls in the Peter Nesser’s protégé category[16]. He is intelligent, educated and well mannered. Most people who took up violent speech against ISIS regularly insulted him but he avoided similar replies. Yet he was dragged into the flow of radicalism by mainstream ISIS supporters, melded within the cause adopting the objectives of the terrorist group, and was confident enough to designate himself as ISIS virtual spokesperson: “A time will come when the West is attacked, but for years to come you need you to worry. We (speaking in the name of ISIS) want to focus first on the Middle East and take it. ISIS will reach Gaza (Palestine)”[17].

Now Abdullah has managed to extract himself from the jihadist circle. From posting hundreds of beheading photos, praising ISIS for slaughtering not only “infidels” but all enemies, he switched to rebuffing it and started a new Twitter account under the name of Abu Muhammad al-Finlandi, convinced that “ISIS fighters are nothing but filthy thugs. May Allah destroy and humiliate them”. The awakening was slow but he considers it efficient[18].

Abdullah went through a long religious learning process rethinking his support to ISIS until his “heart was opened to the truth”: then he declared war against ISIS (on social media) “to help others learn from his own experiences”[19] with ISIS.

 

 

Analysis

 

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Discernible trigger events leading towards radicalisation; intervention points that could possibly have reversed the process of radicalisation; which drivers were responsible for Abdullah disengagement and de-radicalisation?

 

The European Commission defines “embracing opinions as violent radicalisation”, but it is argued that the term is misrepresentative because it may not involve actual violence[20]. Yet, support for all acts of extreme violence and terrorist organisations, manifested online, maybe a form of self-declared terrorism. Violent terrorism may not be limited to carrying out physical acts: it may also include psychological acts of violence. Linking “violent radicalisation and terrorism”, only to corporeal effect may be inspiring online virtual jihadists.

Abdullah developed an interest in Al-Qaeda through “Inspire”, the online magazine; it made sense to him at that time. He carried out psychological online acts of violence. However, he was not a rooted Salafi extremist but was influenced by his entourage and aspired to participate. Social media interaction played an essential role in transforming his life and it radicalised him. The interaction with a particularly influential group of “keyboard jihadists” was stimulating. When he de-radicalised he struggled with his “old friends” who had provided him with support, a sense of security and belonging[21]. He was harshly attacked, accused of treason, told that he will face hell, and that he is abandoning pure Islam. Abdullah took a firm position and was obviously determined to come out of his unhealthy circle. Keeping a certain sectarian rhetoric in the early stages of disengagement was an undeniable defence mechanism, but he dropped it as time went by.

Although interest from his previous friends and media plunged, Abdullah found a more moderate platform. He promotes “the truth, even if he feels alone”. He was running his self-deradicalisation programme.

“There is not enough reliable data to reach definitive conclusions about the short-term, let alone the long-term, effectiveness of most existing deradicalisation programs[22]”. It may be difficult to take seriously hearing about a deradicalisation programme in Saudi Arabia[23] when hate speech is taught at elementary school, offering the same ideology adopted by Al-Qaeda and ISIS [24]. Moreover, it is not surprising that 20 percent of the Guantanamo Bay ex-detainees[25] released have joined Al-Qaeda[26]. Nonetheless, the real battle against Salafist extremists is no longer limited to any other country where al-Qaeda or ISIS is established. It is also today in Helsinki and in all other European capitals where jihadi Salafism is feeding minds, creating conflicts of identity and convincing many to join Jihad in the battlefield or, like Abdullah, in the bedroom. The borderless transnational Internet is offering, for those who cannot physically carry weapons and fight for “Allah”, a powerful platform for contributing to Jihad propaganda and recruitment, to serve terrorist organisations[27].

Jihadist propaganda material can easily fool those newly converted to Islam and also born Muslims with limited or no knowledge[28] of the contestable[29] aspects of Islamic theology. Indeed, Muslim scholars need many years of study to interpret their sharia laws from the Quran and the Hadith[30]. Jihadi groups justify brutal actions by using Islamic texts and quotes omitting essential consideration for the circumstances in which these were initially formulated over 1400 year ago. Members of terrorist organisations memorise the Quran, use key attractive words like Ummah (United Islamic Nation), Tawheed (monotheism), sectarian attributes like Takfir (apostate) or Ahl al-Sunnah (the righteous path followers), excluding other Muslims practice, claiming that they are fighting on behalf of all Muslims to establish an Islamic Caliphate. However, many scholars argue that greatest Jihad may be understood differently: the Jihad al-Nafs[31].

ISIS scholars cherry-picking from the text aim to impose the Jihad as an obligation for all Muslims calling it Fard A’yn[32]. ISIS and JAN’s interpretation runs as far as supporting the killing of other Muslims[33], making it impossible for young enthusiastic Muslims to distinguish what is religiously right or wrong. It is therefore not a question of ideology for the vast majority of young Al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters but an excuse to ride the horse of Jihad. According to Canadian de-radicalised Mubin Shaikh, “Justifying to yourself being radical is in relation to moral sidestepping mechanisms in which people (recruited Jihadists) make excuses and try to self-justify because they know they’re in the wrong and this is where cognitive dissonance is at play[34]”.

When Abdullah said, “ ideology is strongly centred around the sense of brotherhood and belonging, it’s essentially a utopia”, he was confirming that joining terrorist groups was not based primarily on religious ideology. He suggests that the best way to keep youngsters away from radicalisation is to “talk to them”. He believes government counter-terrorism efforts alienate Muslim communities and create hostility to any sort of anti-extremism effort. According to Abdullah, a better approach would be to organise community-based efforts. It is important to make youngsters feel they are part of something greater than themselves, quite separately from terrorist organisations[35].

Moreover, support for the families of young Jihadists[36] must be envisaged, in particular for those who did manage to join ISIS and who died on the battlefield. These families represent a powerful counter-force to ISIS propaganda when they can share their experience, however painful and difficult. Diffusing this level of information constitutes a influential element for increasing awareness of the danger of self-radicalisation, together with its wider effects.

 

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Abdullah is a nom de guerre. The subject in question chooses not to reveal his real identity. All quotes by/related to Abdullah, aka Abu Muhammad al-Finlandi, are the result of an interview with the author for he purpose of this essay. Abdullah and the author exchanged, since several years, communication over ISIS and the on-going war in Syria and Iraq (as on off example, see http://www.theguardian.com/world/middle-east-live/live/2014/aug/18/iraq-crisis-uk-mission-could-last-for-months-live-updates#block-53f1fb6ae4b038fb92169cad @EjmAlrai with ‪@mujahid4life 18 August 2014) when he was radicalised and later, when de-radicalised (his new social account is ‪@AlFinlandi aka Abu Muhammad al-Finlandi). Abdullah agreed to publish the interview and details of his life, engagement and disengagement from ISIS. Few attempts to interview him in 2014 were not always successful. http://www.breitbart.com/london/2014/08/13/bbc-tries-to-interview-jihadi-about-jumanji/

[2] Williams Sara, The bullied Finnish teenager who became an ISIS social media kingpin – and then got out, Newsweek, June 2015. http://europe.newsweek.com/bullied-finnish-teenager-who-became-isis-social-media-kingpin-then-got-out-328290

[3] Abdullah quote: “I thought that if God exists then He would be one in essence, unlike His creation, would send Messengers and Prophets with clear tests for mankind and would be recognised and followed. All this made Islam very appealing since I noticed it filled all my criteria. I wanted to be filled and did not find anything similar in other religions”.

[4] Profile: Syria’s al-Nusra Front, BBC News, April 2013. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-18048033

[5] Abdullah quotes:“SUPO keeps an eye on me and now I am on their watch-list. For the time being I cannot leave Europe. But, as soon as I can, I shall leave for the Middle East. I hope to get married as soon as possible and then maybe to study abroad”.

[6] To indicate, “there is no God but Allah”.

[7] Thompson Nick et al, ISIS: Everything you need yo know about the rise of the militant group, CNN, February 2015. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/14/world/isis-everything-you-need-to-know/

[8] Williams Sara, The bullied Finnish teenager who became an ISIS social media kingpin – and then got out, Newsweek, June 2015. http://europe.newsweek.com/bullied-finnish-teenager-who-became-isis-social-media-kingpin-then-got-out-328290

[9] Shahada: The statement of faith, BBC religions, August 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/practices/shahadah.shtml

[10] A quote by Abdullah: “My bay’ah (oath of allegiance) is for the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and (to) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (ISIS Leader) and my life is for Allah. We have no helper but him”.

[11] A quote by Abdullah, “Lions” is a self-attribute by ISIS describing the courage of its fighters.

[12] Abdullah quote, April 2016: “I saw Al-Qaeda – and later ISIS – as increasingly correct because I saw the scholarly ground they stood upon as being strong. I also had a view that the aspects most opposed by non-Muslims were the most correct. I never condoned suicide bombings but I saw them as a necessary evil to get to the end goal, ISIS Caliphate. Basically I got to a mind-set where I would not question the jihadist narrative at all because I saw all other paths as wrong. I found a sense of belonging with both Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The ideology is strongly centred on a sense of brotherhood and belonging. It’s essentially a utopia”.

[13] Quote from Abdullah to the author.

[14] Van Laer, Jeroen, Val Aelst Peter, Internet and Social Movement Action Repertoires: Opportunities and Limitations, [PDF], September 2010. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13691181003628307?journalCode=rics20

[15] Suler John, CyberPsychology & Behavior, The Online Disinhibition Effect, July 2004, Vol. 7, N.3, pp.321-326.

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/1094931041291295

[16] Nesser Petter, Joining Jihadi terrorist cells in Europe. Exploring Motivational aspects of recruitment and radicalization, in Ranstorp Mangus (ed): Understanding violent Radicalisaton. Terrorist and Jihadist movement in Europe. London and New York, Routledge, 2010, p.93.

[17] Abdullah quotes to the author.

[18] Abdullah quotes to the author:” It was a long process that started with the ISIS executions of journalists and aid-workers. I could not reconcile the actions of ISIS with Islamic scripture. Then I progressed to looking into anti-ISIS and anti-AQ material. I saw it as being more correct and fitting with the Islamic texts”.

[19] Abdullah quotes to the author.

[20] Reinares Fernando et al, Radicalisation Processes Leading to Acts of Terrorism, A concise report prepared by the European commission’s expert group on violent radicalisation, May 2008, p.5.

http://www.rikcoolsaet.be/files/art_ip_wz/Expert%20Group%20Report%20Violent%20Radicalisation%20FINAL.pdf

[21] Dearden Lizzie, Former ISIS militant who grew up in the UK says coalition bombing campaign will drive more Jihadists to launch attacks, The Independent, April 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/former-isis-militant-harry-sarfo-who-grew-up-in-the-uk-says-coalition-bombing-campaign-will-drive-a6982696.html

[22] Rabasa Angel et al, Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists, RAND, National Security research Division, 2010, page 16. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG1053.pdf

[23] Hubbard Ben, Inside Saudi Arabia’s Re-education Prison for Jihadists, The New York Times, April 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/world/middleeast/inside-saudi-arabias-re-education-prison-for-jihadists.html?_r=1

[24] Fattah Hassan, Don’t Be Friends With Christians or Jews, Saudi Texts say, The New York Times, May 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/24/world/24saudi.html

[25] Fenton Jennifer, Freed Guantanamo detainees: Where are they now? Al Jazeera, Jan 2016. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/01/released-guantanamo-bay-detainees-160110094618370.html

[26] Al-Jazeera English, Ex-Guantanamo inmates “fail rehab”, 20 Jun 2010. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2010/06/201062013047249951.html

[27] Corera Gordon, The World most wanted cyber-Jihadist, Younis Tsouli (Irhabi 007), BBC News, Jan 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7191248.stm

[28] Le HuffPost, Un Journliste a infiltré pendant six mois une cellule de Daech en France: “Soldats d’Allah” dans Special investigation sur C+ [Frensh], [Translated comment] “I didn’t see Islam in all this business”, LE HUFFINGTONPOST (associated with Le Monde), 1 Mai 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2016/04/30/special-investigation-soldats-allah-infiltration-daech-france_n_9813416.html

[29] Bianonie Mohamed, The Islamic Etiquette of disagreement, Presentation at the Islamic Center of Raleigh NC, Columbia, June 1998. http://islam1.org/khutub/Etiquete_of_disagreement.htm

[30] Fatoohi Louay, The Meaning of “Hadith”, Quranic studies, March 2011. http://www.quranicstudies.com/prophet-muhammad/the-meaning-of-hadith/

[31] Sharif Surkheel, Jihad al-Nafs: The Greater Struggle, Jihad and its dimensions, The Jawziyyah Institute, 2006. http://cdn.muslimmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/nafs.pdf

[32] A compulsory duty on every single Muslim to perform, like praying and fasting, defence of the Muslims Lands, The First obligation After Iman, Chap[ter 3, Fard Ayn and Fard Kifaya, RELIGIOSCOPE.

http://www.religioscope.com/info/doc/jihad/azzam_defence_5_chap3.htm

[33] Obeidallah Dean, ISIS’s gruesome Muslim Death Toll, The Daily Beast, October 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/07/isis-s-gruesome-muslim-death-toll.html

[34] Quote from Abdullah to the author.

[35] Hussain Murtza, A Better Way To Keep Kids From Joining ISIS: Talk To Them, The Intercept, April 2016. https://theintercept.com/2016/04/07/a-better-approach-to-countering-violent-extremism/

[36] Maher Shiraz and Neumann Peter, Pain, Confusion, Anger, and Shame: The Stories of Islamic State Families, ICSR King’s College London, April 2016. [PDF] http://icsr.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/ICSR-Report-Pain-Confusion-Anger-and-Shame-The-Stories-of-Islamic-State-Families1.pdf

Bigo Didier et al, Directorate-General for Internal Policies, Policy Department citizens’ right and constitutional affairs, European Parliament, Preventing and Countering Youth Radicalisation in the EU, 2014. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/etudes/join/2014/509977/IPOL-LIBE_ET(2014)509977_EN.pdf

Crenshaw Martha, The psychology of terrorism: An Agenda for the 21st century. Political Psychology, 21(2): 405-420, June 2000.

Diani Mario, & McAdam Doug, Social Movements and Networks: Relational Approaches to Collective Action, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hamm, M. S. (2012), The Spectacular Few: Prisoner Radicalisation and Terrorism in the Post-9/11 Era. New York: New York University Press.

Horgan John, From profiles to pathways and roots to routes: Perspectives from psychology on radicalization into terrorism. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 2009, 618(1): 80-94 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249666801_From_Profiles_to_Pathways_and_Roots_to_Routes_Perspectives_from_Psychology_on_Radicalization_into_Terrorism

Sebastian Sprenger, “Maj. Gen. Lord Is a Ground breaker,” Federal Computer Week, October 15, 2007, vol. 21, no. 34.

Tahiri Hussein et al, Community and Radicalisation, Victoria University, September 2013. https://www.livingsafetogether.gov.au/informationadvice/Documents/preventing-violent-extremism-and-radicalisation-in-australia.pdf

 

One thought on “Lone Wolf: Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation, How Internet Changes The Life of Young Europeans

  1. Pingback: Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation : How Internet changes the life of young Europeans | azadar04's Blog

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