As is apparent in the recent terrorist attacks in both Europe and the U.S., the biggest threat now are "lone wolf" attacks by radicalized Americans and Europeans. It is therefore imperative that we better understand the radicalization process so we can effectively intervene. Seamus Hughes and Alexander Melagrou-Hitchens of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, have done some very interesting work that could help us stop these attacks. They have focused their attention on ISIS's use of English speakers on social media to recruit and facilitate these attacks. They have found that these "virtual entrepreneurs" were involved in at least 21% of all terror plots in the U.S. and more than half the plots in Europe:
Virtual entrepreneurs represent a natural progression of the IS threat to the West. As military pressure has squeezed the group in its bases in Iraq and Syria, and governments have largely staunched the flow of foreign fighters from their shores, the group has sought to exploit its online reach to maintain a presence in the countries of its enemies.
Junaid Hussain’s presence on social media platforms like Twitter, for example, allowed him to gain an almost cult-like following among Western sympathizers. Hussain, a former hacker who had frequent run-ins with law enforcement, travelled to Syria while awaiting trial for a charge of violent disorder. Here was a man who practiced what he preached; he talked the talk and walked the walk. Not only did he support jihad on his Twitter feed, he joined and fought for the group in its heartland. Hussain’s actions gave him a level of credibility that he quickly leveraged into a following, allowing him to further the terrorist aims of IS in the West. Hussain was revered by American and British jihadists, who looked to him for religious advice and practical answers on everything from how to travel to join IS to religious rulings on fighting Jihad.
Hussain was always happy to advise potential jihadis on matters large and small. In one case, he provided an Ohio man, Munir Abdulkader, with the address of a U.S. military officer, and suggested that he be killed. Abdulkader relied on Hussain to provide material details. “Make sure the soldier was in Iraq or Afghanistan,” one text stated. “Do you know his work schedule? When he home etc?” said another. Abdulkader went further in his requests: “How do you make Molotov? You have a link? And what’s the knife to use? Sharpest?” He gave Hussain a play-by-play of his surveillance of targets and the supposed ease of purchasing a AK-47. At each step, Hussain was online and encouraging. Abdulkader was arrested shortly after that, having plotted part of his attack with an accomplice who was an FBI informant.Read their Lawfare post here. They elaborate on their work in West Point's Combating Terrorism Center's Sentinel.