According to the European Commission, more than 42,000 foreign fighters joined terrorist organizations between 2011 and 2016, around 5,000 of whom are believed to be from Europe (European Commission, July 2017, cited in Euronews, March 2019). The Republic of North Macedonia, France and Germany initiated the repatriation process of their citizens suspected to fight on the ISIS side. The policy of the countries may slightly vary. However, participation in ISIS is penalized. For example, the citizens of Germany have been prosecuted or placed into rehabilitation programs. The UK strips the citizenship from some British IS members who expressed a desire to return home, which has sparked huge human rights and legal debate. However, it is hard to differ former fighters from non-combatants and prove their guilt (Ibidem).
In the case of Russia, fight against world terrorism is one of the main policy goals (Military Doctrine of Russian Federation, December 30, 2014). Terrorist organizations, like “Taliban” or ISIS, are, naturally, prohibited and participation in their structures is strictly penalized. Nonetheless, Russian national group is the leading one fighting on the ISIS side (Soufan Group, cited in ura.ru, October 26, 2017). Nowadays, there is an increasing tendency among the Russians to join this kind of organizations. At the first time in 2013 Russian authorities confirmed the presence of their citizens fighting in the ISIS (Kavkaz Uzel, cited in Meduza, March, 2016). In 2015, according to the president of Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, there are about 2.5 thousand of Russian citizens fighting in the so-called Islamic State structures (BBC, October 16, 2015). In 2018 Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) claimed a number of 5 thousand citizens (Segodnya, 2018). The MIA notices that terrorist organizations after the defeat in Syria are going to increase their world network with the nationals of the former Soviet republics. (TASS, March 29, 2019).
A characteristic feature of the both cases is that neither in Europe nor in Russia Islam is not a dominative religion. In addition, fight with the terrorism played a major role in Russian discourse on intervention in Syrian campaign. Worth to notice that the official Kremlin supports the governmental forces of Bashar-al-Assad. Naturally, there are Russian mercenaries on the both sides (Meduza, March, 2016). This paper is going to examine the motivation of non-Muslim Europeans with the focus on the Russians to join terrorist organizations, the recruitment methods and the attitude of Russian Federation towards this issue. For the purposes of this research it is necessary to describe a significant example in which a European woman, who wanted to investigate the schemes of recruitment to terrorist organizations, was convinced to join ISIS.
The European victims
Anna Erelle, a journalist, an author of the book “In the Skin of a Jihadist” was recruited during her professional duties, conducting a dangerous experiment (hereafter: The Insider, February, 2019). She was preparing the interviews with the jihadi teenagers and their motivations to leave the families. For the purposes of the research, she decided to create a fake Facebook account of 20-year-old French woman of Moroccan origin, recently converted to Islam, who grew up without father. During the experiment she met some radicals from France, Belgium, England, until once a stranger started to be interested in her opinion jihadi fighters and religion. A stranger appeared to be a 40-year-old ethnic French who left “sinful” Europe. The contactor tried to gain authority in the issues of Islam interpretation. Anna Erelle notices that it was easy to attract a young woman for an experienced man with a huge age difference. However, in some time Anna became a victim of her own experiment. The communication with the ISIS member moved from text chats on Facebook into personal Skype meeting. The recruiter had a deep knowledge in psychology and good communicative skills. He tried to find out the victim’s preferences, the reason of her interest in Islam or ISIS. Her also promised to protect her, fulfill all the dreams, present a lot of money or weapons. The recruiter described to Anna her future rich and carefree life. The only condition was to marry him. Sometimes, he blamed het in egoism for not helping their Muslim brothers. In some time, Anna felt in love with the ISIS fighter, even his polygamic marriage with four official wives was not an obstacle. The relation had some features of unhealthy dependence. The potential fiancé attacked a victim with the attention. They had to contact each other few times a day. She had to report him about her movements. She sincerely worried about him, especially during ISIS military operations. The recruiter also told that after the marriage a woman has to be hidden form the rest of the society but belong to her husband only. He justified his attitude with the misinterpretation of Coran: the entire life is a game, you are allowed to do whatever you want. Despite all the controversies, Anna decided to accept his proposal and started a trip to Syria (Ibidem). It is necessary to underline that it was a journalist experiment from the very beginning, she had a critical view on the ISIS and did not expect to be involved so deeply and sincerely. Moreover, it seems to look that she had a stable job and education. Nonetheless, it did not prevent her from being a victim.
Anna was proposed to travel through the Netherlands, crossing the Turkish-Syrian border. It was required to buy a local phone and take selfies to prove her localization. Worth to notice that a French woman assisted her as the guide to Syria. However, Anna decided to go to Amsterdam, take a selfie and stop the experiment. Nowadays, she is being threatened by ISIS but still have some sentiments to her former “fiancé” (Ibidem).
The ISIS ideology is primarily tapped two sets of motives: (1) the needs for security and stability, and (2) the needs for personal significance. The research team from the University of Maryland conducted the analysis of the pre-travel decision-making of fifty American ISIS volunteers. It was found that people experienced rejection and alienation in their communities wanted to escape their current life and find a new, positive identity. In addition, it was a chance to upgrade their socio-economic status. The research also contradicts the popular clam that the decision to break the social ties was made spontaneously. In the cases used in the study, almost three quarters of the victims were openly involved in the radical social networks and more than a half expressed radical views much earlier than they decided to join ISIS. However, these warning signs were neglected or unrecognized by the closest society (Jasko, Hassan, Kruglanski, Gunaratna, 2018).
The general portrait of the potential victim is similar to all the nationalities. However, in the case of non-Muslim population, particularly ethnic Russians, it is necessary to convince a person to accept voluntarily the values of foreign religion, culture and ideology.
The available Russian sources seem to suggest that the main targets are young people 16-30 years old, especially those who study or are professionally connected with oil or agriculture industry, IT, chemistry, physics, translation. These people have not got social and economic stability yet (like family or permanent job), suffer from depression or feel offended but the society. In addition, young adults perceive joining the terrorist organization as some kind of adventure and are not able to predict the consequences of this choice. Similar psychological premises allow to involve labor migrants into terrorism. Moreover, the potential targets are people newly converted to Islam. Another potentially endangered group are prisoners. Their main motivation is to restore social justice (Sputnik News, April 29, 2017; MK.ru, October 30, 2018). Moreover, ISIS is attractive for people with deviant behavior. A lack of traditional state institutions and different social norms that allow, for example, polygamic marriages, pedophilia or human slavery may be a decisive argument for some target groups. This kind of personality tends to seek violent videos with mass murders (Karachay-Cherkess Republic Police). It is necessary to underline that women are special target group. The recruiters seek for special psychological type of personality with a high level of suggestibility unable to have a critical view on the received information. (Vesti.ru, February 5, 2017). Moreover, the additional trigger could be the experience of unsatisfactory romantic affairs in the past or will to find a husband abroad. A journalist Anna Erelle, whose story is mentioned above, is considered that the factor that attracts women is the presence of a strong man. For teenagers joining ISIS is a chance to become rich and famous. Furthermore, she is pointing out a negative impact of mass media in the creation of a positive image of terrorism. The attention of documentarists, made terrorism attractive. In addition, an unlimited possibility to share the photos in the social media show the “evidences” of “rich and careless” life in the ISIS (The Insider, February, 2019).
It is also necessary to underline that the strong governance inside ISIS does not allow people to leave it without consequences. The system of punishments and terror discourage a slightest resistance and force the victims to obey. Moreover, on the occupied territories joining the terrorists seems to be the only way to survive. People simply struggle from hunger and have no other job (Jasko, Hassan, Kruglanski, Gunaratna, 2018).
According to the Chairman of the Public Chamber for the Development of Public Diplomacy and the Support of Compatriots Abroad Elena Sutormina, the main recruitment channel is the Internet. The potential victims publish personal information in the social networks attracting the attention of the recruiters (RT, May 6, 2017). This could be, for example, a spoken language (preferably, oriental), studies at the university or hobbies. The students of Arab linguistics are contacted by their colleagues, native speakers, offering some help in learning language. Male recruiters try to make compliments to female students and continue communication (Ibidem). Shamil Sultanov, the president of the Russia-Islamic World Center for Strategic Studies, says that the ISIS most of all needs military specialists and programmers. Thus, IT student is a cheap workforce in comparison to a qualified specialist. Moreover, young unexperienced people perceive this kind of cooperation as a chance to find a well-paid job (Ibidem). A motivator tries to convince a victim in social injustice, underestimation of his/her abilities, promising an “opportunity” to change the world and become a part of “the chosen” group. Sometimes, persuasive effect is achievable due to hidden use of psychoactive substances against the victim during face-to-face meeting. However, the main aim of the recruiter is to make a target person to break social and family ties (Karachay-Cherkess Republic Police).In some cases, involving in terrorist organization is possible through friends or family members; public event or conference not necessarily connected with Islam. Moreover, another, not very obvious technique, is to provoke an interest of people to something new. For example, an ISIS member may not initiate the conversation but penetrate into a social group. His acquaintances might be curious about his religion, or unusual hobby etc. Human’s curiosity could be a good starting point for future recruitment as it was in the case of Anna Errele, described above (Karachay-Cherkess Republic Police).According to a victim, a recruiter could keep contact for a few years, talking on neutral topics. However, in some time the ISIS agent may provoke an interest to radical Islam and turn the communication in this way. In the case of females, male recruiters try to attract, gain authority, establish psychological dependence of the victim, convincing her to join ISIS (Rambler, May 16, 2019).
According to an anonymous source in the Russian special services, one of the main recruiters is so-called One-Legged Ahmed. In his scheme, people were first recruited via the Internet, invited and met in Istanbul. There, in a few days, One-Legged Ahmet with his companions produced fake documents, after people were transferred across the Turkish-Syrian border (Life News, cited in Liberty Radio, August 11, 2015).Moreover, ISIS does not only recruit people directly but provides propaganda campaign in the Russian language, using Internet and social media. One of the well-known resources orientated on the Russian-speaking audience is Furat Media. Currently their accounts are banned (The Guardian, cited in Komsomolskaya Pravda, July 13, 2015).
Russian countermeasures and implications
The basic countermeasure implemented by Russia is a wide-scale informational campaign. The ISIS and fight against terrorism forms a daily agenda of the major mass media. Documentaries, interviews with the victims, leaf-lefts form the police are dedicated to warn and prevent population from dealing with terrorism. However, in order to avoid terrorism propaganda mass media are obliged to put a clause “organization prohibited in Russia”, mentioning the acronym ‘ISIS’. Moreover, Russia tries to filter the information, censoring the Internet. In this way, using of social media for the purposes of terrorism made a pretext for Internet control by the Russian government. In 2016 Russian Federation introduced the law called “Yarovaya package” (after the name of Russian politician) which obliged messengers to identify their users, giving to special services the encryption keys and store user’s data on the territory of Russia (TASS, April 13, 2018). However, this decision was not successful enough and seemed to be a justification for Internet control. For example, the management of Telegram messenger resigned to cooperate with the government. The messenger was unsuccessfully blocked (Novaya Gazeta, April 13, 2018). In addition, according to the official narration, fight with the terrorism justifies the Russian presence in Syria (TASS, September 2017).
It is necessary to underline that Russian penal system pursuits people connected with the ISIS. The judicial processes on the people cooperated with the terrorism usually become demonstrative. The most known is the case of 23-year old Varvara Karaulova, a student of Moscow State University, arrested in summer 2015 on the Syrian-Turkish border by Interpol. She was recruited in the social media. A young woman decided to escape to Syria to her “husband”, one of the terrorist recruiters, with whom she was “married” via Skype. In 2016 Karaulova was sentenced to 4 years in general regime colony for an attempt to join ISIS. However, Russian penal code defines the sanction up to 10 years of sentence (Ria Novosti, April 16, 2019). Karaulova admits a kind of unhealthy psychological ties with her recruiter (Rambler, April 16, 2019). However, as some other sources claim that she was also recruiting other women, even during her detainment. Moreover, she was considered to be returned to Russia with a special mission from Allah. However, nowadays a girl regrets and feels ashamed with her ISIS past (Telegram-channel “Mash”, cited in Rambler, May 13, 2019).
Nonetheless, in some regions the persecution against people connected with ISIS was stopped. For example, there was a case in Chelabinsk when an anonymous man escaped through Kazakhstan and asked for permition to come back to Russia. According to the investigative organs, a man with a higher education was a victim of professional recruiters (74.ru, cited in Meduza, March, 2016).
The cases described above seem to suggest that human’s nature is universal. To sum up, the way of recruiting looks universal as well to the ethnic Russian as to other European, non-Muslim nationalities. The terrorists try to profile their victims, looking for some special types of personalities. The basic human needs for security and stability, and the needs for personal significance make a favorable ground for the recruitment. The available data show us an increasing number of the Post-Soviet states citizens, particularly the Russian ones, in the terrorist organizations. It allows us to make a prediction that this number is going to increase. In addition, unstable socioeconomic position of Russia may attract the potential victims. To put it into other words, for some groups of people ISIS is a chance to earn more money than in their motherland. However, the case of the French journalist described in this essay proofs that even professional curiosity could be a trigger to be sincerely involved into terrorist organization. Moreover, the level of education is not also a decisive factor that may prevent from the recruitment. It is possible due to the excellent knowledge of human psychology and use of persuasive techniques by the recruiters. A special strategy is used towards the females. In this case, the most vulnerable are young unmarried girls with negative experience of romantic affairs in the past who want to find a “defender”, an older strong man. It is also hard to underestimate the role of mass media that provoke an interest to ISIS, presenting “careless” lifestyle of its fighters. Countermeasures implemented by the Russian government, described above, are natural reaction on the danger. They, obviously, reduce the potential number of victims, however, they are not sufficient enough. Moreover, it seems to look that in the case of Russia, terrorism prevention is only a pretext to control society and provide a kind of censorship in the Internet and mass media. In addition, fight with the terrorism is used in the propaganda purposes as a justification of the Russian presence in Syria, supporting the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad.