Alison Durran Canada Cyber Security and Emerging Threats Iraq Islamic State Syria Terrorism

Examining ISIS’s International Recruitment Strategy


Backgrounder: What is ISIS?

When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) first drew significant media attention several months ago, terrorism experts believedthat despite its military strength, ISIS posed only minimal threat to homeland security. According to Jabeur Fathally, a Middle Eastern studies expert from the University of Ottawa, ISIS’s goal, unlike al-Qaeda, has long been to establish an Islamic Caliphate State, notto wage global jihad on the west. In June, ISIS leaders officially declared its territorial gains in Syria and Iraq as a Caliphate, or ‘Islamic State’.

ISIS Makes Direct Threat to the West

Since the United States Military began targeted airstrikes at the request of the Iraqi government in August, ISIS has notably changed its tune. Now, in addition to its regional goals, ISIS has developed a strong and widespread social network with the intent of recruiting and mobilizing international supporters.

This week, ISIS broadcasted a statement urging the group’s international supporters to kill ‘unbelievers’, naming Americans, Canadians, Australians, French and Europeans. The voice of Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani tells individuals to “Rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.” The statement came just before the United States decision to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Syria on September 22, 2014, and was quickly condemned by both American President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Examining ISIS’s International Recruitment Strategy

The most likely threat from ISIS within Canadian, American, or European borders comes from the potential for a lone wolf terrorist attack. In a statement last week, Canadian Immigration Minister  Chris Alexander said that there are over 30 Canadians known to be actively involved with radical groups in Syria, and an estimated 130 in other places.

One Canadian recruit, Andre Poulin has been featured in an ISIS recruitment video. Poulin’s recruitment video attempts to appeal directly to the average Canadian, claiming to be like any other regular Canadian, “There is a role for everybody,” he says; “Every person can contribute something to the Islamic State.”

The video itself capitalizes on what might be ISIS’s strongest point of appeal for international supporters. As Mr. Poulin confirms, joining ISIS’s fight provides unsatisfied, ‘regular’ individuals like himself with an opportunity to find their ultimate purpose and fulfillment in ISIS’s religious cause.

Understanding the Implications of ISIS’s Global Appeal

Canada’s response to ISIS’s threat is twofold. In addition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledging support to a multilateral campaign to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, the Canadian Government is now focused on curbing ISIS’s international diaspora by invalidating the passports of citizens known to be associated with ISIS or related groups.

While cracking down on suspected ISIS supporters isa good start, a more effective and necessary strategy might to understand why Westerners are so easily motivated by radical propaganda produced by groups like ISIS. After all, ISIS is not the first, or likely the last extremist group to try and succeed at mobilizing Westerners to pick up and join their cause. In this sense, ISIS’s international social media strategy is part of a much bigger picture: that of understanding the appeal of global jihad for western born individuals.

Alison Durran
Alison Durran is a 4th year International Relations student at the University of British Columbia. Alison has worked as a research assistant for the Department of Political Science at UBC. She has been a contributing writer for the Ubyssey, UBC’s student newspaper. Alison is a graduate of the Summer Institute for Future Legislator’s at the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Her research interests include the study of democratic institutions, Eastern European and Latin American politics, international political economy, and Canadian politics.