The Current

Documentary reveals how ISIS recruits young radicals on social media

ISIS is notorious for courting Western youths online — turning social media into a recruitment tool. So filmmaker Martin Himel decided to see for himself how the process works and documents his journey meeting an ISIS recruiter in Undercover in ISIS.
The documentary, Undercover in ISIS, follows the ISIS recruitment process on video from start to finish. (Undercover in ISIS film)

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ISIS is notorious for courting Western youths online — turning social media into a recruitment tool.

Over the course of several months, journalist and filmmaker Martin Himel and his team developed fake online relationships with two ISIS recruiters — first using Twitter and then moving to encrypted channels.

(Undercover in ISIS film)

Eventually, both "Theo" and "Sara" —  assumed names — received offers to travel and join the Islamic State. 

Himel used the recordings of the recruitment process in his documentary, Undercover in ISIS. He tells The Current's Friday host Laura Lynch how ISIS has managed to lure tens of thousands of foreign fighters from around the world to join their cause. 

"We worked very hard at creating the character among the back story," says Himel, knowing ISIS is looking for a certain kind of person.

Sara was an Australian coming from a broken family. Her father was absent. She wasn't Muslim but her father was in name only. Theo had a similar background coming from Sweden.

"Those back stories were learned, and learned, and the details were learned. And that's very, very important."

Himel tells Lynch the hardest part to attract ISIS recruiters was having to be passive. 

"You cannot take initiative." 

Both Sara and Theo send out tweets and statements that were very sympathetic to ISIS, slogans and videos — all shared in a non-aggressive tone.

"They're looking for meaning as a Muslim. They're looking for their identity and they give the impression they're
susceptible."

According to experts, the true recruiter are the ones that connect emotionally, not cognitively.

"Sara knows fully that [the recruiter] is a terrorist luring gullible women to Syria. It's a one-way ticket to a horrible existence. And yet she can't help liking her," Himel tells Lynch.

"This is the true strength of an incredible recruiter."

Undercover in ISIS airs Sept. 25, on the CBC Documentary channel, 8 p.m. ET and airs again Sept. 26. It will at 9 p.m. ET.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Julian Uzielli.

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