Three-quarters of those who become foreign fighters for the Islamic State extremist group are recruited through friends and 20% by family members, a terrorism expert said.
Scott Atran, co-founder of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford University, said research has found that “radicalisation rarely occurs in mosques” and very seldom through anonymous recruiters and strangers.
He said some IS recruits come from Christian families “and they happen to be the fiercest of all the fighters we find”.
Mr Atran told a meeting on “Foreign Terrorist Fighters” organised by the UN Security Council’s counter-terrorism committee that “it is the call to glory and adventure that moves these young people to join the Islamic State” and that “jihad offers them a way to become heroes”.
The New York-born anthropologist said IS has a “revolutionary pull,” as occurred in the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and the rise of Nazi Germany.
“The Islamic State represents the spearhead of the most dynamic counter-cultural revolutionary movement since World War II with the largest volunteer fighting force since World War II,” he said.
Mr Atran, who has interviewed captured fighters from IS and the al-Qaida linked Nusra Front, said leaders of IS “understand youth much better than the governments that are fighting against them”.
They know how to speak to the rebelliousness and idealism of youth, he said, and they are very adept at using social media to target young people aged between 15 and 24.
The West’s counter-messaging that the group is bad, cuts off heads and wants to control women is not effective or universal, said Mr Atran, who is also research director in anthropology at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris and holds academic posts in the US.
He warned that unless the UN or other organisations “figure out how to have ideas from youth bubble up and be used to attract other youth, I think we’ll be lost for the coming generations”.
While those recruited to IS are often said to have “moral failings” or be “brainwashed,” Mr Atran said most foreign fighters who join the group, especially those from Europe, do so willingly.He stressed that the Paris attacks that killed at least 130 people are an integral part of the IS game plan.
“There is no change in the game of the Islamic State,” he said. “This has been the plan and will continue to be the plan.”
Their aims include hitting soft targets everywhere because it is impossible for nations to defend cafes, theatres and stadiums, Mr Atran said.
Their plan also includes drawing the Western powers into the Middle East again because “it will only cause chaos,” and driving a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims.