Special Issue Introduction: Terrorist Online Propaganda and Radicalisation

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Special Issue Introduction:

Terrorist Online Propaganda and Radicalisation

Curtin University

Perth, Australia

Swansea University

Swansea, UK

University of East Anglia

Norwich, UK

City University London

London, UK

This is the original, submitted version of a manuscript subsequently accepted for publication (on 2 November 2015), and now forthcoming in the Taylor & Francis journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism: http://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?show=aimsScope&journalCode=uter20#.VoD-GzY_Wu4

Special Issue Introduction:

Terrorist Online Propaganda and Radicalisation
Abstract: The Internet is a transformative technology that terrorists are exploiting for spreading propaganda and radicalising new recruits. While al-Qaeda has a longer history, Islamic State is conducting a modern and sophisticated media campaign centered around online social networking. This article introduces and contextualizes the contributions to this Special Issue by examining some of the ways in which terrorists make use of the Internet as part of their broader media strategies.
In October 2014, three teenage girls from Denver, Colorado, were noticed missing from high school.i German authorities intercepted them at the Frankfurt airport and sent them back to the U.S. where they were questioned by FBI agents. The girls were suspected of heading to Turkey then Syria to join Islamic extremists although details of the case were sealed because of their ages (15 to 17). All three had browsed extremist websites to research how to get to Syria. Earlier that year, in January,19 year old Shannon Conley was arrested at Denver International Airport en route to Syria via Frankfurt and Turkey. Charged with conspiracy to help the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS - Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, also known as Daesh) in Syria, she admitted to ‘radicalisation’ii by a Tunisian militant who she had met online and intended to marry. Conley said that her knowledge of Islam was based solely on her own online research. iii

Similarly alarming stories of radicalisation are repeated regularly in the news media and beyond. Indeed, according to some of the more hysterical reports, more British citizens joined IS in Iraq and Syria than enlisted in the UK Army Reserve in 2013 (several hundred compared to 170).iv Reports such as these are invariably accompanied by two types of causal question.v First is a question of direct causation: Why do young men and women want to leave often comfortable lives in order to join violent extremists in distant countries? Second, is a question of enabling causes: How important is the influence of the Internet in this process? What role does it play in encouraging or facilitating efforts to participate in campaigns such as those waged by al Qaeda or IS?

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