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Recruitment Methods of ISIS


This paper covers a small area of topics on the infamous organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These topics include: a brief history of the organization, who ISIS is recruiting, why the recruits are joining, and the methods in which ISIS uses to recruit its members. Because of ISIS’s clever and effective recruiters and their methods of recruitment, they are on their way to establishing a caliphate, which refers to uniting all Muslims for the purpose of total, world domination.

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Recruitment Methods of ISIS

According to communication strategist and cyber war expert advisor, James P. Farwell (2014), in the summer of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) made an ostentatious appearance onto the worldwide stage, with the desire to institute its religious authority across the world (Farwell, 2014, p. 49). ISIS developed a caliphate, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (p. 49). The organization’s primary tool for increasing its influence across the globe has been “brute violence” (Farwell, 2014, p. 49). However, through their methods of recruitment, they have tried to establish credibility and implement legitimacy by skillfully advertising their propaganda through social networking and cyber technology, making it look attractive to prospective fighters (Farwell, 2014, p. 49). This paper will discuss who ISIS is recruiting, why the recruits are joining ISIS, and the recruitment methods that the organization uses to gather members, in order to accomplish their purpose of conquering the world.

The slogan, “Baqiya wa tatamadad,” as stated by Amanda Borquaye (2016), is the slogan created by ISIS, meaning ‘“lasting and expanding,’” which has produced fearin many different areas around the world (p. 28). As recorded by author, Patrick Cockburn (2015), during summer of 2014, throughout the course of several weeks, ISIS altered politics in the Middle East (p. 1). Jihadi soldiers intertwined religious “fanaticism” and military experience to succeed in war against Iraqi, Syrian, and Kurdish forces (Cockburn, 2015, p. 1). ISIS aimed to destroy the Sunni opposition to the regimes in Iraq and Syria while it extended all throughout those areas (Cockburn, 2015, p. 1). ISIS did not show any concern that the list of their enemies grew greater over time, which included such areas as the United States and Iran (Cockburn, 2015, p. 1). As history has shown, ISIS generating enemies has not been a problem.

As Iraq and Syria began to disperse into their separate communities, the Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Alawites, and Christians were struggling to survive (Cockburn, 2015, p. 1). If someone was not in compliance with the ideology of Islam, they were labeled as “apostates” and “polytheists” and forced to flee or were brutally murdered (Cockburn, 2015, p. 1). The scare tactics and the forms of public violence that ISIS started using to torment their adversaries were the most extreme that had been seen in several decades (Cockburn, 2015, p. 1). The members of ISIS desire to restructure the world by committing violent acts (Cockburn, 2015, p. 5). Parts of this ideology can be attributed to the war in Iraq in 2003 and the war in Syria in 2011 (Cockburn, 2015, p. 5). Because of events like these, ISIS has discovered a new battlefield in which they are able to fight and flourish (Cockburn, 2015, p. 5). They have managed to accomplish this task by recruiting as many jihadists as possible.

Who are they recruiting?

ISIS prompts their recruits to institute and obtain a caliphate, which means ‘“a unified Muslim state run according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law’” (Borquaye, 2016, p. 28). As believed by dedicated jihadists, violence is the single method in which to achieve this caliphate (Borquaye, 2016, p. 28). Over a significant amount of time, ISIS has developed the abilities of recruiting Westerners, despite viewing themselves as common enemies of the West and everything that Western culture honors and represents (Borquaye, 2016, p. 28). According to Lisa Blaker (2015), of the University of Maryland, there has been an estimated 3,000 or more nationalists from Western countries that have immigrated to the Middle East to join ISIS, contributing to the extremist movement (3).

Some of these Western nationalists that ISIS is recruiting are American teenagers. According to Husna Haq, a correspondent for the news organization, The Christian Science Monitor, there are four reasons why teenagers, especially American teens, are being seduced in joining ISIS (Blaker, 2015, p. 4). The first reason is that organizations like ISIS are able to help young people to develop a sense of identity (Blaker, 2015, p. 4). They intentionally target this demographic because these teenagers are lost and have no sense of belonging or purpose (Blaker, 2015, p. 4). Joining groups like these makes them feel like they finally have a family and a purpose in life (Blaker, 2015, p. 4). The second reason is that ISIS functions as an advanced propaganda machine (Blaker, 2015, p. 4). Because we live in the Internet age and it is popular among young people, the Internet is an easy tool to lure members of this age group (Blaker, 2015, p. 4). The third reason is that ISIS creates a sense of religious obligation, which is why it is so attractive to American teenagers (Blaker, 2015, p. 4). Lastly, ISIS has made females one of their biggest demographics that they recruit (Blaker, 2015, p. 4).  The demographic of young Muslim-American females seems to be very popular (Blaker, 2015, p. 4). The most common group of Muslim-American females who join are those who feel isolated from their non-Muslim peers (Blaker, 2015, p. 4). Surprisingly, there appears to be a great desire for the recruitment of females to join ISIS.

One of the most popular demographics that ISIS recruits are women. In these cases, they have had success by women recruiting other women (Blaker, 2015, p. 5). One of the most effective recruiters is Umm Ubaydah, who immigrated from Europe to Syria in 2014 (Blaker, 2015, p. 5). She has a blog that she uses as a recruitment tool for women (Blaker, 2015, p. 5). Her posts typically incorporate information on what to bring, the appropriate type of clothing, a sufficient amount of money, and includes information about what everyday life for women is like in Syria (Blaker, 2015, p. 5). Additional information that she posts include support on how to cope when leaving one’s family (Blaker, 2015, p. 5). A Senior Counter Extremism Researcher for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Erin Marie Saltman, claimed that women are successful as recruiters of other women because there is a sense of comfort manifested when communicating with fellow women (Blaker, 2015, p. 5). Conversing with a fellow woman provides a sense of consolation of leaving one’s family (Blaker, 2015, p. 5-6). As reported by CNN, about 1 in 6 ISIS recruits are women (Blaker, 2015, p. 6).

According to Alberto Cerzone and Anita Peresin (2015), professors of counterterrorism at George C. Marshall Center, roughly ten percent of ISIS’s Western recruits are females. As of 2015, it was estimated that there were over 200 Western females who abandoned their homes to join ISIS, the majority of them from France (Cerzone and Peresin, 2015, p. 499). The rest of the women were from other European nations, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and Belgium, with the numbers constantly rising (Cerzone and Peresin, 2015, p. 499). The International Centre for Study of Radicalization at Kings College London, found the majority of these females are between the ages of 16-24, but some are as young as thirteen (Cerzone and Peresin, 2015, p. 499). The majority of these females run away to the Middle East without telling their parents, which raises concerns and questions for security experts and the general Western culture (Cerzone and Peresin, 2015, p. 499). They typically come from Muslim families or have converted to Islam, but in either instance, families are appalled that their daughters are interested in joining this “violent jihad” (Cerzone and Peresin, 2015, p. 499).

According to Lauren Vogel (2016), of CMAG News, ISIS has also been recruiting doctors and health workers. The recruitment of these specialists began in 2015 when ISIS increased its focus of establishing control over territory to institute a caliphate, which they believe will bring all of the Muslims together to conquer the world (Vogel, 2016, p. 1). Since the summer of 2015, ISIS had advertised the need for doctors through social media, blogs, splashy magazines, and high-budget videos to showcase the state’s emerging health system (Vogel, 2016, p. 1). The advertisements show off the substantial amount of services they provide, the latest facilities and equipment, experienced professionals, and two medical schools (Vogel, 2016, p. 1). ISIS is especially eager for medical professionals because a numerous amount of local doctors have left the organization’s territory (Vogel, 2016, p. 1). There have been reports of doctors who were forced to treat patients at gunpoint, some who were targeted for arrest, and others who were executed for refusing to provide care (Vogel, 2016, p. 1).

Like others that ISIS recruits, there are various reasons why they are recruiting medical professionals. Lorne Dawson, co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society, said, “‘It’s a storm of factors, from a quest of significance and identity, to maybe some experience of discrimination’” (Vogel, 2016, p. 1). A popular reason why these professionals join is because of social justice (Vogel, 2016, p. 2). A large number of medical professionals are driven by altruism, and the determination to assist others, and the radical message uses that (Vogel, 2016, p. 2). Dawson says, “‘People find it amazing that a doctor would want to be part of this ultraviolent group committing atrocities, but on the flipside a lot of what ISIS does looks like humanitarian, social welfare and medical work’” (Vogel, 2016, p. 2). Another possible factor that draws doctors is discrimination (Vogel, 2016, p. 2). An American survey was done that showed that 24% of Muslim doctors often were victims of religious discrimination in their careers and 14% currently were experiencing it in the workplace (Vogel, 2016, p. 2). No matter for what reasons medical professionals are attracted to ISIS, they still go through the same radicalization process as any other recruit (Vogel, 2016, p. 2).

Methods of recruitment

ISIS’s skills of maneuvering media is a significant factor in the way that they recruit (Borquaye, 2016, p. 28). ISIS has used the Internet and online social media as a tool of circulating their message (Borquaye, 2016, p. 28). They use these forms of media in hopes of recruiting individuals, especially young people, to join them in the Middle East and fight alongside them with other jihadists, or simply to support the organization (Blaker, 2015, p. 1). These supporting roles typically fall to the young women who join (Blaker, 2015, p. 1). ISIS has designated “sympathizers” to carry out acts of violence wherever they may be when they are not able to travel to the Middle East (Blaker, 2015, p. 1). Social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube do not have complete sanctions that restrict ISIS propaganda from spreading across the world in real time (Blaker, 2015, p. 1). UK surveillance chief, Robert Hannigan, said, “ISIS and other extremist groups use platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to reach their target audience in a language it understands. Their methods include exploiting popular hashtags to disseminate their message” (Blaker, 2015, p. 4).

In 2015, John Greenberg, of the Tampa Bay Times, conducted research which found that each day, there are up to 200,000 pro-ISIS tweets per day (Blaker, 2015, p. 1). This study also counted re-tweets and some that were generated through computer programs (Blaker, 2015, p. 1). Some of these tweets even included death threats to Twitter’s CEO and other Twitter employees (Blaker, 2015, p. 2). According to extremism analyst, J.M. Berger (2015), there were 46,000 Twitter accounts that were owned by supporters of ISIS as of the year 2014. Since then, Twitter has suspended a great number of accounts by ISIS supporters, but the supporters simply create other accounts after suspension (Berger, 2015). As of today, there is estimated to be around 40,000 accounts owned by ISIS supporters, with about 2,000 who primarily tweet in English (Berger, 2015).

One form of social media advertising that ISIS uses that is extremely effective is videos. According to a reporter for TheBlaze, Sara Gonzales (2017), ISIS posted a video this past April that featured a boy who seemed to be around the age of six or seven years old, taking part in a double-beheading. The group increasingly uploads videos that are sophisticated, good quality, and with pictures that contain impressive visual effects (Blaker, 2015, p. 1). They post various videos, each one different from another (Borquaye, 2016, p. 28). The goal is to make a different video that will appeal to each of the demographics that they are trying to reach (Borquaye, 2016, p. 28). Their most significant speeches were uploaded to the Internet in seven languages and the videos they post present similar violent characteristics to those used in Hollywood films (Borquaye, 2016, p. 28). Many of the videos that they publish have music with lyrics that have been translated to English and various other European languages (Blaker, 2015, p. 3). The newest videos that they have published feature English-speaking jihadists (Blaker, 2015, p. 3). Sean Heuston, who teaches English and film studies at The Citadel, has done extensive research on extremist video propaganda (Blaker, 2015, p. 3). He said, ‘“It’s actually surprising how contemporary and hip-looking some of these things are, especially considering the fact that the messages that they are promoting are essentially medieval’” (Blaker, 2015, p. 3).

This sort of recruiting technique has enabled the organization to disperse powerful and emotional images (Farwell, 2014, p. 50). This narrative emphasizes that the strength and dominance of ISIS is increasing, asserting that full control is inevitable (Farwell, 2014, p. 50). Many of these images are intended to portray the organization’s members as fearsome warriors by showing gruesome beheadings and executions that are meant to torment their adversaries (Farwell, 2014, p. 50). However, ISIS also post images that display foot soldiers eating candy bars and holding cats, communicating that although ISIS is strictly Islamic, they also advocate for the welfare of people, and not just killing them (Farwell, 2014, p. 50). As written by Imran Awan (2017), ISIS also portrays the fighters in their videos with a “‘moral conscious’” by showing them helping and protecting civilians (p. 139). A number of their videos feature members visiting fighters in infirmaries and handing out candy to children (Awan, 2017, p. 139). This shows the attempt to showcase the supposed compassionate feature of ISIS.

Additionally, ISIS has developed their own app, which a person could download for free in order to stay updated with current information on the group (Awan, 2017, p. 139). The app was titled “‘The Dawn of Glad Tidings’” (Awan, 2017, p. 139). However, the app was detected and suspended after it (Awan, 2017, p. 139). Once the app was downloaded, users were able to view tweets, links, hashtags, pictures, videos and comments on their own accounts (Awan, 2017, p. 139). The majority of the information on the app was controlled by ISIS’s “social media arm” (Awan, 2017, p. 139).

Dr. Anne Speckhard, Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University, and researcher, Lorand Bodo (2017), conducted a short study, measuring the dissemination of ISIS propaganda on the Internet. The study mainly included observing search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). They based their study on prior research that was gathered from Facebook (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). They used hashtags, keywords and phrases in English and Arabic that were familiar to ISIS members, endorsers, and distributors on social networks (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). As they expected, they found a good number of social network accounts, Internet sites, and forums that were promoting ISIS propaganda (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). Interestingly enough, they found that each one of those sources were connected to the same source, which they called the “Daily Harvester” (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017).

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In this particular situation, the Daily Harvester is referred to as “Abu Abdellah Al-Ifriqi” (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). It is presumed that Abu Abdella is an official representative of ISIS (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). Speckhard and Bodo observed Abu Abdellah over the course of a month, while determining the keywords and phrases that he was using to spread his message (2017). They found four specific stages that surfaced in monitoring his activity (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). First, Abdellah observed official ISIS media channels, like Amaq News Agency and Al-Hayat Media (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). Second, he gathered audio, files, news reports, pictures, and videos, in which he uploaded into one document (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). Third, Abdellah posted documents only to two websites, which were justpaste.it and addpost.it (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). These “‘paste-websites’” permit any person to post a link that may be shared (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). Lastly, he posted the generated link on social networking sites, forums, and various different websites to reach as many individuals as he can, with a wide “compendium” of the latest ISIS propaganda (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017).

However, Abu Abdellah is not the sole Daily Harvester (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). There are many Daily Harvesters, each one as dangerous as the other (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). They are extremely dangerous because they are able to disseminate large quantities of ISIS propaganda, with just a click of a link, which makes it available to anybody (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). Essentially, anybody who is capable of maneuvering Google can attain this information and simply input it into Google Translator to see and read in their own language (Speckhard and Bodo, 2017). Due to the ease of access of this information, it would be hard to stop or even attempt to counteract these methods that ISIS uses to recruit its members.


The goal of ISIS from the beginning was to develop a caliphate, in which they would unite all Muslims to achieve global dominance (Vogel, 2016, p. 1). Thus far, they have taken steps to accomplish that by performing significant acts of violence and making themselves known on the Internet, mainly through social networking sites (Farwell, 2014, p. 49). Popular ways of doing this are creating high-quality videos, and tweeting thousands of times a day from thousands of pro-ISIS Twitter accounts (Berger, 2015). Because of their cleverness and the forms ISIS uses to promote their propaganda, it is not an outrageous thought that total domination could be inevitable (Farwell, 2014, p. 50).


Awan, I. (2017). Cyber-Extremism: Isis and the Power of Social Media. Society, 54(2), 138-148. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs12115-017-0114-0.pdf.

Berger, J. (2015, October 23). Tailored Online Interventions: The Islamic State’s Recruitment Strategy. https://ctc.usma.edu/posts/tailored-online-interventions-the-islamic-states-recruitment-strategy

Blaker, L. (2015). The Islamic State’s Use of Online Social Media. The Journal of the Military Cyber Professionals Association, 1(1), 1-9. http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=mca

Borquaye, A. (2016). Countering the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: Why the West Has it Wrong. JUIS. 2027-34.

Cervone, A., & Peresin, A. (2015). The Western Muhajirat of ISIS. Taylor & Francis, 38(7), 495-509. http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=d6ffa458-1214-4bad-96b5-b4c5c0931508%40sessionmgr102

Cockburn, P. (2015). The rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the new Sunni revolution. London: Verso.

Farwell, J. P. (2014). The Media Strategy of ISIS. Survival (00396338), 56(6), 49-55

Gonzales, S. (2017, April 18). Latest ISIS recruit video shows young school-aged boy participating in execution. http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/04/18/latest-isis-recruit-video-shows-young-school-aged-boy-participating-in-execution/

Speckhard, A., & Bodo, L. (2017, April 23). How ISIS Disseminates Propaganda over the Internet Despite Counter-Measures and How to Fight Back. http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=2494%3Ahow-isis-disseminates-propaganda-over-the-internet-despite-counter-measures-and-how-to-fight-back

Vogel, L. (2016). “Why are Doctors Joining ISIS?”. Canadian Medical Association.  http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2016/01/11/cmaj.109-5217.full.pdf


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