5 phases involved in the recruitment to global terrorist groups

In light of the unfolding story about a Capetonian teenager’s attempt to board a flight to join terrorist organisation Isis, Director of the Institute for Security Studies Jakkie Cilliers explores how terrorist groups recruit new members.

There is quite a well orchestrated campaign from the recruitment side of terrorist organisations.

Cartoon by Dr Jack & Curtis. Originally appeared on EWN 08/04/2015.

Recruitment is a long and complicated process

According to Cilliers each individual recruitment story is different and nuanced. However, generally, there are various phases involved in recruiting individuals to radical causes. These phases include the following:

  • 1. The awareness phase: This is when an individual has the cause or movement brought to their attention.

  • 2. The identification phase: This is when an individual begins to identify with the ideologies of a group and develops a sense of belonging.

  • 3. The engagement phase: This is when the individual begins to engage in the political discourse. They start communicating and corresponding on the issues, often using digital technology.

  • 4. The reinforcement phase: This is the point at which the individual feels validated and taps into virtual collective of like-minded thinking. This, according to Cilliers, is an accelerator of radical ideology.

  • 5. The action phase: This is when the individuals behaviour begins to change and their thoughts are translated into action and other efforts.

The purpose of global terrorism is to create divides and othering. And the answer to terrorism is not retribution; it is to find a way of inclusion and bringing all societies together, because that is the counter ideology to the kind destructive radicalism we see globally.

Media unwittingly provide publicity to terrorist groups

Cilliers says that the media form “hype” around such groups and their attacks, which in turn can create attraction. He says that media unwittingly create a particular image and profile that is instrumental in giving publicity to the global terrorist’s movements.

Aside from the news institutions, the terrorist recruiters are also popularised by the use of tools such as blogs, online forums and social networks, watching for potential recruits. He advises that the privacy of this propaganda is well-managed by digital technology.

Romanticism and emotional appeal

Cilliers says that terrorists groups appeal to the need for belonging, the strong search for meaning and a sense of identity. He says the hook is to present reality in a very simplistic and binary-based manner; mainly as good versus evil.

Listen to the full conversation on the Redi Tlhabi Show below:

Also listen to 702's Xolani Gwala in conversation with Jasmine Opperman, director at the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium:


This article first appeared on 702 : 5 phases involved in the recruitment to global terrorist groups


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