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Feds Worry ISIS Recruiters Will Turn Young Americans Against U.S.

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Feds Worry ISIS Recruiters Will Turn Young Americans Against U.S.

Middle East

Feds Worry ISIS Recruiters Will Turn Young Americans Against U.S.

Feds Worry ISIS Recruiters Will Turn Young Americans Against U.S.

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Moahmed Elibiary, who specializes in de-radicalization, is trying to stop young Americans from being recruited online by Islamist militants. He talks to Steve Inskeep about his strategy.


Next, we'll meet a man whose job is to talk young Americans out of their support for ISIS.


The radical group has attracted a small number of Americans to fight and, in some cases, to die in Syria and Iraq. Other young people have been arrested in the U.S.

INSKEEP: And when that happens, many young people end up talking with Mohamed ELIBIARY. He's a specialist in de-radicalization. He worked for the U.S. government and for public defenders. He says some young Muslims are attracted on the Internet to the idea of defending Islam in the Middle East.

MOHAMED ELIBIARY: And when I walk them through, you know - once you land off the plane in Beirut or in Turkey and people are bringing you across the border - what life is like in these training camps that, essentially, are to steer you towards becoming a suicide bomber. It's kind of a wake-up for a lot of these kids.

INSKEEP: You're saying that when they get over there, as best as you can tell, they may be sent to their deaths just to prove how loyal they are?

ELIBIARY: That's right. 'Cause I mean, as soon as they land there they're going to be asked well how committed are you? And you're coming from America on top of it. Somebody's going to accuse them of being a potential American spy. And they're going to have to kind of go out of their way to prove that they're not. So they're kind of like fresh fish that show up.

INSKEEP: The young people who have gotten caught in these situations, do they seem like otherwise normal young people to you?

ELIBIARY: Absolutely. I've often wondered how much of a difference their utopian future is from a lot of the young Americans who went off pre-World War II, leftist Americans, who went to Spain to fight mid-Civil War for an idealized Socialist Republic. And the government, in most of these investigations, has not really brought charges against them; that they currently were involved in a plot to target the homeland. It is actually that they were attempting to provide material support in the form of themselves to a designated terrorist organization.

INSKEEP: So are the young people you've met who have been in some way attracted to ISIS dangerous to the United States?

ELIBIARY: At the moment, no. But a lot of the government's concerns is actually looking over the horizon. As these individuals travel overseas, what we've seen in previous waves is that recruiters overseas have been able to turn them around and give them a whole new mission set than what they originally went overseas to do. If you're catching them early enough, they're not really a threat, at the moment, to the US homeland.

INSKEEP: When you talk to young people, what is one thing - if there is just one thing - that you can do that points them in another direction?

ELIBIARY: That's very tough question to answer because, just like their radicalization pathway has been an individual journey, they're de-radicalization pathway is also an individual journey. For some of these kids it's actually getting to think about what's going to happen to their parents.

INSKEEP: Meaning, when they turn up as a jihadist in Syria, they're whole family will come under suspicion?

ELIBIARY: Absolutely. Or that, you know, their parents had worked all their lives to maintain a certain social status. That would be kind of destroyed if they're raised by a single mother; feeling like they betrayed that mother that stuck around and helped raise them, while their father had left their lives much earlier.

INSKEEP: So it sounds like the first step, the universal step, is listen? Figure out what they're story is?

ELIBIARY: Absolutely. I spent many, many hours going through thousands of social media pages, and do a fairly wide assessment of the individual, before I actually advise a pathway to bring them back. For a lot of these kids, the reason they're so gullible is because they're actually wanting to help others. They're inclined to self-sacrifice for Muslims they've never met in Syria just because those people share their religious identity. So you try to use that desire to want to help others to get them to want to help somebody else.

INSKEEP: Mohamed Elibiary, thank you very much.

ELIBIARY: You're very welcome.

INSKEEP: He is the founder of Lone Star Intelligence.

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