Jihadi Cool: Terrorist Recruiters' Latest Weapon Experts are trying to understand why so many terrorism cases have surfaced in recent months. One explanation has less to do with religion than with adventure. The latest wave of jihadists traveling to Pakistan and elsewhere for training may have been motivated by a sense of jihadi cool.
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Jihadi Cool: Terrorist Recruiters' Latest Weapon

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Jihadi Cool: Terrorist Recruiters' Latest Weapon

Jihadi Cool: Terrorist Recruiters' Latest Weapon

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And as U.S. law enforcement officials combat would-be terrorists, they are trying to understand why there have been so many cases recently. The explanation may have less to do with religion than with adventure. Just consider the recent case of Jihad Jane.

Colleen LaRose, a woman in her 40s, called herself Jihad Jane in Internet chat rooms. But officials say she isn't connected to a mosque. And even her live-in boyfriend didn't know she was a Muslim. As NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, Jihad Jane may be just the latest example of a growing trend.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: It used to be that jihadi recruitment videos opened with a call to prayer and readings from the Koran. These days they're decidedly less religious.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Men: (Singing) These angels in green. These angels in green. Helping the mujahideen.

RASTON: If you type jihadi rap video into any Internet search engine you'll find dozens of videos like this one.

Unidentified Men: (Singing) ...in red, chopping off a copper's head. Yo, fellow. I seem to see the angel in yellow.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The productions are clearly aimed at young people nursing resentments and looking for thrills.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: I got a wild move. Here come the angels in the blue.

TEMPLE-RASTON: This song is a soundtrack to a video that alternates between showing photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and holy warriors firing rocket-propelled grenades and shooting up cars with machine guns.

Intelligence officials say videos like these are aimed at people eager to sign up for the adventure of jihad, without having to worry about all the rigors of religion.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Human Rights Lawyer; Former National Legal Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations): What I think we're seeing is sort of what I like to term a new generation of lazy Muslims.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Arsalan Iftikhar is a human rights lawyer and the former national legal director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: People who might not be theologically devout or have a sound foundation, but those who are using the new jihadi cool to try and justify their criminal acts of terrorism.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Experts who study these kinds of movements say that religion may be the initial motivation. But in the fullness of time, it becomes less important. Consider the case of the two dozen young Somalis from Minneapolis who joined a militant group a couple of years ago.

Initially, investigators say recruiters used a religious pitch. Ethiopians who were largely Christian had invaded Somalia, a Muslim country. The young Minnesotans were told it was their duty, both as Somalis and Muslims to go to Somalia and fight there.

When the Ethiopian troops withdrew, FBI officials say the pitch changed. Recruiters said that going to Somalia would be, in their words, fun. The young men would get to shoot guns. They would become jihad warriors. It would be cool.

Christine Fair is a professor at Georgetown University who's an expert in these kinds of religious movements. She says jihad chic is not so unusual.

Professor CHRISTINE FAIR (Georgetown University): We have ethnographies where they actually ask militants: What drew you to this movement? The top three answers were motorcycles, guns and access to women. You had to go down pretty far on the list to get to the religious motivation.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And Internet makes this all infinitely easier. People who might not have even considered becoming a Muslim, much less turning to jihad, can do both with just the click of a mouse. That's what officials think happened with Jihad Jane. Signing up for a holy war was something that attracted a lonely woman. It gave her something to belong to.

Prof. FAIR: Just putting my human hat on, I don't think it's remotely remarkable that Jihad Jane happened.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Again, Georgetown's Christine Fair.

Prof. FAIR: In fact, if you sort of think about the way in which misfits - I'm a social misfit, so I feel somewhat comfortable saying this - this is like the best places for social misfits to reside. They can be whoever they want to be. And so I'm just surprised we haven't had more Jihad Janes.

TEMPLE-RASTON: This is not to minimize what's going on. Last year was the busiest year for American counterterrorism officials since the 9/11 attacks. And FBI Director Robert Mueller says the Internet is partly to blame.

He says it not only radicalizes young Muslims but helps connect them to organizations that launch attacks. Jihad cool may be a different motivation for taking up arms, but it isn't necessarily any less lethal.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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