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UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

  • Margaret Besheer

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security.

Experts say thousands of young men and women are drawn to violent armed groups by promises of adventure and building a new world order where they will have power and significance. But the reality is much darker.

At the Security Council debate, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power warned that terrorist groups, such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State, are showing increased sophistication in recruiting young people, especially on the Internet, where the group puts out 90,000 tweets each day.

“The reality is that we are being outspent, outflanked, and out-innovated by terrorist groups intent on recruiting new young members,” she said. “We have to catch up - for their welfare, and for our collective security.”

Feelings of disenfranchisement

Peter Neumann, director of the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization told the council there are some 4,000 European fighters in Syria and Iraq. He said many of them feel disenfranchised from Western society.

“And if you don’t feel you belong, if you don’t feel you’re part of your society, it becomes easier to leave - and it becomes easier to hate, it becomes easier to go against the very society whose passport you hold and whose language you speak,” said Neumann.

Many of these young people make their way to the region to join the ranks of the Islamic State.

Anthropologist Scott Atran recently interviewed young men in northern Iraq who had been a part of that group.

“They knew nothing of the Quran or Hadith, or of the early Caliphs Omar and Othman, but had learned of Islam from al-Qaida and ISIS propaganda,” he said.

In Africa, poverty, unemployment and conflict have attracted young people to Boko Haram, al-Shabab and other militant groups. They have terrorized and kidnapped civilians - including scores of school girls in northern Nigeria - and recently massacred 148 students at Garissa University in Kenya.

Neumann told the council there are many things society should be doing - empowering parents, creating de-radicalization programs, challenging extremist ideas on the Internet and working on creating more inclusive societies.

The Security Council presidency is held by Jordan this month, and the kingdom’s 20-year old Crown Prince chaired Thursday’s debate. Prince Hussein bin Abdullah said that while youth are most susceptible to radicalization, they can also be part of the solution. He said Jordan is ready to host an international conference on the role of young people in combating extremism and terrorism.

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