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Fears Loom of Young Israeli Arabs Lured to Jihad

Fears Loom of Young Israeli Arabs Lured to Jihad
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Governments worldwide are trying to stop their young people from being recruited by the so-called Islamic State and other jihadist groups to fight in Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones. Israel is no exception.

Abu Ahmed Musallam and his family still grieve for his son, Mohammed, killed last month in Syria.

Mohammed was shown in Internet videos being executed by Islamic State militants, known locally as Daesh. A separate video showed him confessing to working for the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.

The Musallams live in a mixed Jewish-Muslim neighborhood in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem. Abu Ahmed Musallam, a driver for the local bus company, said he vividly remembers the moment he was shown the video, released online March 10.

"I started hitting myself. I started weeping. I started screaming," he recalled, sobbing and waving his hands. "They came and put water on me. I almost fainted."

Pointing to photographs on the wall of a clean-cut, clean-shaven young man, Abu Ahmed said his son was an ambitious 19-year-old who did well in school. The second of four sons, Mohammed had volunteered for the local fire department and hoped to make a career in computer sciences.

He had a good heart, his father recalls. He was upset over the conflict last summer between Israel and Hamas-led militants in Gaza in which more than 2,200 were killed.

Mohammed visited a local hospital and gave all of his pocket money to wounded children there. And he came home and asked family members for additional cash to donate.

Gaza conflict changed attitude

The war changed him, said his father. He began viewing jihadist websites and posted comments on them, according to a younger brother.

In October, he disappeared after telling his parents he was making a two-day trip to central Israel for a training program.

He was lured, Musallam said, by false promises from the Islamic State recruiters.

"Mohammed was not a political person,” Musallam said. “Basically, he was seduced into going to ISIS by promises of women, cars and money. He thought it would take him 20 years in Israel to get what he would make in one year with Daesh."

About 30 Israeli Arabs have gone to Syria to fight for Islamist groups. Four who returned are in Israeli prisons. Several Palestinians from Gaza have also been killed after joining the jihadists.

The elder Musallam has denied his son was a spy, saying the young man otherwise would not have traveled to Syria on an Israeli passport.

Son allegedly was ready to return

He said a few months ago, Mohammed called to say he was disillusioned with the jihadists and wanted to come home. He sent his son money through a middleman in Egypt.

About a month later, he received a call from a friend of Mohammed's who said his son had been imprisoned by the militants in Syria.

Musallam believes Mohammed knew too much and when he tried to leave, the militants forced him to make a false confession. Musallam thinks others suffer a similar fate, he said.

"I expect that not just Mohammed but anyone who goes to Daesh and gets trained there and gets to know their system will be killed like him," he said.

Failed by society?

Young people are drawn to the jihadists because of their own societies’ failures, says the director of East Jerusalem’s Passia research organization, Mahdi Abdul-Hadi.

"There's a crisis of identity among the youth, and there's a crisis of a system which can't provide this youth with the facilities of work and accommodation" and opportunity, Abdul-Hadi said. "This you can find everywhere. Palestinians and Arabs are not an exception."

Mohammed’s father says the whole world needs to work to save families from grief like his. He called for a worldwide campaign against people who use religion and false promises to lure young people into banditry and murder. He said he and his three remaining sons are ready to join that fight.