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Orlando Shootings Illustrate IS Potential to Radicalize From Afar

FILE - A logo of Twitter and an Islamic State flag are seen in an illustration, Feb. 18, 2016. Radicals in the West "use colleges, mosques, media outlets and social media sites to radicalize people,” one researcher on Islamic militancy in the Middle East and North Africa says.

In pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group while in the midst of his deadly shooting spree in Orlando, Florida, Omar Mateen was displaying the radical terrorist organization's worldview..

And that, analysts said, is what sets IS apart from terrorist organizations of the past. IS philosophy, readily available on the internet, has become ingrained in thousands of jihadists worldwide. And even if there is no direct contact with IS — as was apparently the case with Mateen — the dangerous ideology can fuel waves of terrorism.

IS “is a political carrier of an ideology that has existed in Islam for centuries,” said Ahed al-Hendi, a Washington-based Middle East analyst.

He said IS has been effective in spreading that extreme ideology through a persuasive narrative to which many jihadists can relate.

“What makes Daesh different from any other terrorist organization is that it has declared an Islamic caliphate,” al-Hendi told VOA, using another term for the militant organization, which is also known as ISIL and ISIS. “This has attracted many Muslims, even those who don’t fully agree with the group’s actions.”

Controlling large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq and finding footholds elsewhere in the region, IS has been able to differentiate itself from other terror groups by its style of governance that many sympathizers find ideal for their vision of an Islamic state, analysts said.

Despite recent territorial losses as a result of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, IS has continued to gain traction on the internet, and support for the group has increased around the world.

Cost of freedom

“Radical individuals in many Western countries enjoy a large degree of autonomy and freedom of movement,” said Houzan Mahmoud, a London researcher on Islamic militancy in the Middle East and North Africa.

She told VOA that governments and intelligence agencies need to take more preventive measures to be ready for the unpredictable.

“Radicals [in the West] are allowed to utilize all platforms to spread their ideology,” she said. “They use colleges, mosques, media outlets and social media sites to radicalize people.”

Earlier this month, a group of international academic figures and terrorism experts met in Paris to discuss trends of radicalism in light of recent IS-inspired terror attacks in Europe.

“We need to come to a consensus that radicalization is a threat to the entire global community,” said Adel Bakawan of the University of Évry Val d'Essonne in France, who presented a paper at the three-day conference.

He said radicalization comes in different forms and varies from one country to another.

“Radicalization in America is different from that of Europe,” he told VOA, adding that Middle East jihadism “is from a different caliber.”

IS has been successful in understanding these variations and exploiting local trends in each country for its own agendas, analysts said.

“Glorifying the caliphate and its fighters has been an essential tool of [IS] to recruit and mobilize extremists,” said analyst al-Hendi.