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Violent Extremism, Propaganda and Child Recruitment Tactics: Somalia and Minnesota

Cecilia Polizzi

/ Briefing Note

This report delves into the use of the internet for terrorism purposes, shedding light on evolving tactics and the impact of external factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Internet-based propaganda is shown to be a powerful tool for promoting violence and radical ideologies. This has facilitated a shift from hierarchical structures to leaderless models, promoting violent acts without conventional command structures.

The report underscores that the internet's reach is particularly effective in recruiting minors, who form a substantial user base. A key concern is the challenge of countering online propaganda and its appeal to vulnerable populations. The report calls for a nuanced approach that addresses the psychological manipulation inherent in terrorist messaging, aiming to equip children and youth with critical thinking skills to resist these messages. An education-centric strategy is advocated, starting at an early age to ensure children understand the intent behind terrorist propaganda and the implications of violence.

The report highlights the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on terrorism-related activities. The lockdowns have led to increased unsupervised internet usage among youth, enabling terrorists to expand their outreach and recruitment efforts. Instances of terrorist groups deliberately leveraging the pandemic for their goals are detailed. Notably, Boko Haram's attempt to shift blame for COVID-19 illustrates the adaptability of terrorist narratives to fit prevailing circumstances.

The case study of the Somali-American community in Minnesota reveals the complex interplay between terrorism, counter-terrorism, and community dynamics. The internet's role in indoctrination within this community is emphasized. The report emphasizes that terrorism's impact extends beyond individuals, stigmatizing entire communities. It underscores the importance of community involvement in designing counter-terrorism strategies to avoid one-sidedness and alienation.

The report also delves into the role of civil society in Somalia's context. The rise in child recruitment by al-Shabaab is explored, highlighting the dual challenges faced by civil society organizations. These organizations, while vital in service delivery, operate under significant risk. The tension between external support and local solutions, especially in the clan-based societal structure, is emphasized. Balancing military presence with community-driven protection and diplomacy is seen as crucial.

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Shaping Futures

@2023 CRTG Working Group

New York City

Working Group on Children Recruited 

by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups Corp. 

EIN 30:1232924

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