Telly Nathalia, Jakarta – Terrorist groups have found a cheaper way to recruit militants: through encrypted chat rooms on text-messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp, a terrorism expert said in Jakarta on Wednesday.
The Islamic State and its affiliates have been using Telegram to spread their doctrines and ideology, as well manuals on bomb-making and how to launch a terrorist attack, according to Salahudin, a researcher from University of Indonesia's Study Center on Terrorism and Social Conflict.
Text-messaging apps and social media platforms are an effective place to spread the terrorist group's propaganda since they cost almost nothing, allow them to overcome geographical boundaries and are super secure since messages can be encrypted, he said.
"After less than one year [of communicating in chat rooms], new recruits are able to launch an attack," Salahudin said during a short course on terrorism reporting held by the Alliance for a Peaceful Indonesia in Jakarta.
In the past, using traditional recruitment method, radical organizations like the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jamaah Islamiyah would spend at least five to ten years to radicalize their recruits before they could be considered ready to launch an attack, Salahudin said.
But now, as the expert pointed out, someone like A.K., a female terrorist who was arrested in August 2017 in Bandung, could be radicalized within less than four months after receiving instructions from almost 60 chat rooms on Telegram.
IS and its affiliates reportedly have around 60 to 70 chat rooms on Telegram that they use to radicalize new recruits. By Salahudin's calculation, joining even just five chat rooms will get you 500 messages filled with extremist propaganda every day.
Targeting female militants
IS deliberately targets women in these chatrooms to be recruited as fighters, Salahudin said. The old narrative that women were simply the victims of their terrorist husbands, that they were being used for "reproduction," no longer holds.
Terrorist groups now favor female militants because they are more skillful at avoiding detection, offer moral support for male fighters and can be used in propaganda since they tend to attract more media attention.
According to Salahudin, female militants are often lauded for their steeliness. For example, in March, the wife of terror suspect Abu Hamzah chose to detonate a bomb that killed her instantly along with her children in Sibolga, North Sumatra, rather than being captured by the police.