Recruiting Jihadist Militants: A Changing Dynamic

Mujahideen crossing in from Pakistan border to fight in Afghanistan in 1985. Image credit: Erwin Franzen/Wikimedia Commons.

The nature of jihadist recruiting has changed. Utilizing data on jihadist fighters coming from Turkey, Güneş Murat Tezcür and I find that the individuals who join violent Salafi jihadist organizations lack the theological training and political activism prevalent in recruits from past jihadi conflicts. Additionally, we find that these characteristics are even stronger for recruits who join the Islamic State. Our findings suggest that the Islamic State’s nation-building project taps into a more identarian recruitment strategy that incites anger at injustices suffered by the global Muslim community. Because Islamic State recruits are much less knowledgeable about Islam, they are also ill-equipped to challenge their leadership’s policies that contravene Islamic law. This factor has allowed the Islamic State to employ greater levels of violence compared to other Islamist groups.

These results suggest that modern jihadist recruits are more difficult to identify. They are unlikely to call attention to themselves or to display the superficial markers used in profiling potential Salafi extremists. A better approach may be to decrease the feasibility for potential recruits to travel to conflict areas to begin with.

To learn more about our study, you can read a recent essay, “The Generational Waves of Jihadist Foreign Fighters,” on the Sustainable Security blog. The full research article published in Conflict Management and Peace Science is available on the Sage journals website.