Politicians, government officials, and the media are often quick to describe the recent murderous attacks in Europe and America as the work of individuals who either commit violence for largely personal reasons or are inspired by reading jihadist propaganda online. In truth, argues Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, most have been recruited by Islamic State (IS) and have received operational assistance:
Jihadists plotting murders in the West used to congregate in person, meeting in small groups in underground mosques, houses, or other discreet locations. Radicalization occurred through in-person contact. Counterterrorism officials looked for physical hubs of recruitment, tapping phones and scanning videos for evidence that cells were meeting.
But with the social-media boom and the growth in encrypted communications, [both] radicalization and operational planning can easily take place entirely online. IS has capitalized on [developing] communications technologies, building cohesive online communities that foster a sense of “remote intimacy” and thus facilitate radicalization. The group has also established a team of “virtual planners” who use the Internet to identify recruits and to coordinate and direct attacks, often without meeting the perpetrators in person. [For instance], Junaid Hussain, a British IS operative who was killed in August 2015, played the role of virtual planner for the May 2015 strike against the “draw Mohammed ” contest in Garland, Texas.