New young informants needed to tackle violent extremism

Counter-terrorism officials say extremist groups are targeting the young in recruitment drives

PORTLAND, OREGON, USA - JULY 24: The 'Boogaloo Bois', an armed libertarian group, dress in their signature Hawaiian shirts during a protest on 24, 2020 in Portland, United States. Thousands of people, including mothers, lawyers, health-care workers, and veterans demonstrated in Portland, Oregon on July 24, 2020 for racial justice, and against Donald Trumpâs insertion of Federal officers into Portland, Oregon. (Photo by John Rudoff/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Police and intelligence agencies need to recruit youthful informants to tackle the violent extremists who are increasingly targeting young people, according to a new report.

Extremist groups have focused on signing up younger, technologically astute activists to run their online campaigns and new methods are needed to counter them, the guide for police and prosecutors says.

More informants are needed to work out how groups operate so they can successfully move against them.

“In order to successfully use human sources, whether operating online or in person … intelligence agencies should carefully and appropriately tailor collection plans to account for the diverse nature of this extremist milieu,” the report said.

“Due to … networks’ increasingly youthful demographic make-up, there is a need to identify and recruit appropriately aged HUMINT [human intelligence] sources.”

The guide to tackling extremism by experts from 20 countries said the past decade had seen a demographic shift to a younger membership within extremist groups.

It says the nature of the recruitment increases the risk that adolescents and vulnerable people, including those with mental health issues, will be exploited.

The UN’s counterterrorism committee has previously reported that extremist groups are using online games to secure new recruits.

A number of other attackers operating on their own have been identified as “incels” — involuntary celibate men with a grudge against women — who pose another potential driver of radicalisation to violence.

“Taken together, these dynamics present real challenges for law enforcement, both in identifying such recruitment at an early stage and in determining how to intervene appropriately and effectively,” the report said.

Targeting the young has been “particularly effective” online as recruiters exploit “underlying violent tendencies” of young extremists. The report said a sense of adventure and belonging is more important than ideology.

It cited the case of Benjamin Teeter — a former member of the Boogaloo Bois, an anti-government far-right populist movement — who pleaded guilty in the US after seeking to become a Hamas “mercenary” to raise money for his own group.

The report said that one of Italy’s first foreign terrorist fighters also started life as an extreme right-winger before joining an Islamic militant group.

In Britain, under-18s bucked the trend of decreasing counter-terrorism arrests in the year to March 2021. Britain's most senior counter-terrorism officer, Neil Basu, told MPs last year that children as young as 13 were starting to talk about committing terrorist acts.

The report was produced by the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law, which brings together 14 countries and organisations, including the UK, US, Kuwait, Turkey and Tunisia.

The Malta-based organisation, founded in 2014, is designed to help the criminal justice system to share best practices in counter-terrorism operations.

Updated: July 14th 2021, 1:31 PM