Social Media Fueling Recruitment of Saudi Freedom Fighters

Saudi Foreign Fighters: Analysis of Leaked Islamic State Entry Documents is an examination of documents that were leaked to various media outlets and academic institutions in 2016 regarding the profiles of foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) recruited to the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. This study specifically examines the recruitment of fighters from Saudi Arabia.

In this report the biographical and socioeconomic information for 759 FTF recruited from Saudi Arabia were examined and compared to two prior studies that also examined Saudi jihadism: Jihad in Saudi Arabia by Thomas Hegghammer and, Bombers, Bank Accounts & Bleedouts from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTCWP).

The demographics examined in this study were age, marital status, number of children, region of origin in Saudi Arabia, previous experience outside of Saudi Arabia, education level and discipline of expertise/education, religiosity, and previous occupation. Saudi FTF are neither predominantly privileged or underprivileged but come from a variety of backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. Jihadists were not particularly religious at time of recruitment.

This data paints a picture of the average Saudi IS jihadist as a young and inexperienced fighter, part of a new generation of Saudi jihadists who have been radicalised in response to new sets of events and circumstances and are part of newly-formed radical social groups and networks.

The study concludes that social media is largely responsible for the recruitment of new jihadists to IS:

[The] role of the Internet, in particular social media, in making foreign opportunities for jihad more strongly vivid to young people cannot be overstated. It has enabled interaction, communication, and mobilisation in a way that was not previously possible.

Countering the movement of FTFs into IS will require tactics that address the new ways in which radicalization is accomplished.


Some of the links in this document require institutional access to view, read the full report here. Read the full CTCWP report here.

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