Policy Brief

December 23, 2016

Beyond Closing Mosques and Shutting Down Facebook Pages

How Tunisia Can Address the Threat of Online and Offline Terrorist Recruitment

Tunisian nationals make up the largest number of foreign fighters affiliated with ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. ISIS is highly effective at using sophisticated online propaganda strategies to target young Tunisians. The government's fight against online and offline terrorist recruitment should include not only monitoring content that incites violence but also more constructive measures such as using social media to encourage civic engagement and bringing crowdsourcing to policy making.

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Seifeddine Rezgui was a 23-year-old engineering student, clean-shaven and fond of football and break dancing . He had never travelled abroad. He was also the gunman behind the deadliest terrorist attack in Tunisian modern history, which left 39 tourists and himself dead at a seaside resort in Sousse in the summer of 2015. According to his shocked family and friends, Rezugi had previously expressed no interest in politics or religion and never showed signs of religious extremism. According to media reports, however, Rezugi was an avid user of social media. Directly before the attack, he shared a number of posts pledging allegiance to ISIS on his Facebook account.

How did ISIS manage to successfully recruit a person as ordinary as Rezugi and convince him to commit a terrorist attack on such a scale? There are a plethora of reasons why Tunisian men and women flock to join ISIS at home and abroad. Regardless of their diverse motivations, ISIS has shown itself to be highly effective at recruiting foreign and local fighters across borders, using sleek online propaganda and social media platforms.

In Rezugi’s case, there is no evidence that he was in fact recruited online by ISIS, though he did make use of social media platforms. Nevertheless the threat of online recruitment and radicalization by Islamist terrorist groups remains very high. ISIS is one of the biggest threats to Tunisia’s stability and democratic consolidation as it is getting a stronger hold over parts of neighboring Libya. Following the attack in Sousse, the Tunisian government called for a “war on terror” and urged the international community to cooperate on a global response to the threat of ISIS. It passed a strong anti-terror law and promised to close in two weeks as many as eighty mosques whose imams were suspected of radicalizing local youths. What the response lacked was a set of robust comprehensive measures to fight the online – and offline – recruitment efforts of ISIS

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Bibliographic data

DGAPkompakt 24 (December 2016), 5 pp.

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