National Opinions

Cyber-jihadism's tactic: the lure of romance

The last leg on the road to jihad began with a day of ditching school.

Instead of heading to the mall as many truants would, three teenage girls from the suburbs of Denver boarded a flight to Germany. They took their passports and $2,000 in cash swiped from parents. The only clue they left was a trail of tweets asking friends to pray for them and mentioning plans to fly on to Turkey.

By the time the girls got to Frankfurt, their parents had alerted the authorities, and German police were on hand to send them back to Denver. The girls were returned to their parents, and no charges have been filed, although authorities are still investigating.

The question many are asking — no doubt including the FBI — is how this odyssey began, how two sisters and a friend from their high school, were recruited to venture across the world to join the Islamic State.

One expert quoted by the Associated Press said the girls were likely lured by "Disney-like" fantasy tales of new lives. Their seducers likely also preyed on typical teenage anxieties about fitting in with peers.

The Denver Post reported that one of the girls tweeted, "I started to notice the people I called 'friends' weren't my true friends." In any other context, that would sound like garden-variety teen angst.

It's likely that this story would have gotten the 24-7 CNN treatment if another terrorist recruit hadn't upped the ante, with bloodshed. A masked gunman in Canada, a convert to Islam, murdered a solider and then began shooting in the nation's Parliament in Ottawa. He was shot dead by the Canadian sergeant-at-arms before more people were harmed.

So Canada found itself where the U.S. has been slowly shifting for several years: fearing its own.

The three Denver-area teenagers also signal a new reality that has been building for years, darkly aided by the Internet. In September, a Denver 19-year-old woman pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaida and the Islamic State. She also had been heading to Syria to marry a man she met online.

American cities with large East African immigrant communities have also seen their share of young men being recruited to join Islamic extremists. But the most chilling twist in the new cyber jihadism, though, is actually the oldest trick in the book: targeting young girls with the lure of false romance.

The Denver-area girls were two sisters of Somali descent, and their friend reportedly of Sudanese descent. Authorities do not believe that they had been radicalized. They were simply young and vulnerable. As scary as the outcome could have been for the Denver teens, it's instructive to remember what stopped them and got them home: intervention by parents and other responsible adults. Family and friends — the girls' inner circle — knew to call police. And they did. The saga stopped before they wound up brides to terrorists.

The Kansas City Star