Embrace of ISIS On-line: Washington:
When a lonely Virginia teenager named Ali Amin got curious about the Islamic State last year and went online to learn more, he found a virtual community awaiting. It had its own peculiar language, stirring imagery and just the warm camaraderie, sense of adventure and devotion to a cause that were missing from his dull suburban life. At 17, the precocious son of a Yemeni immigrant family, he quickly developed online relationships with older Islamic State supporters around the globe. There was Zubair in Britain, Uthman in South Africa and Abdullah in Finland, who urged him to start a Twitter account under the name AmreekiWitness, or American witness. Amin drew several thousand followers, sparred online with the State Department, engaged with prominent Islamic State propagandists and developed quite a name among English-speaking fans of the militants – until his arrest in March.
But all, or nearly all, had spent hours on the Internet trumpeting their feelings about the Islamic State and engaging with English speakers from many other countries. In fact, nearly all were arrested after their online posts drew the attention of the FBI.
Curious Web surfers can easily recognize the distinctive iconography that Islamic State supporters embrace. The black flag used by many jihadist groups, often inscribed in white with the Shahada, or Islamic creed, is popular. Portraits of jihadist heroes, notably the American al-Qaida propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, are regularly featured. Green birds, a symbol of paradise, and lions, a reference to warriors as “lions of Allah,” are favorites. Keonna Thomas, 30, a Philadelphia mother charged this year with trying to join the Islamic State, posted on Twitter as YoungLioness.
Law enforcement officials say one advantage has been that many of those who go online to cheer on the Islamic State have been astonishingly indiscreet. Abdurasul Juraboev, 24, a New York City man who worked in a gyro shop and was arrested in February, had posted on a pro-Islamic State website that he wished he could join the group abroad. But he wondered whether there were other ways to contribute, writing, “What I’m saying is, to shoot Obama and then get shot ourselves, will it do?” He lamented that he had no weapons.