23/05/2016 5:22 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST

Radical Approach: How Islamic State Exploits Young People

How Islamic State exploits Maslow's hierarchy of needs to exploit you.

Islamic State uses social media to appeal to potential supporters.

Islamic State Terrorists employ the same techniques as online sex predators to ingratiate themselves with and exploit potential youthful supporters, an Australian counter-terrorism expert said.

Professor Greg Barton, with colleague Dr Clarke Jones, will on Monday launch the world's first comprehensive web archive of scientific knowledge about radicalisation and terrorism at Deakin University.

The co-directors of the Australian Intervention and Support Hub (AISH) hope the database will help answer the question, 'What do we really know about terrorism and radicalisation?'

IS is as successful as it is because it responds to real human need and it fills those needs.

Barton likens Islamic State's approach to potential supporters to that of an online sex predator, in that they ingratiate themselves and appear friendly and concerned.

"It's best to break it down and think about trying to prevent radicalisation and understanding that radicalisation, particularly with Islamic state, is kind of like recruitment," he said.

"On one level, it's like recruitment into a religious cult, but it also uses the techniques of sexual predation and the technology of social media.

"You have all of those attempts to ingratiate with people, win their confidence, groom them -- sometimes it's people they know physically, but sometimes it's people they've met because they asked a question in an online forum. We need to spot that early, interrupt it."

How? Think of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. IS appears to different people in different ways, and creates peer networks peer networks and uses friendship to deadly effect.

"That's what Islamic state offers in the first instance," Barton said.

"If you're a Sunni family in northern Iraq and Syria, you have a need for security and well being and IS stepped in and provided that.

"If you're a kid in Sydney or Melbourne the need for friendship, belonging, for being esteemed, for being part of a larger team and having purpose..."


The counter-terrorism expert likened the techniques to multi-level marketing, whereby IS recruiters latch on to an individual and try to get them to approach family and friends.

"They see a kid ask a question, they latch on to that kid... and they strike a friendship, build confidence and engage with them and then they try and win them over with their ideas and move onto their friends," he said.

On one level, it's like recruitment into a religious cult, but it also uses the techniques of sexual predation and the techniques of social media.

Barton is not a fan of the term deradicalisation. He wants it stopped before radicalisation happens.

Deradicalisation programs, currently run in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police, use strategies such as mentoring, vocational training and religious instruction and to turn young people away from violent extremism.

Programs such as these have come under increased scrutiny since it was revealed an 18-year-old Sydney man recently ­arrested for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack was asked, but refused, to join a deradicalisation program.

Just a month before, a 16 year old boy from suburban Sydney — who reportedly had no criminal record -- was charged with planning or preparing to commit a terrorist act.

Radicalisation, particularly with Islamic state, is kind of like recruitment

Australia's spy chief Duncan Lewis told a Senate Estimates Committee in February almost 200 Australians were actively supporting the terrorist group Islamic State at home, while 110 were overseas fighting in the conflict.

"The demographic is young. If I was talking to you a couple of years ago typically we would have been talking about people in their late 20s, early 30s," he said.

"By the start or middle of last year we were ... down to the teens."

ISIS supporters seek out teens and try to win their confidence, essentially grooming them after finding them on online forums.

"I think we need to try and spot that very early when it happens and accept some times when we move in we have a problem that is bigger and badder than we wished," Barton said.


He used the example of Neil Prakash, Australia's most wanted terrorist before he died earlier this year.

Prakash was reportedly involved in foiled terror plots on last year's and this year's Anzac Day commemorations, and he also reportedly had some influence on Numan Haider, the 18-year-old who was killed after stabbing two police officers in Melbourne in 2014.

So how do you start combating the ideas before they take root?

It isn't an obvious fight. At least, what you're fighting isn't what you think, said Barton.

When you think of an angry youth and a potential terrorist, your mind may conjure notions of rage and ideology powering the push into radicalisation.

Counterintuitively, neither are the main issues.

"It's basically friendship," Barton said.

"IS is as successful as it is because it responds to real human need and it fills those needs."

Radicalisation of individuals does not happen in a vacuum, noted terrorism expert and now WA Labor Candidate Anne Aly in a recent interview with Fairfax.

"It happens in environments. So what you want to do from a preventative approach is ensure that those environments don't arise," she said.

She, like Barton, said there had been an improvement in rhetoric since Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in September last year.

But there is still more to do on preventing radicalisation in the first place.

If you want to end radicalisation amongst Muslim youth, all you have to do is go out and reach out to them

Part of that effort could come from high ranking politicians — such as Malcolm Turnbull — attending more youth events for Australia's diverse Muslim communities, said Sydney University's Hussain Nadim, from the Department of Government and International Relations.

Currently in Pakistan for research, he told the HuffPost reaching out to disenfranchised youth could help turn the tide.

"If you want to end radicalisation amongst Muslim youth, all you have to do is go out and reach out to them," he said.

"That is it.

"If you want to run these programs and counter extremism through bureaucratic level you can do it forever and it's not going to present any results. It's a political problem, it's a social problem that has to be solved with the right perception, right from the top."