"When to act? When to watch? When does someone seemingly radicalized become an imminent danger?"
Pithy questions for law enforcement and anti-terrorism agents, and for news media -- especially when three young men in Brooklyn are picked up on charges of supporting the Islamic State, even though they weren’t prominent in any terror plots. But just as the authorities don’t always track all the clues, neither do some newspapers like the New York Times.
The Times looks carefully at the case against Akhror Saidakhmetov and Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, who are accused of trying to join the Islamic State in Syria. The third, Abror Habibov, is accused of helping raise funds for them to do so.
The newspaper examines their jobs and interests; it scrutinizes their e-mails and relationships; it asks agents how they investigate. What it doesn't do is focus on the mutant form of Islam into which the youths were apparently being sucked.
One Times article looks at dilemmas for law enforcement:
The decision to arrest the men highlights the evolving challenges confronting law enforcement as officials calculate whether and when to intervene in instances of what some have begun calling “known wolves.”
There are “lone wolves and known wolves,” said a law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation. “A lone wolf is someone who comes out of the woodwork; a known wolf is on your radar.”
The other article profiles the young suspects, including their lifestyles and relationships. It also tells of Saidakhmetov's interest in online IS videos:
But it was some of the darkest corners of the Internet that compelled him, according to the authorities. On websites sympathetic to the Islamic State, he could find videos of the organization’s beheadings, mass executions and crucifixions, carried out in a campaign to seize territory in Iraq and Syria and establish a fundamentalist Islamist caliphate.
The Times even reveals that IS has tweaked the vidgame Grand Theft Auto to muster new recruits. The stories don’t link to the game, but the trailer is available in several spots on YouTube, as in this review by Rich of ReviewTechUSA. (Language warning.)
We also read a lot of hints of the religious beliefs of Saidakhmetov and Juraboev. One relates their beliefs to the actions of another man:
When a man attacked police officers with a hatchet in Queens in October, the police said he had spent time online looking at the videos of killings done in the name of the Islamic State, and they may have helped push him to act.
Similarly, the radicalization of the two men in Brooklyn and their willingness to act on their desires expressed online, officials said, show how quickly aspirations can turn to reality.
The other story drops even more hints. It says Saidakhmetov wanted to go to Syria "to become holy warriors." It adds that Juraboev complained online that his parents in Uzbekistan sometimes "do idolatry" and that his sisters were "uncovered." He "wondered how he could live a pure Islamic life," the Times says.
And in the days before Saidakhmetov tried to leave, he told an informant that "he felt that his soul was already on its way to paradise." The Times also reports:
But Mr. Saidakhmetov still needed his passport, and on Feb. 19 he called his mother. In a conversation recorded by federal agents, he asked for it. She asked him where he was going. He said to join the Islamic State.
“If a person has a chance to join the Islamic State and does not go there, on Judgment Day he will be asked why, and it is a sin to live in the land of infidels,” he told her, court documents say.
It's possible that no one has a full answer. As the Christian Science Monitor indicates, world leaders are still trying to understand Jihadi John. "The family was religious, but not radical," the Monitor reports. "It is unknown how, exactly, Emwazi’s developed his sympathies for radical Islam."
But when young men are inspired by online atrocities, the beliefs of those who commit the atrocities would seem to be a good place to probe further.
Picture: Screenshot from YouTube of the Islamic State trailer for Grant Theft Auto.