The case of three teenage girls being investigated for trying to join Islamic State militants poses vexing questions for US officials about the use of social media by terror groups to recruit people inside the United States, experts said Wednesday.
A Colorado school official said the Denver area girls – two sisters ages 17 and 15, and a 16-year-old friend – were victims of an online predator who encouraged them to travel overseas and eventually to Syria.
Mia Bloom, a professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, said the girls’ story so far suggests how Islamic extremists have mastered social media to prey on younger and younger women with “Disney-like versions of what it is like to live in the caliphate,” complete with promises of husbands and homes.
At least one of the girls was communicating with someone online who encouraged the three to travel to Syria, said Tustin Amole, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District where the girls attend high school.
Fellow high school students told school officials that the girls had been discussing travel plans over Twitter, Amole said.
The girls were detained at an airport in Frankfurt, Germany, and sent home over the weekend. They were interviewed by the FBI and returned to their parents in suburban Aurora. Those in the tight-knit east African community where they live said the sisters are of Somali descent and their friend is of Sudanese descent.
“There’s no indication they had been radicalised in a way that they wanted to fight for ISIS,” Amole said.