It's not easy being a teenager. It's already hard fitting in as it is if you're an average American teen but it gets even more difficult if you're an immigrant. This vulnerability is believed to be what recruiters from the Islamic State used to lure three teenage girls from Colorado, goading them to steal cash, board a plane, and head for Syria.
The girls, two Somali sisters aged 15 and 17 and their Sudanese friend who's 16, were seen as typical Muslim teenagers in their community. They liked going to the mall and watching movies, definitely a far cry from fundamentalists. So imagine the surprise of family and friends after finding out that the girls had been talking to militants online.
What didn't surprise them though was how easily the girls were roped in. Not when even as a U.S. citizen, a Muslim teenager will have a hard time in an American high school.
"This community is outcast. They feel like they don't belong here. They're frustrated. I'm worried their frustrations will lead them in the wrong direction," said community advocate Ahmed Odowaay who works with the youth.
Because young people in communities are looking for a place to fit in, they are ideal targets for extremists who can easily reach them online. These extremists promise the glories of battle or the honors of becoming a warrior's wife or even just acceptance, and just like that they have the attention of impressionable individuals.
The girls are safe and are unlikely to be charged with crimes, but the father of the Sudanese teen is still troubled as it was still not clear why the girls did what they did and who put them up to it. Apparently, the 17-year-old orchestrated everything, planning for the trip before recruiting the two other girls. They were intercepted in Germany once they landed in Frankfurt and promptly sent back by authorities after being informed by the FBI.
Including the girls, ISIS has already allegedly recruited over a hundred Americans to participate in their terrorist efforts. A lot of the recruitment is accomplished online, most often via videos. Since ISIS released the gruesome video of James Foley's death, the group's online presence has only increased. Most of the time, they use violent videos as well as propaganda messages to entice potential jihadists.