Young Egyptian joins IS forces, experts say youth are “dazzled” by Islamic State
Islam Yakan before and after he joined to Islamic State - Photo courtesy of his twitter acount

CAIRO: Political analysts and religious thinkers have warned against the expansion of extremist and ‘takfiri’ ideologies, which many youth have had a recent tendency to follow and fight along with, namely the forces of the Islamic State (IS).

“This is very serious,” said renowned moderate Islamic thinker Nageh Ibrahim in a phone interview Monday on Al-Nahar Channel. “I see a state of bedazzlement among the religious conservative youth with Daesh,” Ibrahim added.

This comes in as Islam Yakan, a young Egyptian who recently announced he joined the paramilitary forces of the Islamic State (IS) of Iraq and Syria, also known as “Daesh”, amid wide controversy in news and among activists on social media, with many attacking him, several supporting him and others skeptical about the whole story.

The story goes back to the weekend of Eid el-Fitr, when the young “Daesh fighter”, who goes by the name of Abu Salma Yaken, a 23-year-old “cosmopolitan Egyptian turned ISIS fighter,” as described by reporters, posted on his Twitter a picture of decapitated heads put in a bin, claiming they were soldiers of the Syrian regime, and announcing it was his way of celebrating Eid.

Yakan has been tweeting about his strong belief in jihad and his “enthusiasm” to participate in IS operations, condemning criticism by media and activists.

“One of the ways the misleading media would say ISIS is all about slaughtering and killing is that they would show those pictures, and ignore other normal and joyful pictures taken the same day,” Yakan tweeted Tuesday.

According to Al-Arabiya’s interviews with young people who claimed they knew Yakan, his friends and acquaintances were shocked by Yakan’s shift especially that they had a complete different picture of him, rather opposing to the path Yakan has taken.

“He is a very respectful person, helpful,” one of his friends said, adding that Yakan “was really funny, always joking, always with a smile on his face,” Al-Arabiya reported August 3.

Yakan has also been labeled as a “gym boy”, according to people who knew him and spoke to the press, as well as some research by news outlets into his social media accounts – before he shut them off – through which they were able to find and publish old photos of Yakan in school and at the gym.

Yakan seems to have been furious with references to him as a member of the Mulim Brotherhood organization. On August 1, he expressed his discontent by saying: “Call me a ‘takfiri’, a ‘Daesh’ member, I can take anything, but do not call me a Muslim Brotherhood member.”

IS threatens ‘minds of the young’

Perhaps, the reason behind digging into Yakan’s past is an attempt from the public to understand how a young man with no obvious background of involvement in fanatic activities or thoughts ended up being recruited in one of the most-extremist and violent militant groups.

According to Ibrahim, young people think that IS is the true caliphate which represents the “force of Islam.” But they are misled, just as some were impressed by Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 operation against the US, Ibrahim added.

What Ibrahim perceives as the most dangerous aspect of the issue is that IS was founded on the concept of the “takfiri” thinking, which typically labels less conservative Muslims as non-muslims, which in his opinion has exceeded in definition any previous Islamist extremist organization.

“IS considers all Arab armies enemies of Islam, as well as police forces, Sufis, Shiites, political parties, including the MB, and basically anybody with democratic aspirations,” Ibrahim said.

On the other hand, political analyst Salah Abdallah was not as alarmed when he heard the news about Yakan, commenting that a political solution would save the youth from extremists.

“The recruited youth is pushed by two motives: money and ideological confusion,” Abdallah told The Cairo Post Tuesday. “The young man who was recruited found people who would talk him into it, but nobody talked him out of it or warned him from extremist thoughts.”

This is a direct result of the political instability that Arab countries suffered in the past three years, and a “weak political system [in Egypt] which is unable to set a vision for the whole nation and support the state,” Abdallah added.

Furthermore, Abdallah stated that during the year the MB and former president Mohamed Morsi were in power, the youth was publicly encouraged to support the Syrian rebels in their “jihad,” which opened the door for more “takfiri” ideologies to develop.

On June 16, 2013, Morsi gave a speech on the Syrian conflict, in which he took a stance against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, announced that Egypt was cutting off diplomatic ties with Syria to support the rebels, called on Egyptian youth to “help Syrians liberate themselves.”

During that time, Muslim preachers used the Friday sermons to condemn Assad’s actions and promise people the return of “a caliphate state.”

Abdallah and Ibrahim are aligned on the fact that the state must interfere to resolve the issue, mainly by increasing awareness on extremism. From Abdullah’s political view, a political system must be powerful and reach marginalized sectors of the population, to persuade the ‘confused youth’ to work for the well-being of the state.

From a religious perspective, Ibrahim said people follow false beliefs and they have to understand how badly IS affects Islam.

‘IS Recruitment around the world’

The world’s youth has been under threat by IS recruitment of men and women, beyond Arab borders. On Tuesday, Fox News said two female teenagers were arrested in Spain “who planned to travel to Iraq or Syria to enlist in the Islamic State jihadist group,” before they escaped to Morocco.

On June 16, eight people were arrested in Spain “suspected of recruiting militants for Islamist group ISIS which is waging war in Iraq, including a former fighter in Afghanistan previously detained in Guantánamo Bay, Reuters reported.

In April, two Austrian teenage girls declared they joined Syrian rebels. In Saudi Arabia, authorities are intensifying efforts and calling on preachers to fight ‘takfiri’ and terrorist thoughts.

Countries inside and outside the Arab world live in fear IS would infiltrate their people or swell their countries, especially in Arab countries where this could be attained through the support of other extremist groups.

Despite Abdallah’s underestimation of IS’s potential threat, many young people around the world see a ‘religious hope’ in IS fighters, while others could be tempted by financial means, especially when young fighters such as Yakan brag about the decent amount of money they receive.

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