Authorities warn ISIS propaganda is targeting Ohioans

Authorities warn ISIS propaganda targeting Ohioans
Unintentional exposure to Isis propaganda

The Columbus Division of Police Homeland Security Section is urging parents to be aware of what investigators call highly produced ISIS propaganda designed to recruit new fighters.

Lt. Brent Mull said Columbus is attractive to the terror network.

"We're the Midwest. We're what it really means to be America," reasoned Lt. Mull. He said ISIS mostly targets young people struggling with no sense of purpose or belonging.

"These folks will exploit these vulnerabilities and they know exactly how to do it."

Twitter has claimed since 2015, it's shut down nearly one million accounts promoting terrorism. Still, the results of a University of Chicago study in March of 2017 suggest ISIS is successfully recruiting Americans.

The study focused on 125 people indicted for terror-related offenses. Of the 125, 83 percent were American citizens, and 65 percent were born in the US. Eighty-three percent of the study group admitted to watching ISIS propaganda videos.

It's apparent the social media recruiting campaign has made its mark on central Ohio.

In November 2016, authorities say Abdul Razak Ali Artan rammed a car into a crowd of people at Ohio State University and began slashing at victims with a knife. Police shot and killed Artan less than two minutes after the attack began.

The FBI concluded Artan wasn't acting under the direction of ISIS but says he was influenced by extremist ideology and ISIS propaganda.

Authorities said in the days leading up to the Ohio State attack, ISIS had urged followers to copy the Bastille Day attack in France, in which a man drove a large truck through a crowd, killing 84 people.

Authorities intercepted a Facebook message posted by Artan just before the attack: "I'm sick and tired of seeing my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters being killed and tortured EVERYWHERE."

Benjamin Glassman serves as the US Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. He says he's seen cases where a person living an "ordinary" life became radicalized by ISIS propaganda in a matter of days.

"It could happen to anyone in Columbus, throughout Ohio, throughout the United States," said Glassman.

The federal prosecutor said popular video websites, like YouTube, make it possible for people who are susceptible to radicalization to unintentionally find themselves binge watching high produced ISIS propaganda videos.

"Let's say someone clicks on a video of something horrible, like a beheading, out of curiosity. YouTube might suggest there are other like videos they might be interested in watching," explained Glassman.

Homeland security experts said often times people who become radicalized will suddenly begin to express anti-American sentiment, become withdrawn, and show an unusual interest in weapons or explosives.

Authorities caution if you suspect someone you care about is becoming radicalized, it's critical to report your concerns.

"Because if someone is going down the path of radicalization, it doesn't mean they're going to become a radical terrorist, but there needs to be some intervention," said Glassman. "That's the surest way we can keep each other safe."

The Columbus Division of Police Homeland Security Section can be reached at 614-645-5401.