FOR Mohammed Bel Jayyed, the path to a martyr’s death under the flag of the so-called Islamic State (IS) began with dreams of a Tunisian patisserie and the girl next door. It was 2012 when he got engaged to a neighbour’s daughter, moving closer to his hope of one day raising a family. But the double shifts he was working in posh patisseries frequented by the Tunisian elite were not moving him closer to his goal of owning his own shop. In fact, the $180 he was scraping together each month was not even enough for him to move into a home of his own.
Without that, the marriage was on hold. Within two years, with barely enough money to care for his mother and two sisters, and no prospects for change, Mr. Bel Jayyed had left for Libya. He told his mother he had been offered a job as a pastry chef in a five-star hotel in Tripoli. Bel Jayyed’s mother, Naziha, did not question the story – or the hundreds of dollars in cash delivered monthly through men who claimed to be her son’s friends.
But in October 2014, she received a phone call that brought her to her knees. “Please forgive me mother, forgive me. I have been the source of everyone’s problems,” Bel Jayyad said, his voice quivering, refusing to say where he was. The line suddenly cut. Four hours later, a long-bearded man from the neighbourhood came to her doorstep: Bel Jayyed had been killed in his work for the IS in Syria. The man handed her an envelope. It contained the equivalent of $300.
The business of recruiting the next generation of terrorists has long preyed on young men with limited prospects. High unemployment points to a vast pool of Muslims who are often undereducated, easily ensnared, or simply bored. But the IS has taken the trend to new lengths, making financial stability a central part of its recruiting pitch, according to defectors. While Al Qaeda has long provided salaries and the latest military equipment – reportedly backed by individual donors from the Arab Gulf – it tended to target ideologically driven recruits, with money often not a factor in their pitch.
But the IS, with wealth generated from oil revenues and taxation in the territories it holds, is promising foreign fighters higher salaries, housing, and additional benefits of $250 per month for a family of five, according to Monitor sources, as well as other reports.
Countries facing stiffest economic challenges have become the IS’s most fertile recruiting grounds. As of August, between 6,000 and 7,000 Tunisians served in IS ranks, the highest total number of any nationality. Jordanians are estimated to come in second at 3,000, which means it is contributing more per capita than any other nation. Money is certainly not the only factor drawing recruits to the IS. But for at-risk youths with no job prospects and a life on hold, it can be a deciding factor.
Across Middle East and other Muslim countries, sluggish economies, corruption, combined with a surge in the youth population, present IS recruiters with numerous opportunities. In Tunisia, those under the age of 30 account for more than half the population – but 40 percent of them are unemployed. In Jordan, those under 30 are more than 70 percent of the population, and nearly one-third are jobless. Local-based recruiters linger in mosques and cafés, offering young men $3,000 for a three-month training in a camp over the border in Libya. Upon arrival, each prospective fighter is offered a choice: to be given cash up front or have their salaries delivered to their families back home.
In many Muslim countries a lack of central government control has undermined efforts to monitor the increasing influence of hardline Salafist Muslims in neighbourhoods and towns. Illicit money flows along well-travelled smuggling routes with Islamic State funds being brought in alongside black market fuel and electronics. “My son only left to help support us and improve our lives” Ms. Bel Jayyed says, clutching a framed photograph of her only son. “If only he could have found decent work, we would never have lost him.” — Courtesy: CS Monitor