Grisly video part of U.S. campaign to counter jihadist recruiting

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The stepped-up recruiting of Minnesotans and other Americans by terrorist groups has led the U.S. State Department to counterattack with a public relations campaign of its own.

USA Today reports a newly released video that's part of the Think Again Turn Away campaign uses gruesome footage of decapitated heads, executions, and beatings in hopes of dissuading those tempted to join the Islamic State group fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The video called "Welcome to the 'Islamic State' Land" uses clips posted by the group in a mock advertisement. Those inclined to watch it can find it here.

The Think Again Turn Away campaign, like the recruiting efforts of militant groups, is rooted in social media. The campaign has Facebook and YouTube pages and is active on Twitter.

USA Today reports U.S. officials say dozens of American are among more than 7,000 foreign fighters who have joined Islamic State – also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL – in Syria.

Minnesotans recruited

Douglas McCain (pictured at right) grew up in the Twin Cities. The 33 year old was found dead on a Syrian battlefield last month after joining the extremist group.

A friend and high school classmate of McCain's from Robbinsdale had died five years earlier while fighting with the jihadist group al-Shabab in Somalia.

Following McCain's death and reports that a second former Minnesotan was also killed while fighting with Islamic State, an official with the FBI's Minneapolis office confirmed the Bureau is investigating terrorist groups' recruitment within the Twin Cities Muslim community.

This past week, Sen. Al Franken wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to urge that the Justice Department focus resources "...in places where terrorism recruitment efforts may be happening at higher rates, such as Minnesota.”

Minnesota's Somali population is estimated at 30,000, and the community has faced much scrutiny because of such radicalization of some of the men who associated with it. Now, during this second wave of recruitment efforts, the Somali community is worried they're fighting a losing battle against recruiters.

"We need to open our eyes," Ahmed Hirsi, a banker who has led youth groups in Minneapolis, told the New York Times. "This is not going to stop."

State Department's new approach

The Think Again Turn Away campaign is a product of the State Department's Center for Strategic Counterrorism Communications, or CSCC.

Voice of America reports the Center has been around since 2011 but its readiness to use gruesome footage in a video in English marks a new approach.

A senior State Department official tells VOA the use of terrorist propaganda clips is meant "...to contrast the gap that exists between ISIL rhetoric and reality."

Scholars who spoke with VOA characterized the approach as an appropriate response to the recruitment efforts of Islamic State. Jytte Klausen, founder of the Western Jihadism Project, says as Islamic State has focused on Westerners for recruitment, it has portrayed a cozy life in the caliphate. “They’re trying to peel off this whole jihad tourist contingent,” she says.

Erin Saltman of the London-based Quilliam Foundation, a counterterrorism think tank, says the use of shocking video may help dissuade would-be jihadists, although the success of the initiative will be hard to measure.

“They are in essence fighting fire with fire which is something we do not see any other Western democracy actively doing at the moment,” Saltman says.

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