New ISIS leaders emerge on the internet
BEIRUT - As ISIS 2.0 takes shape, new leaders are emerging on the internet, long a key recruiting tool for the extremists, and it seems that their propaganda particularly resonates in the United States.
One is Zulfi Hoxha, the son of an Albanian-American pizza store owner in New Jersey. He is known to have become a senior Islamic State (ISIS) figure and a key recruitment icon since he was seen, dressed in black, in a propaganda video beheading captured Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Syria.
Indeed, as senior ISIS adherents trickle through the US justice system, it is becoming evident that American involvement in the upper echelons of the movement and its mobilisation networks has grown considerably.
This is a grave development, particularly at a time when ISIS is battling to rebuild after the loss of its Middle Eastern caliphate to Western and regional forces, because it shoots down the notion that jihadists in the United States are largely lone wolves inspired by internet recruitment.
US security sources said ISIS’s recruiting networks in the United States do not compare to the wider groups that exist in Europe but the growing US involvement is a disturbing development.
US officials say Hoxha, 25, left the United States for Turkey on April 6, 2015. Four days later he was in an ISIS training camp in Syria. Within six months, he was on display in the beheading video and clearly had status.
Hoxha is believed to have been recruited through the internet and joined other Americans, such as John Georgelas and Abdullah Ramo Pazara, who made it into ISIS the same way. Both men, members of wider jihadist networks in the United States, have reached relatively senior positions in the ISIS hierarchy, US sources said.