Steering Youth Away From Extremism Has $100,000 Prize at Summit

  • Conference seeks best ideas to counter militant recruiters
  • Terror groups are increasingly targeting youth aged 10-24

Yousef Bartho Assidiq was on the path toward terrorism, part of a group whose members discussed beheadings and mass attacks. Now he tries to stop other youths from getting radicalized in his native Norway.

Assidiq’s story of conversion to Islam and recruitment into a militant group is not uncommon. His rehabilitation is the kind of accomplishment that participants at the Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism next week seek to replicate. The Sept. 28 gathering at the United Nations comes a day before President Barack Obama hosts an event on countering extremism in New York.

The summit is part of a growing push to counter the lure of radical voices for frustrated under- and unemployed youth around the world who are joining groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Islamic State, which has conquered swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. It comes as governments from the U.S. to Australia are struggling to understand why young Muslims integrated into Western life embark on a journey to wage jihad.

“One of the biggest problems today in this field of work, we’re always trying to counter the extremist views instead of making an inclusive way for youth to interact and voice their opinions,” Assidiq, 27, said in a telephone interview from Norway.

21st Century Terrorism

The gathering, organized by the Counter Extremism Project, has the backing of U.S. State Department as well as Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Inc. The role of the Internet and social media in the spread of radical Islam is one part of the puzzle in grappling with 21st-century terrorism.

“We were trying to understand ways we could seed efforts around the world,” said Mark Wallace, a former U.S. ambassador to the UN who now heads the Counter Extremism Project. The project, dubbed One95 for the 195 countries in the world, aims to generate solutions that can work across borders.

Tapping into social media, young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are increasingly targeted by recruiters for extremist groups. For those organizations, the Internet has become “an important resource for disseminating terrorist propaganda and instructions to young
persons that might not otherwise have direct contact with group recruiters or
supporters,” according to the Homeland Security Institute, an Arlington,
Virginia-based consultancy.

‘Just Unite’

Assidiq, who founded a group called ‘Just Unite’ in Norway, will be a participant at the summit. A panel of judges will award $100,000 to the program they believe could have most impact so that it can expand to other countries. Participants will come from dozens of countries including Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt.

Wallace said that while the State Department has led U.S. efforts on counter-extremism, there is now a strong sense that the private sector has an important role to play.

“What’s key in the counter-terrorism space, you’re not choosing one solution and going all-in,” Wallace said. “There are solutions that sometimes government is capable of, sometimes it’s business, sometimes it’s” non-governmental organizations, he added.