Foreign Delegation Begins US Tour to Fight Extremism

April 15,2015

STATE DEPARTMENT— High-level representatives from 11 of the countries involved in U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group are on a U.S. tour sponsored by the State Department in an effort to combat violent extremism

They are meeting with government and leading technology officials in Washington, New York and San Francisco to explore ways to counter the militant group’s propaganda and its appeal to some foreigners.

More than 3,000 Moroccans have joined Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, said Moroccan parliament member Mohammed Benkhaldoun, who is taking part in the tour.

“The main reasons are unemployment and poverty," he said. "As you know, most of these guys are looking for a better life and they can not find that in their own countries.”

Islamic State militants have successfully used social media to appeal to foreigners who think the group will offer them more out of life, said Egypt’s security studies director Khaled Okasha.

“They target young people who possibly like adventure, to do new things, and possibly have also violence inside of them and they want them to express violence,” he said.

U.S. officials estimate more than 20,000 foreigners have joined the Islamic State, including about 3,400 from Western nations.

Among them is the so-called “Jihadi John” who has appeared in several Islamic State beheading videos and is believed to be British, and three teenage girls who flew from London to Turkey for what investigators believe was a bid to join the Islamic State.

To counter the narratives of violent extremists, the State Department is helping foreign governments use traditional and social media to tell the stories of communities affected by militant violence, said the State Department's Muslim communities special representative Shaarik Zafar.

He said there are other important stories of "people who are defectors" who, by choice or by force, went and "fought with these groups and then they realize[d]: ‘Wow, this is not what I signed up for.’ Those can be very effective stories."

He said part of the U.S. effort of challenging the Islamic State group’s ideology involves exposing its flaws.