Public should be concerned about radicalization of youth, Manitoba expert says

Parents, teachers and others should look for warning signs, says Jim Fergusson

CBC News/September 14, 2016

By Riley Laychuk

A Manitoba expert on defence and security says the public should be concerned about the radicalization of youth online by groups like Islamic State, but they shouldn't panic.

Jim Fergusson, head of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Defence and Security Studies, made the comments in response to news this week that a western Manitoba teenager has pleaded guilty to a terrorism-related charge for supporting ISIS online.

"We should be concerned. Parents, communities, teachers, et cetera, should have some basic knowledge of how to identify … the warning signs, if you will, of someone becoming radicalized," Fergusson told CBC News on Wednesday.

"A lot of times, nothing happens and it just gets worse and worse."

The boy's arrest last November occurred just months after another Manitoban, Aaron Driver, was arrested and questioned about his online support of ISIS.

Arrests not surprising

Fergusson said the two arrests aren't surprising. Neither is the fact that both arrests involved young men who are considered attractive recruits for groups like ISIS, he added.

He said groups generally seek "youth who tend to be … vulnerable to being influenced by this type of very simple message with idealist principles" and those "who don't have a great deal of experience [or] a great deal of responsibilities."

Fergusson believes the radicalization attempts make some youth feel like they belong and have a purpose.

"A lot of them generally feel alienated, for whatever reason, from society. They tend to be loners with no attachments, few friends," he said. "Youth get attracted to all of these things."

The boy in the province's most recent case was arrested for using social media to express support for ISIS. Driver was also accused of communicating with well-known ISIS supporters in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Fergusson called both "lone wolves" and amateurs.

The boy will be sentenced next month. Driver died following a confrontation with police and an explosion in southern Ontario in August.

'Fad' fizzling out

However, as Manitoba deals with two high-profile cases, Fergusson said he believes the radicalization "fad" may be fizzling out.

"Once ISIS is completely eliminated and other issues emerge on the international agenda … this will start to fade and it will be taken over by other things," he said.

Fergusson said he expects more people may be on the watch lists of groups like CSIS, but he doesn't expect a surge of arrests in the near future.

But that doesn't mean parents and community members should be letting down their guard, Fergusson said.

He's advising teachers, parents and other community members to watch for signs that someone is being radicalized — for example, if someone becomes increasingly isolated, has few friends and seems to spend all of their time locked in their bedroom.

Identifying the signs could potentially avert something bad before it starts, according to Fergusson.

"This is not some mass problem that we face," he said. "It's a very minor problem with potential horrific consequences."

He added, "The key thing is concern. There are major horrific consequences if you don't intervene. But don't blow this out of proportion."

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