Amnesty International – Friend request from an IS militant



There’s always that one person, that one Facebook friend, usually a musician or event promoter, who, when you so foolishly accept their friend request, will completely inundate your news feed with copious event invitations and promotions. The person who, despite how nice they are, you eventually have to block on the basis of sheer annoyance. At my University in Canada, Collin Gordon was that person.

Collin was a business student and local events promoter in our town. He was a feverish sports fan, a proud supporter of our University’s Wolfpack Sports teams, and founder the “Kamloops Social Club”, to which I still have my card.

Eventually the events invitations stopped and it seemed as though Collin, like the rest of us, had graduated and moved on with his life, leaving our sleepy University town behind.

This was my assumption until about a month ago, when I was at work in the Amnesty International office in Auckland, reading up on the situation following the release of Amnesty’s report on the barbaric war-crimes taking place in Iraq. I stumbled across an article from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation which described the recent influx of Western fighters taking part in “terrorism tourism”. The article described how Canadian fighters are traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of the so called Islamic State (IS), and published a list of suspected Canadian IS members, a list which included a student from my hometown in Canada. And there he was: smiling happily beside his brother Greg, the unmistakable founder of the “Kamloops Social Club” Collin Gordon.

My first thought: “how could this happen?”. How could this normal, albeit enthusiastic kid go from tweeting about wanting to marry Nicki Minaj, to calling the beheading of James Foley “perfection”? From the look of Collin’s Twitter feed, the transition seemed seamless.

Collin’s story is becoming more and more common following the IS’ strategic campaign to recruit Western fighters. While the Organisation had historically avoided any social media and had very little contact with journalists, through the creation of the Al Hayat Media Center, the rumored media branch of the IS, a vast shift has occurred in the IS public relations campaign. It is now widespread on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and even uses the occasional meme.

The most notable perhaps of their online endeavors is the series of filmed executions by a man who is rumored to be a Western recruit. While sparking outrage amongst many, the effectiveness of the IS’ social media campaign has been so successful that it has forced governments around the world to grapple with ways to deal with this online recruitment of foreign fighters.

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In Australia, new anti-terror laws give sweeping powers to government agencies and the Foreign Fighters Bill, which looks to restrict travel to some parts of the world, is expected to be passed later this month. And New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is looking to follow suit proposing to toughen up New Zealand’s anti-terrorism laws.

But there’s a fine line here; will other rights get trampled in the process of dealing with a conflict that, while being carried out thousands of miles away, has infiltrated borders to recruit impressionable youth?

As Amnesty International’s reports highlight, the IS is committing atrocities, including war crimes. There is therefore concern that if an individual, during their travels, is going to join the IS, the likelihood of them being involved in the commission of war crimes themselves arises. And so it is important to look at what kinds of legal restrictions would be imposed.

Under Australia’s new legislation, a 24-year-old man is facing a potential lifetime jail sentence after being accused of “preparing to enter a foreign state to engage in hostile activities”. A lifetime in prison for “planning” to join the IS.

Further questions have also been raised over the unsurprisingly large number of western fighters who quickly become disillusioned with their life with the IS and attempt to return home.

In the news this week, two Austrian girls, aged 15 and 17, who joined the IS after being recruited by a local leader and convinced to go to Syria, are now reportedly seeking help to return home after they were married off as “jihadi brides”. They are now pregnant. Unfortunately when Western recruits wish to return home, they face many barriers: firstly from the IS directly (punishment for speaking out is reportedly torture or execution); and secondly, from their own home government who, if they don’t outright refuse to let recruits return home, will definitely not help them in any way and will likely sentence them to prison upon their return.

The case of these girls highlights that often those recruited as Western fighters are impressionable, young adults. In fact, according to the Huffington Post, the majority of IS recruits are actually under the age of 30 and, through recruitment propaganda, will often times romanticise what life would be like living in the war zone that is Iraq and Syria.

There is no doubt that countries must have systems in place for dealing with this issue. But as Western governments struggle to find effective ways to deter citizens from joining the conflict in Syria and Iraq, there is also no questioning the fact that human rights must be in the forefront of any decisions made.

New Zealand should not be rushing through these security and anti-terror changes under urgency, time must be taken to consider, consult and ensure proper process is followed.

And it must be remembered that these recruits are in many cases young, and often times bored, people, who made a friend on Facebook.


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Terri Carlson, Social Media Communication Intern at Amnesty International


  1. The use of social media by these organisations as recruitment tools is disturbing. Even more disturbing is the notion that as Intelligence agencies utilise data-mining of these social networks to identify targets of interest, even being Colin’s friend on Facebook would have marked you as a party of interest, if your work for Amnesty hadn’t already!

    You’ve done a good job of outlining the difficulties in rushed legislative changes that attempt to respond to these issues with cookie-cutter definitions of who they are meant to be applied to regardless of their individual circumstances.

  2. Just so as we understand one another.

    “According to our analysis, repeatedly stated in these columns and in many radio and television stations in Latin America, Russia and the Muslim world, the Islamic Emirate is a creation of the United States tasked with ethnically cleansing the region in order to remodel it. Everyone can see that the soothing declarations of US leaders are belied by their military action on the ground, not against, but in favor of the Islamic Emirate.
    The Coalition has conducted six waves of bombings in Kobané. It never targeted positions of the Islamic Emirate and has caused it no loss. However, it holds at a distance further south and west, the Syrian Arab Army which fails to open a breach to save the people.”

  3. Great article. I think the heavy handed antics of our governments are increasing the threat of terrorism. We are lucky to live in a relatively peaceful time in the western world – we don’t need to start/escalate a religious war that has no boundaries. Some of our elected leaders are buffoons think Tony Abbott goading Russia. Diplomacy seems shot and government leaders and their security forces are high on power. The power and control is escalating to economic and domestic surveillance. It is not a world I feel that is going to have a happy ending. Like nuclear weapons the more governments that have them and the more weapons have the more liability there is. Nowadays everything is computerized with further liability for something to go wrong. Would be interested in hearing what people think should be done to de escalate the post 9/11 backlash that has been continuing for 13 years now and seems to be a means to totally change our justice system, democracy and freedom of individuals that people fought so hard for 50 years ago.

  4. It shows great originality and thoughtfulness when all you can do as a politician is to ape (copy) the policy of one’s nearest neighbours (Aust.) and one’s personal heroes (USA-Obama) whilst formulating the policy that your country is to follow into what is increasingly looking like WW III.

    Of course, implementation of the dictatorial decisions made by “OUR HERO” will have to be rammed through under urgency in the house. Otherwise sanity, in the form of “the opposition”, might accidentally prevail.

    And meanwhile, of course, we can once again fob off the masses, and any pretensions that they might have about being SANE and THOUGHTFUL about all this, by re-opening, yet again, debate on “What should the new NZ flag look like?”

  5. Many young folk looking at IS may be impressionable. They are also perceptive.

    They probably understand the vicious nature of this group – but when they look at the West, do they see much better. We may not engage in widespread destruction like IS – but the American Empire is noted for thumbing it’s nose at international law in it’s own way;

    * An invasion of Iraq based on lies (non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”)

    * torture techniques such as water-boarding

    * abuse of prisoners, eg, abu ghraib

    * detention without due legal process at Guantanamo Bay

    * ‘extraordinary rendition’, the apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person, to avoid due process of the law

    * and extra-judicial killings using “drone strikes”, with only Presidential over-sight.

    We may not be quite as in-your-face as IS/ISIS/ISIL, but whether you’re a hapless prisoner about to be executed by “Jihadi John”, or a carload of “extremists” about to be blown to bits by an unmanned aerial vehicle armed with deadly missiles, the question asked by many young people must be,

    Explain to me how we are any better?

    • Explain to me how we are any better?

      Gee I don’t know maybe the fact that we don’t behead infidels & that our daughters are allowed to have an education.

  6. To suggest that the overseas recruits that head off to join ISIS are anything but stupid is too silly for words.
    The participants cannot expect anything other than a disaster and should not be surprised there are consequences for making dumb decisions.

  7. Perhaps the reason that no one has refuted your straw man comment is that it was obvious to everyone that Frank’s post was pointing out the sheer hypocritical nature of a U.S. stand on morality when their own human rights record is so appalling.
    Any idealistic (or stupid as Mark Wilson would class them) IS recruit would be acutely aware of U.S. hypocrisy. Similar, if not worse, atrocities have been perpetrated in Syria for years, something no one took any notice of until Western heads began to roll. The U.S. has no problem partnering up with countries with no democratic rights, which continue to behead their own citizens and foreign work force. In fact the U.S. continues to to use the death penalty in many of its states, despite DNA testing has proven many on “death row” were innocent.
    IS decapitation of infidels is horrific and should be condemned along with their mistreatment of women, however, I can understand some impressionable, young hotheads feeling the U.S. Is a grey kettle calling IS a black pot.

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