We hear about it daily: Western men and women lured by ISIS recruiters to go and fight in Iraq and Syria. But how does that actual clandestine recruitment process go down? Martin Himel, a filmmaker and former foreign correspondent who has been covering radical Islamic militias for nearly 30 years, wanted to find out.
Like the finest spy story, Himel ‘s film begins with the training of two brave young people who will work undercover and online to lure ISIS recruiters. He enlists counter-terrorism professionals to create “Theo” and “Sara”, two fictitious but plausible characters, complete with detailed backgrounds, who have shown an interest and sympathy online for the ISIS cause. The bait proves irresistible to ISIS recruiters, who are quickly in tou
Filmed from March 2015 through June 2016, UNDERCOVER IN ISIS documents, in real time, the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between the supposed ISIS sympathizers and the ISIS recruiters. “Theo” is offered a meet-up with a terrorist cell in Belgium – six months before the deadly attacks there. His cover story is that he wants to become a Jihadi fighter.
“Sara” develops trust and an emotionally intimate relationship with a Swedish recruiter and her son-in-law, an ISIS Jihadi fighting in Syria and Iraq. The contact is initiated on webpages, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter but, at the ISIS recruiter’s suggestion, soon moves onto encrypted audio-visual communications apps like Skype, Viber, Kik and Wickr to hide the growing dialogue from the cyber eyes and ears of Western security organizations.
The recruiter offers her Jihadi son-in-law to “Sara”, inviting her to join them in Syria as a second wife) a Jihadi bride. Arrangements are made to smuggle her into Syria after first travelling to Turkey. He gives her careful, detailed instructions on the tricks of the trade: what to wear (and not wear), what to carry (and not carry) and other ways to hoodwink border and customs officials from discovering her true purpose: joining her Jihadi future husband in Syria.