predEmily Barshup (HLNTV) / 05 NOV 2014

  • There is a growing number of young people who have reportedly been wooed by terrorist postings online
  • Dr. Drew: ‘(Teens) are developing psychologically, searching both for a sense of self and their place in the world’

UPDATE: At a November 3 detention hearing for 19-year-old Mohammed Hamzah Khan, who’s charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist group, prosecutors alleged that his 16 year-old brother and 17 year-old sister were with him at the time of his arrest. He was the only one charged, but prosecutor Richard Hiller said the siblings were also passionate about ISIS. According to Hiller, Kahn’s sister once used the Twitter handle @DeathIsTheeNear and adding a smiley emoticon, when tweeting about a video of beheadings.

During the proceedings, Kahn’s defense attorney, Thomas Durkin advocated for supervised release so Khan could get counseling. “There is time to modify this behavior … which is, I think, needed here,” he said. “We can’t give up on these kids.” Regarding Khan’s parents, Durkin has said they were unaware of their son’s plans.

As of the time this was posted, neither an email nor a phone call to Mr. Durkin had been returned.

There’s a new type of online predator going after teens.

This one is just as manipulative as the creep who’s looking for sex and just as dangerous as the bully who’s looking for a fight. This predator isn’t your 15-year-old daughter’s 17-year-old boyfriend who’s trying to lure her into sexting.

This predator is more pernicious, and someone parents should be aware of – if nothing else.

Consider the story of three high school girls from Colorado, who decided to skip school – and then the country, all with their passports, and one of them, with $2,000 in cash from the family’s home. They weren’t jetting off to Acapulco to party with boys, and they weren’t going to the library, as two of them – sisters – had told their father. In fact, they were among the growing number of young people who had apparently been wooed by terrorist postings online.

In April, 19-year-old Shannon Conley was arrested by FBI agents as she boarded a flight for Syria. She allegedly told the agents she was going to be with an ISIS member she’d met online. In September, she pleaded guilty to providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Robert Pepin, Conley’s federal public defender, told HLN that since she hasn’t yet been sentenced, he wouldn’t issue a comment beyond that which he said September after the plea hearing, “Ms. Conley is a Muslim. She’s also a 19-year old woman of faith who was pursuing her faith and, unfortunately, as she pursued it she was led terribly astray. That, in turn, led her to make some poor choices and she is now paying the price of those choices.”

Another American teen from the Chicago area, Mohammed Hamzah Khan, was arrested for allegedly attempting to join the terrorist organization. The FBI says the 19-year-old told them that someone he’d met on the Internet was going to take him into ISIS territory once he arrived in Turkey. Khan allegedly had a $4,000 roundtrip plane ticket to Istanbul.

Khan was charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. His attorney Thomas Durkin told HLN that the case is pending and Khan has not entered a plea.

Regarding the notion that his client’s intention was to join ISIS, Durkin said, “People romanticized going to Spain to fight Franco in the 30s, and The French Foreign Legion has always been alluring. ISIS is incredibly high-tech, slick and very alluring to adolescents.”

“I think the evidence will show that he was a fervent follower of the Muslim faith and was attracted to the concept of the religious duty to live in caliphate,” Durkin said.

The parents of the three teenage girls say they had no idea their children planned to travel — none had ever run away before. It was the older girl who instigated the plan, but all three went online and visited extremist websites.

Physiology confirms that, according to Dr. Drew Pinsky.

“Adolescents and young adults are vulnerable to recruitment by individuals and organizations which may not have significant appeal at other times during the lifespan. To some degree the biological development they are moving through is marked by a shutting down of the prefrontal cortex, the executive regions of the brain — thus allowing for the Amygdala, the region that affects motivation toward gratification by arousing or intense experiences, to emerge as the region that drives behavior,” he said.

But just what about joining a terrorist organization such as ISIS is so appealing to young people? Richard Barrett of The Soufan Group says, “The general picture provided by foreign fighters of their lives…suggests camaraderie, good morale and purposeful activity, all mixed with a sense of understated heroism, designed to attract their friends as well as to boost their own self-esteem.”

Pinsky adds, “(Teens) are developing psychologically, searching both for a sense of self and their place in the world. Some may also be looking for meaning; and as such, are prone to pursue spiritual activities that may not be as attractive at other stages of life.”

Some of the reported “pitches” from the terrorist groups are perverse – counterintuitive to a parent’s instinct of providing for their child. They urge teens to reject what parents consider a good, comfortable life. So, it might not be enough to tell yourself that your kids want for nothing, or that you’ve ingrained in them solid values.

Even if these stories are simply anecdotal and don’t signal a trend, they do offer parents a wake-up call when it comes to the consequences of leaving their kids’ social media activity unchecked.