Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2018

Thesis Advisor(s)

Jeremy Pressman

Honors Major

Individualized Major


International Relations | Near and Middle Eastern Studies | Terrorism Studies


The Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS, a terrorist organization that commits acts of such brutality that even Al Qaeda has denounced it, has recruited approximately 21,000 foreign fighters from countries all over the world. Why is this group so appealing? What has made it so effective at recruitment? What methods does it employ to recruit so many individuals? This paper seeks to answer these questions by examining the recruitment strategies of ISIS. Case studies of individual foreign fighters are analyzed to assess the strength of three explanations of ISIS’ recruitment methods that dominate the current literature: strategic targeting, online recruitment, and kinship recruitment. From these cases, it was determined that both strategic targeting and kinship recruitment are strong explanations of how the Islamic State attracts fighters, while online recruitment is a moderately strong explanation. These results were used to develop policy recommendations that could hasten the defeat of ISIS. The key to defeating ISIS is countering its ability to recruit. Addressing vulnerabilities that make individuals susceptible to radicalization by providing education and implementing policies that reduce discrimination against minorities is crucial to countering the Islamic State’s recruitment.