But when she excitedly told him that she had found a mosque just five miles from the home she shared with her grandparents in rural Washington State, he suddenly became cold
arguing that Muslims are persecuted in the United States. She could be labeled a terrorist, he warned, and for now it was best for her to keep her conversion secret, even from her family.
“I felt like I was betraying God and Christianity,” said Alex, who spoke on the condition that she be identified only by a pseudonym she uses online. “But I also felt excited because I had made a lot of new friends.”
They sent her money and plied her with gifts of chocolate
All of us have a natural firewall in our brain that keeps us from bad ideas,” said Nasser Weddady, a Middle East expert who is preparing a research paper on combating extremist propaganda. “They look for weaknesses in the wall, and then they attack.”
The pamphlet advises spending as much time as possible with prospective recruits, keeping in regular touch. The recruiter should “listen to his conversation carefully” and “share his joys and sadness” in order to draw closer.
Friendly at first, the pastor ushered her out after 15 minutes, telling her she needed to trust in the mystery of God, she said.
was among those who tried to intervene online as Alex drifted toward extremism
what you do not know is that i am not inviting you to leave christianity,” Hamad wrote, when she relayed what she had done. “Islam is the correction of christianity.”
Each day he had prepared a lesson, starting with the fundamentals of praying. They included the wudu, the ritual washing of the hands, wrists, arms, face and feet before each of the five daily prayers. And he emphasized the need for Muslims to place their heads on the ground while praying, citing a Bible verse in which Jesus did so.
Within hours, Alex had doubled her Twitter following. “I actually have brothers and sisters,” she posted before going to bed. “I’m crying.”
Starting in January, packages began arriving on the stoop of Alex’s home, bearing the Royal Mail logo and Faisal’s address in England. Inside were pastel-colored hijabs, a green prayer rug, and books that took her into a stricter interpretation of Islam.
She said he explained why the brand had special significance: It was inside the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney, Australia, that a man claiming to be acting in the name of ISIS held a group of employees and customers hostage in a 16-hour standoff in December.
The only person who knew of her conversion was her cousin, who was starting to flirt with the idea herself. Together they went to the Dollar Store and bought two toilet plungers. In a park, they put on their head scarves and used the handles to spar in an imaginary sword fight.
In early February, a number of other Twitter users, including Mr. Shaikh, read Alex’s timeline and recognized the signs of her growing radicalization. They threw lifelines into the digital sea.