An Israeli Arab family recently contacted authorities for help in locating their son and his family, who they believe are trying to enter Syria to join the Islamic State jihadist group.
The family, residents of the town of Sakhnin in northern Israel, reported their son’s disappearance to the Foreign Ministry and defense establishment when he cut off all contact with them after visiting a relative in Romania, Haaretz reported on Monday.
After the visit, the relative in Romania called the man’s parents and told them he feared their son, his wife and their three young children had traveled to Turkey with the intention of crossing into Syria to join the Islamist militants.
In an interview with Israel Radio on Monday, the mayor of Sakhnin said that the man’s family had left for Turkey in an attempt to find their son and convince him to return to Israel. According to Mayor Mazen Ganaim, the parents believe their son and his family to still be in Turkey.
“These young people have been brainwashed by a murderous group, and steps must be taken to eradicate this phenomenon,” Ganaim said.
One relative told the paper the family was shocked by the thought that the man and his three children, all under the age of five, would join the ranks of the terror group.
Over the past three years, the number of Palestinian and Israeli Arab volunteer recruits has increased among Syrian rebel groups, and Israel’s Shin Bet security service and police believe that more than 30 Israeli Arabs have joined the Islamic State in the last two years.
According to recent reports, the Islamist group has attracted some 20,000 foreign volunteers to fight alongside its members in war-torn Syria and Iraq.
In March, an East Jerusalem resident was arrested on suspicion of planing to join the Islamic State. The Jerusalem District Court accused Khalil Adel Khalil of attempting to join an unlawful organization, attempting to contact foreign agents, and traveling to illegal destinations. During his interrogation, Khalil said he and a friend decided to join the group after watching recruitment videos online.
Also in March, a propaganda video published by Islamic State showed the execution of Muhammad Said Ismail Musallam, an East Jerusalem man who was accused of being a Mossad spy after trying to leave the group.
“This incident illustrates the security threat posed by Israelis joining the Islamic State’s ranks and taking part in the fighting, after being exposed to the group’s internet propaganda,” the Shin Ben said of the phenomenon in a statement released earlier this year.
Israeli Arabs are also worried by the increasing number of their young people swearing allegiance to the Islamic state, and one man expressed concerns to the Haaretz newspaper that volunteering to enlist in the ranks of jihadist groups would become a full-blown trend in the community.
A resident of the Arab Israeli town of Umm-al-Fahm who described the recent phenomenon to the paper as “worrying” said that he, like many others in his town, was keeping a close eye on what his teenage son was being exposed to.
He said that although security services monitor the activity of young people suspected of sympathizing with jihadist groups, oftentimes they only become aware of a potential volunteer’s intentions after it’s too late. “The real problem is what is happening beneath the surface,” he added.
A bill approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and still making its way through Knesset seeks to crack down on Israeli citizens taking up arms with jihadist groups such as the Islamic State in neighboring Syria and will carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.