As much as the story of Sunni jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is one of military victory, it is one of the jihadist movement evolving to learn the ways of online propaganda and social media. Among its most popular Internet users is a British teen known as “Osama bin Bieber” for his youthful image among jihadists.
Osama bin Bieber’s real name is Mohammed Hadi, an 18-year-old from Coventry, England. According to the Daily Mail, Hadi was radicalized by clerics at his local madrassa and left England with three other men. He is the youngest member of ISIS positively identified so far.
Hadi–known by other names, including “Abu Yahya Al Kurdy” and “Abu Usamah”–is believed to be in Syria fighting with ISIS. He became popular among jihadists through his Instagram account. While it appears that any Instagram related to him has been taken down, some images of the young man remain online and have been published by the Daily Mail.
Hadi seems to have been radicalized at his madrassa, but witnesses have said he always displayed a sensitivity to radical Islam. According to a friend speaking to the Malaysia Chronicle, school friends jokingly referred to Hadi as “the Imam” because of his affinity for arguments over the rules of Islam: “Mohammed has been into extreme ideology for a while now. At school he was known as the Imam because he would lead Friday prayers and give lectures to other students about Islam. He was always getting into arguments over Islam.”
Another source in the same report notes, however, that Hadi had previously expressed more solidarity with his ethnic Kurdish background, but he suddenly pivoted to the radical Islam of ISIS. The Kurdish army, though made up of many Sunni Muslims, have played an essential role in keeping ISIS out of the capital of Iraq, Baghdad, and are believed to possess a more organized and formidable army than the Shi’ite Iraqi government.
Hadi’s parents are reportedly devastated. His father told the Daily Mail he didn’t “know anything about it,” adding, “The police know better than me.” Neighbors have stated that his father has been seen in public in tears, devastated at his son’s decision. He is worried that he will die on the battlefield at a young age, which is likely, given ISIS’s small numbers compared to the forces it faces in both Iraq and Syria.
The teen’s rise to fame once again highlights the advantage that ISIS has gained from recruiting Western radical Islamists who understand Western social media and have used it to their advantage to attract new members. Authorities continue to search for Hadi in hopes of bringing him home to his family; however, as he is no longer a minor, he will face criminal charges upon his return.