As Australia considers stronger measures to keep ISIS recruiters away from young people, and the United States deals with collegiate jihadis who used student-loan money to finance their attempted journey to Syria, Austrian courts just sentenced a fourteen-year-old boy to eight months in prison on terrorism charges.
The “lone wolf” jihadi cub was in contact with supporters of both ISIS and al-Qaeda, according to the UK Telegraph, and had ambitions to journey to Syria and join a terrorist group. But first, he was working on building a bomb, using plans he downloaded from an al-Qaeda website, and allegedly planned to attack major civilian targets such as the Westbahnhof train station, which sees over 40,000 passengers per day. He reportedly confessed that he hoped to hit several such targets before departing Austria.
The bomb schematics he pulled from the Internet were recovered from his Playstation game console. According to the authorities, he had begun making inquiries to purchase the chemicals he would need to construct the weapon. According to a previous Telegraph report, his bombs would have been similar to those used by the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston Marathon jihad attack. Investigators say he conducted reconnaissance on potential bombing sites “like a professional.”
“The boy, who was born in Istanbul to Turkish parents, has lived in Austria since 2007,” writes the Telegraph. “Originally from the Alevi minority, he was brought up by his mother after his parents divorced.”
While he had been in touch with both ISIS and al-Qaeda, he seems to prefer the former, and was reportedly promised a “special position” in the Islamic State plus a $25,000 bounty if he could pull off bombings in Austria before heading for Syria. There are conflicting reports about whether other teenagers living in Austria were approached with similar offers by ISIS. The Telegraph says one of the charges leveled at the 14-year-old jihadi is that he tried to recruit a twelve-year-old friend for the Islamic State.
The tale of young “Mertkan G,” as he is identified in reports, includes details disturbingly similar to the stories of other young jihadis from the U.S., Australia, and Europe. As in so many other cases, his friends were aware of his increasingly radical social media posts, but they did not take him seriously.
When his mother became aware of his terrorist sympathies, she tried to “keep him away from jihadist propaganda by sending him to stay with an uncle in Germany for a time,” according to the Telegraph.
Garland, Texas shooter Nadir Soofi’s mother also thought she could win him away from jihad on her own, or that his love for his own young son would turn him away from the Islamist path.
Proponents of Australia’s proposal to train teachers and students to spot jihad recruits will be interested to learn that it was Mertkan G’s school that seems to have put him on law enforcement radar. “His plans were reportedly uncovered after concerned teachers at his school contacted police to say he had been speaking threateningly,” writes the Telegraph. “After that, Austrian intelligence began monitoring his internet activity.”
Mertkan G and other lone wolf cubs are serious threats. ISIS has been putting a great deal of emphasis on recruiting children lately. 14-year-olds can build and deploy bombs, as can 12-year-olds. The eight-month sentence handed down in this case, along with probation, psychological counseling, and the loss of his passport, seems light considering the magnitude of the threat he posed. Of course, ISIS is well aware that Western legal systems have difficulty coping with very young offenders. Presumably Austrian intelligence will be keeping a close eye on Mertkan G for years to come.