Just how has Islamic State (ISIS), a brutal and repressive jihadist group that has conducted mass rape among other numerous atrocities in its conquest of Iraq and Syria, recruited young women, particularly from the west?
According to CNN anchorwoman Carol Costello, the jihadists have secret weapons: Nutella chocolate spread, kittens, and emoji computer ideograms.
In a broadcast on Wednesday, Costello said "ISIS is talking online about jars of Nutella, pictures of kittens and emojis. They want people to believe their life on the battlefield isn’t so different than yours. They actually eat Nutella, and I guess they have pet kittens."
The Washington Post reports that Costello tweeted video of herself talking about the topic, but that the tweet was apparently later deleted.
As far fetched as it may sound, ISIS has been conducting a surprisingly effective online recruiting campaign to the west, and there is evidence that their arsenal indeed includes tiny furry felines, chocolate goodness and little smiling faces.
Last August the British Daily Mail reported that jihadists were posting pictures with jars of Nutella on Twitter, and in the same report it was noted that other images showed the terrorists with guns in one hand and adorable kittens in the other.
The assessment was confirmed by Steven Stalinsky, executive director of Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), who noted the terrorists are indeed filling social media with irresistibly cute baby animals and candy, but opined it may be less of a targeted campaign for female recruits than just the terrorists getting in touch with their inner teenage girl.
"They do have a lot of down time, they are swimming in the ocean, playing soccer, hiking, things like that," said Stalinsky, according to Washington Post. "Part of the down time is documented. Just like in the West...for their friends and families back home."
Getting back to Costello, in her CNN broadcast the suggestion that ISIS is recruiting by using kittens was played down by guest Nimmi Gawrinathan, a gender and violence expert, who suggested the Islamic conquest of the world that the group stands for is itself actually the thing drawing young female recruits.
"I think the thing to recognize is that women are not fighting for women’s rights, the fight for ISIS is a fight for something else, it is the idea of a caliphate (Islamic state - ed.)," she emphasized. "It is a political fight, which goes a bit deeper than social media. That is what women are attracted to because they feel safer, because they feel their identity (as Muslims - ed.) is threatened."