Germany sees increase in Russian propaganda, cyber attacks

hand in front of computer

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s domestic intelligence agency on Thursday said it had seen a striking increase in Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilizing German society, and targeted cyber attacks against political parties.

“We see aggressive and increased cyber spying and cyber operations that could potentially endanger German government officials, members of parliament and employees of democratic parties,” Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the domestic BfV intelligence agency, said in statement.

Maassen, who raised similar concerns about Russian efforts to interfere in German elections in an interview with Reuters last month, cited what he called increasing evidence about such efforts and said further cyber attacks were expected.

The agency said it had seen a wide variety of Russian propaganda tools and “enormous use of financial resources” to carry out “disinformation” campaigns aimed at the Russian-speaking community in Germany, political movements, parties and other decision makers.

The goal of the effort was to spread uncertainty in society,”to weaken or destabilize the Federal Republic of Germany,” and to strengthen extremist groups and parties, complicate the work of the federal government and influence political dialogue.

The agency said it had seen a “striking increase” in spea-phishing attacks attributed to a Russian hacking group APT 28, also known as “Fancy Bear” or Strontrium, the same group blamed for the hack of the U.S. Democratic National Committee this year and a cyber attack on the German parliament in 2015.

The attacks were directed against German parties and members of parliament, the agency said, adding they were carried out by government bodies posing as “hacktivists”.

“Propaganda and disinformation, cyber attacks, cyber espionage and cyber sabotage are part of the hybrid threat facing western democracies,” Maassen said.

German officials have accused Moscow of trying to manipulate German media to fan popular angst over issues like the migrant crisis, weaken voter trust and breed dissent within the European Union so that it drops sanctions against Moscow.

But intelligence officials have stepped up their warnings in recent weeks, alarmed about the number of attacks.

Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she could not rule out Russia interfering in Germany’s 2017 election through Internet attacks and misinformation campaigns.

Russian officials have denied all accusations of manipulation and interference intended to weaken the European Union or to affect the U.S. presidential election.

U.S. intelligence officials had warned in the run-up to the Nov. 8 presidential election of efforts to undermine the credibility of the vote that they believed were backed by the Russian government.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Finland sees propaganda attack from former master Russia

A Russian SU-27 fighter violating Finland's airspace near Porvoo, Finland, early October 7, 2016. Finnish Air Force/

By Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland is becoming increasingly worried about what it sees as Russian propaganda against it, including Russian questioning about the legality of its 1917 independence.

The country shares a 1,340 km (833 mile) border and a difficult and bloody history with Russia, of which it was once a part. Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and saber-rattling in the Baltic Sea have raised security concerns in the militarily neutral European Union country.

Earlier this month, Finland and Estonia both accused Russian fighter jets of violating their airspace. Russia has also started moving nuclear-capable missiles into its Kaliningrad enclave bordering Poland and Lithuania.

Sitting in his office in the government palace – built for Russia’s Grand Duchy of Finland – Markku Mantila leads a network of officials who monitor attempts to influence the country.

He says Finland is facing intensifying media attacks led by Kremlin.

“We believe this aggressive influencing from Russia aims at creating distrust between leaders and citizens, and to have us make decisions harmful to ourselves,” he said. “It also aims to make citizens suspicious about the European Union, and to warn Finland over not joining NATO.”

Finland won independence during Russia’s revolution of 1917 but nearly lost it fighting the Soviet Union in World War Two. It kept close to the West economically and politically during the Cold War but avoided confrontation with Moscow.

Mantila, who is also the head of government communications, says Russian media last month reported on “cold-blooded” Finnish authorities taking custody of children from a Russian family living in Finland “due to their nationality”.

The Finnish government denied the reports, while declining to comment on an individual case due to the legal procedure. However, the story has been replicated hundreds of times in Russia over the past few weeks.

A report by Kremlin-led NTV said “even the locals call Finland a land of ruthless and irrational child terror.”

PLAQUE HIT WITH AX

Mantila, showing on his laptop what he said were false news pictures, skewed authority statements and pro-Kremlin online discussions, said his network has verified around 20 cases of clear information operations against Finland from the past few years, and around 30 “very likely” such operations.

“There is a systematic lying campaign going on… It is not a question of bad journalism, I believe it is controlled from the center,” he said.

Kremlin and Russian foreign ministry officials were not immediately available for a comment.

Foreign Minister Timo Soini has also acknowledged the alleged propaganda, saying the government was countering false information with facts.

“All states engage in propaganda, authoritarian states even more so,” he told Reuters.

Some of the incidents have taken aim at Finland’s independence and at its historical figures.

In June, a university in St Petersburg put up a plaque commemorating Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, Finland’s most famous military officer and former president, who had served in the Tsar’s army but later led Finnish armed forces in World War Two.

The plaque quickly became a target for protesters who have called Mannerheim – regarded in Finland as a symbol of the country’s struggle against the Soviet Union – a murderer and ruthless Nazi collaborator.

“The plaque’s been shot at, hit with an ax and doused in red paint several times,” Mantila said, noting that Finland had nothing to do with the plaque project in the first place.

Mantila said he believed the whole episode was a follow-up to earlier reports that suggested that Lenin’s Bolshevik administration had no right to accept Finland’s independence.

Finland celebrates its hundred years of independence next year, also the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.

(Additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova and Alexander Winning in Moscow; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

FBI: Chattanooga Shooter Motivated By Terrorist Propaganda

The man who killed five people in shootings this summer in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was inspired by foreign terrorist propaganda, FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday.

Comey made the comments while speaking at a news conference in New York.

“We have concluded that the Chattanooga killer was inspired by a foreign terrorist organization’s propaganda,” Comey told reporters, though he added the source of the propaganda couldn’t be determined and stopped short of mentioning a specific group.

“There’s competing foreign terrorist poison out there,” Comey said at the news conference. “But, to my mind, there’s no doubt that the Chattanooga killer was inspired and motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda. We’ve investigated it from the beginning as a terrorist case.”

Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire at two military locations on July 16.

The Kuwait native and naturalized U.S. citizen first fired upon a recruiting center, then drove seven miles to a Naval reserve facility and opened fire again. The 24-year-old killed four Marines and a sailor, all of them located at the reserve, before he was killed in a shootout with police.

In a televised address to the nation from the Oval Office on Dec. 6, President Barack Obama called the Chattanooga shooting an act of terrorism. But authorities had offered little public detail about why they believed it was terrorism-related until Comey’s comments Wednesday.

Terrorist groups often use social media to spread propaganda and communicate, and federal lawmakers have proposed new bills to combat that in the wake of the Dec. 2 mass shooting that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. Obama has also called that an act of terrorism.

ISIS Threatens New York City in Latest Video; World Report Says Boko Haram Deadlier Than ISIS

The latest propaganda video that ISIS has posted online warns of an impending attack on New York City.

According to CNN, the video mentions Time Square and shows an explosive device being built and a bomber putting on a jacket over a suicide belt. CBS News adds that the video featured clips of French President Francois Hollande speaking after the attacks on Paris while the terrorists make remarks in the video.

Additional members of the NYPD’s newest anti-terrorism squad have been deployed throughout the Big Apple as a precaution.

“While some of the video footage is not new, the video reaffirms the message that New York City remains a top terrorist target,” a statement of the NYPD read. “While there is no current or specific threat to the city at this time, we will remain at a heightened state of vigilance and will continue to work with the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the entire intelligence community to keep the city of New York safe.”

However, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged citizens to continue going about their normal business and not to give into fear.

“The people of New York City will not be intimidated,” he said late Wednesday, according to CNN. “We understand it is the goal of terrorists to intimidate and disrupt our democratic society. We will not submit to their wishes.”

Police officials stated that this video was nothing new as ISIS released a similar video back in April. They realize that New York City continues to be a target for terrorist organizations. However, they assured news agencies that they are taking note of the video.

Along with the latest video, Reuters reports that ISIS also released a photo on Wednesday, showing in their official magazine how they brought down the Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last month, killing all 224 people on board. The photo shows a Schweppes soft drink along with a detonator and other bomb components.

In other ISIS related news, a world report by the Institute for Economics and Peace stated that Boko Haram is a deadlier terrorist organization than ISIS, according to multiple news agencies including NPR and the Huffington Post. Out of the 32,000 people killed by terrorism in 2014, Boko Haram was responsible for 6,644 of those deaths, more than any other terrorist group. The Islamic State killed around 6,000 people in 2014. Together, the two organizations are responsible for 51% of all claimed terrorist attacks in 2014, and the majority of deaths came from the few nations of Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria. Nigeria experienced a 300% increase in terrorist attacks in 2014. In the past, Boko Haram has claimed to be a branch of ISIS.

Special Report: Exposed – Beijing’s cover global radio network

Photo courtesy of Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

By Koh Gui Qing and John Shiffman

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In August, foreign ministers from 10 nations blasted China for building artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea. As media around the world covered the diplomatic clash, a radio station that serves the most powerful city in America had a distinctive take on the news.

Located outside Washington, D.C., WCRW radio made no mention of China’s provocative island project. Instead, an analyst explained that tensions in the region were due to unnamed “external forces” trying “to insert themselves into this part of the world using false claims.”

Behind WCRW’s coverage is a fact that’s never broadcast: The Chinese government controls much of what airs on the station, which can be heard on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

WCRW is just one of a growing number of stations across the world through which Beijing is broadcasting China-friendly news and programming.

A Reuters investigation spanning four continents has identified at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries that are part of a global radio web structured in a way that obscures its majority shareholder: state-run China Radio International, or CRI.

Many of these stations primarily broadcast content created or supplied by CRI or by media companies it controls in the United States, Australia and Europe. Three Chinese expatriate businessmen, who are CRI’s local partners, run the companies and in some cases own a stake in the stations. The network reaches from Finland to Nepal to Australia, and from Philadelphia to San Francisco.

At WCRW, Beijing holds a direct financial interest in the Washington station’s broadcasts. Corporate records in the United States and China show a Beijing-based subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned radio broadcaster owns 60 percent of an American company that leases almost all of the station’s airtime.

China has a number of state-run media properties, such as the Xinhua news agency, that are well-known around the world. But American officials charged with monitoring foreign media ownership and propaganda said they were unaware of the Chinese-controlled radio operation inside the United States until contacted by Reuters. A half-dozen former senior U.S. officials said federal authorities should investigate whether the arrangement violates laws governing foreign media and agents in the United States.

 

“SERIOUS INQUIRY”

A U.S. law enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits foreign governments or their representatives from holding a radio license for a U.S. broadcast station. Under the Communications Act, foreign individuals, governments and corporations are permitted to hold up to 20 percent ownership directly in a station and up to 25 percent in the U.S. parent corporation of a station.

CRI itself doesn’t hold ownership stakes in U.S. stations, but it does have a majority share via a subsidiary in the company that leases WCRW in Washington and a Philadelphia station with a similarly high-powered signal.

Said former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt: “If there were allegations made about de facto Chinese government ownership of radio stations, then I’m sure the FCC would investigate.”

U.S. law also requires anyone inside the United States seeking to influence American policy or public opinion on behalf of a foreign government or group to register with the Department of Justice. Public records show that CRI’s U.S. Chinese-American business partner and his companies haven’t registered as foreign agents under the law, called the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.

“I would make a serious inquiry under FARA into a company rebroadcasting Chinese government propaganda inside the United States without revealing that it is acting on behalf of, or it’s owned or controlled by China,” said D.E. “Ed” Wilson Jr., a former senior White House and Treasury Department official.

CRI headquarters in Beijing and the Chinese embassy in Washington declined to make officials available for interviews or to comment on the findings of this article.

Justice Department national security spokesman Marc Raimondi and FCC spokesman Neil Grace declined to comment.

Other officials at the FCC said the agency receives so many license applications that it only launches a probe if it receives a complaint. People familiar with the matter said no such complaint has been lodged with the FCC about the CRI-backed network in the United States.

 

BUILDING “SOFT POWER”

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has chafed at a world order he sees as dominated by the United States and its allies, is aware that China struggles to project its views in the international arena.

“We should increase China’s soft power, give a good Chinese narrative and better communicate China’s message to the world,” Xi said in a policy address in November last year, according to Xinhua.

CRI head Wang Gengnian has described Beijing’s messaging effort as the “borrowed boat” strategy – using existing media outlets in foreign nations to carry Chinese propaganda.

The 33 radio stations backed by CRI broadcast in English, Chinese or local languages, offering a mix of news, music and cultural programs. Newscasts are peppered with stories highlighting China’s development, such as its space program, and its contribution to humanitarian causes, including earthquake relief in Nepal.

“We are not the evil empire that some Western media portray us to be,” said a person close to the Communist Party leadership in Beijing who is familiar with the CRI network. “Western media reports about China are too negative. We just want to improve our international image. It’s self-protection.”

In some ways, the CRI-backed radio stations fulfill a similar advocacy role to that of the U.S.-run Voice of America. But there is a fundamental difference: VOA openly publishes the fact that it receives U.S. government funding. CRI is using front companies that cloak its role.

A few of the programs broadcast in the United States cite reports from CRI, but most don’t. One program, The Beijing Hour, says it is “brought to you by China Radio International.”

Some shows are slick, others lack polish. While many segments are indistinguishable from mainstream American radio shows, some include announcers speaking English with noticeable Chinese accents.

The production values vary because the broadcasts are appealing to three distinct audiences: first-generation Chinese immigrants with limited English skills; second-generation Chinese curious about their ancestral homeland; and non-Chinese listeners whom Beijing hopes to influence.

One thing the programs have in common: They generally ignore criticism of China and steer clear of anything that casts Beijing in a negative light.

A top-of-the-hour morning newscast on Oct. 15, broadcast in Washington and other U.S. cities, was identified only as “City News.” It reported that U.S. officials were concerned about cyber attacks, including one in which the personal information of about 20 million American government workers was allegedly stolen. The broadcast left out a key element: It has been widely reported that U.S. officials believe China was behind that hack.

Last year, as thousands of protesters demanding free elections paralyzed Hong Kong for weeks, the news on CRI-backed stations in the United States presented China’s point of view. A report the day after the protests ended did not explain why residents were on the streets and carried no comments from protest leaders. The demonstrations, a report said, had “failed without the support of the people in Hong Kong.”

Many of these stations do not run ads and so do not appear to be commercially motivated.

 

THREE SURROGATES

Around the world, corporate records show, CRI’s surrogates use the same business structure. The three Chinese businessmen in partnership with Beijing have each created a domestic media company that is 60 percent owned by a Beijing-based group called Guoguang Century Media Consultancy. Guoguang, in turn, is wholly owned by a subsidiary of CRI, according to Chinese company filings.

The three companies span the globe:

• In Europe, GBTimes of Tampere, Finland, has an ownership stake in or provides content to at least nine stations, according to interviews and an examination of company filings.

• In Asia-Pacific, Global CAMG Media Group of Melbourne, Australia, has an ownership stake in or supplies programming to at least eight stations, according to corporate records.

• And in North America, G&E Studio Inc, near Los Angeles, California, broadcasts content nearly full time on at least 15 U.S. stations. A station in Vancouver also broadcasts G&E content. In addition to distributing CRI programming, G&E produces and distributes original Beijing-friendly shows from its California studios.

In a Sept. 16 interview at his offices near Los Angeles, G&E president and CEO James Su confirmed that CRI subsidiary Guoguang Century Media holds a majority stake in his company and that he has a contract with the Chinese broadcaster. He said that a non-disclosure agreement bars him from divulging details.

Su said he complies with U.S. laws. G&E doesn’t own stations, but rather leases the airtime on them. “It’s like a management company that manages a condominium,” he said.

Su added that he is a businessman, not an agent for China. “Our U.S. audience and our U.S. public has the choice,” Su said. “They can choose to listen or not listen. I think this is an American value.”

GBTimes CEO Zhao Yinong, who spearheads the European arm of the expatriate radio operation, confirmed that he receives several million euros a year from CRI. In an interview in Beijing, Zhao said he was “not interested in creating a false China” and he had “nothing to hide.”

Tommy Jiang, the head of CAMG, the Australian-based company that owns and operates stations in the Asia-Pacific region, declined to comment.

 

BORN IN A CAVE

CRI has grown remarkably since its founding in 1941. According to its English-language website, its first broadcast was aired from a cave, and the news reader had to frighten away wolves with a flashlight. Today, CRI says it broadcasts worldwide in more than 60 languages and Chinese dialects.

CRI content is carefully scripted, with the treatment of sensitive topics such as the banned Falun Gong spiritual group adhering strictly to the government line. Those restrictions might make China’s soft-power push an uphill battle with audiences in places like Houston, Rome or Auckland.

But CRI does have something to offer station owners. Since 2010, CRI’s broadcast partner in the United States has struck deals that bailed out struggling community radio stations, either by purchasing them outright or paying tens of thousands of dollars a month to lease virtually all their airtime. The latter is known as “time-brokering” and is the method G&E used to take to the air in Washington.

The 195-foot towers broadcasting Beijing’s agenda throughout the Washington region are located in suburban Loudoun County, Virginia, near Dulles International Airport. They pump out a 50,000-watt signal, the maximum for an AM station in the United States.

The towers went live in 2011. In the previous five decades, before the Chinese got involved, the station was known as WAGE, and it used smaller equipment and broadcast mostly local news and talk.

At just 5,000 watts, the signal didn’t carry far. This didn’t matter much until the 1990s, when Loudoun County boomed into a bedroom community for Washington. Commuters would lose the signal halfway to the capital.

In 2005, an American company called Potomac Radio LLC purchased the station and added some nationally syndicated programming. Potomac Radio president Alan Pendleton said his company had a history of leasing time to ethnic programmers, including an hour a day to CRI on another station. Revenue at WAGE continued to fall, however, and in 2009, it went off the air.

“It was a painful, painful experience,” said Pendleton. “We were losing millions of dollars a year down the drain.”

 

LOUDOUN COUNTY’S “LAST HOPE”

Saying they hoped to resurrect the station, other Potomac Radio executives asked Loudoun County in 2009 for permission to erect three broadcast towers on land owned by a county utility, records show. The new towers would boost the station’s signal tenfold to 50,000 watts, reaching into Washington.

In their application, Potomac Radio executives argued that the new towers offered the “last hope to retain Loudoun County’s only” radio station. The paperwork made no mention of plans to lease airtime to Su and CRI.

Potomac Radio also invoked the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a day when the station provided “critical information to county businesses and parents” as mobile phone service became overloaded. The new towers would contribute to public safety, proponents said.

The county Board of Supervisors approved the towers. In the days before the station came back on air in April 2011, Potomac Radio sought FCC permission to change the name to WCRW.

Asked about the initials, Pendleton confirmed that they stand for China Radio Washington. The change was his idea, not CRI’s, he said.

Loudoun County officials were surprised when the amped-up station returned as WCRW and began broadcasting G&E and CRI content about China.

“It was all very deceptive,” said Kelly Burk, a county supervisor at the time. “They presented it as all about being about local radio, and never let on what they were really up to.”

Potomac Radio’s Pendleton said there was no deception. His company was approached by CRI several months after the county approved the towers, he said.

Pendleton said he didn’t know that G&E was 60 percent owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese government until Reuters informed him. But the arrangement complies with FCC law, he said, because G&E leases the airwaves instead of owning the station.

In any event, he said, CRI is open about its goals: to present a window into Chinese culture and offer Chinese points of view on international affairs.

“If you listen to other state-sponsored broadcasters,” especially Russia’s, “they’re really insidious,” Pendleton said. “CRI’s not like that at all.”

Pendleton said he has no input in WCRW content: He simply rebroadcasts whatever programs arrive from CRI’s man in America, G&E founder James Su.

 

CHINA’S “PROXY”

James Yantao Su was born in Shanghai in 1970, the year China launched its first satellite. He moved to the United States in 1989, he said, ultimately settling in West Covina, a suburb of Los Angeles, and became a U.S. citizen.

By the early 2000s, Su was a moderately successful media entrepreneur. But after his 2009 deal to create G&E, in which the Chinese state-owned subsidiary has a majority stake, his fortunes rose.

Today, the 44-year-old owns or co-owns real estate and radio stations worth more than $15 million, according to a Reuters analysis of U.S. corporate, property, tax and FCC records. His projects include English and Chinese-language stations, a magazine, a newspaper, four apartment buildings, condos at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, a film festival and a charity that last year donated $230,000 to an orphanage in China.

Two of his primary companies are G&E Studio and EDI Media Inc. G&E dedicated a page on its website to showcase CRI as a “close” partner, but it recently deleted the page after Reuters made inquiries. EDI’s site says it has become “China’s outward media and advertising proxy” in the United States.

In 2013, the Chinese government presented Su with a special contribution award at a media event for Chinese broadcasters.

Other ties are not as visible: The key disclosure that G&E is 60 percent owned by Guoguang Century – the Beijing firm that’s 100 percent owned by CRI – is contained in a footnote in a lengthy FCC filing made on behalf of another Su company, Golden City Broadcast, LLC.

Su declined to discuss his business career in detail. An early highlight, though, was a speech he gave in 2003, when he was in his early thirties.

Covered by China’s state-run media, the speech laid out Su’s vision for a business that could be profitable and also help China project its message in the United States. The business would need to be structured to comply with U.S. ownership laws and would “endorse China’s ideology,” Su was quoted as saying.

In the same speech, he spoke of his fellow expats’ affinity for China. “The sense of belonging to China among countrymen residing abroad and their endorsement of China’s current policies grow with each day,” Su said, according to Xinhua.

In 2008, Su gave an address in which he criticized U.S. media for focusing their China coverage on issues such as human rights.

The media were misleading “the American masses’ objective understanding of China, even engendering hostile emotions,” Su said, according to a China National Radio report.

It was in 2009 that Su’s vision really began to take shape. That year, records show, Su created G&E Studio.

 

“UNFILTERED REAL NEWS”

G&E now broadcasts in English and Chinese on at least 15 U.S. stations, including Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston, Honolulu and Portland, Oregon.

The content is largely the same on each station, produced either by CRI from Beijing or by G&E from California.

A typical hour on most stations begins with a short newscast that can toggle between China news and stories about violent crimes in the United States. Besides the overtly political coverage, topics range from global currency fluctuations and Chinese trade missions to celebrity wardrobe analysis and modern parenting challenges.

While Su owns a minority share of G&E, he has structured his radio station holdings in various ways. According to the most recent FCC records, he is the majority owner of at least six stations, such as the one in Atlanta, which he purchased for $2.1 million in 2013.

In other cases he leases airtime. In Washington, for instance, he leases virtually all the time on WCRW for more than $720,000 a year through G&E. A Philadelphia station is leased under a similar arrangement for at least $600,000 a year.

A spokeswoman for Su said Reuters’ description of the extent of his network is “generally correct.”

Su declined to describe how he makes money when most of the U.S. stations air virtually no commercials. He also declined to say how he got the money to finance his radio leases and acquisitions.

His stations, Su said, offer the American public an alternative viewpoint on Chinese culture and politics. He has “no way to control” what CRI broadcasts on the stations, he said, nor is he part of any plan to spread Chinese propaganda.

“We are only telling the unfiltered real news to our audience,” he said.

On Oct. 29, WCRW carried a program called “The Hourly News.” Among the top stories: Senior Chinese and U.S. naval commanders planned to speak by video after a U.S. Navy ship passed close by China’s new artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Washington and its allies see the island-building program as a ploy to grab control of strategic sea lanes, and the Navy sail-by was meant to counter China’s territorial claims.

WCRW omitted that side of the story.

The admirals are holding the talks, the announcer said, “amid the tension the U.S. created this week.”

 

(Edited by Bill Tarrant and Peter Hirschberg. Reported by Koh Gui Qing in Beijing and John Shiffman in Washington and Los Angeles. Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim and Joseph Campbell in Beijing, Ritsuko Ando in Tokyo, Gopal Sharma and Ross Adkin in Kathmandu, Mirwais Harooni in Kabul, Joyce Lee in Seoul, Eveline Danubrata and Arzia Tivany Wargadiredja in Jakarta, Mohammed Shihar in Colombo, Khettiya Jittapong and Pairat Temphairojana in Bangkok, Terrence Edwards in Ulan Bator, Theodora D’cruz in Singapore, Diane Chan in Hong Kong, Jane Wardell and Ian Chua in Sydney, Balazs Koranyi and Harro Ten Wolde in Frankfurt, Jussi Rosendahl in Helsinki, Sara Ledwith in London, Julia Fioretti in Brussels, Can Sezer in Istanbul, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Kole Casule in Skopje, Renee Maltezou in Athens, Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Radu-Sorin Marinas in Bucharest, Geert De Clercq in Paris, Marton Dunai in Budapest, Ed Cropley in Johannesburg, Selam Gebrekidan in New York, Anna Driver in Houston, Renee Dudley in Boston, Brian Grow in Atlanta, David Storey in Washington and Euan Rocha in Toronto.)

Mother Who Lost Son to Terrorist Propaganda Fighting Back

A woman whose son died while fighting alongside Islamic terrorists has come out swinging against radicalization of westerners with a new organization called Mothers For Life.

Christianne Boudreau lost her 22-year-old son when Damien became radicalized by Islamist propaganda and then died while fighting with al-Nusrah, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.  Now she is working to help other parents spot the signs of radicalization in their children.

“If I knew back then what I know now, I may have seen it before my son left,” Boudreau told Fox News. “There are things that only a mother will notice. Maybe your child will disconnect and separate from their social group, or start saving money, whereas they never did before. It is only getting harder, as ISIS is encouraging recruits to hide their religion, so it is really important to pick up on other changes.”

Boudreau said her son was raised Christian but converted to Islam a few years before joining the terrorists.  She said he claimed he had been “wasting his life and had no direction” before the Islamists came along and provided him with a “purpose.”

She says the group is needed because of the stigma that can be placed on families if their children leave for the terrorist groups.

“How can families reach out for help if they are afraid people will come after them?” Boudreau said. “That’s why something like Mothers for Life was needed. To show that parents aren’t always to blame, but that we need to do whatever we can to stop this. We need the politicians to start to listen. We need them to help with outreach and with prevention.”

Boudreau hopes that by going public with other mothers who have lost their sons they can stop another mother from suffering in the way they’ve done in losing their child.