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Stengel: Anti-ISIS messaging is working
02:08 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Anti-ISIS messaging campaign is working, State Department official says

"Young people who are not joining because we have somehow interceded," he says

19-year-old American accused of wanting to join ISIS is arrested Monday

CNN  — 

On the same day the United States announced the arrest of a 19-year old attempting to leave the country to join ISIS, a top State Department official said the American efforts to combat ISIS’ powerful online message are working.

The anti-ISIS messaging campaign is keeping disaffected youth from joining the extremist group, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel told CNN’s Elise Labott on Monday.

“We have evidence that there are young people who are not joining because we have somehow interceded,” Stengel said. “They’re reading the messages, they’re hearing the messages – not just from us but from the hundreds of Islamic clerics who have said that this is a perversion of Islam, from the hundreds of Islamic scholars who have said the same thing.”

“It’s a very small cohort,” Stengel said of the so-called “foreign fighter” cases originating from the United States.

As part of his role at the State Department, Stengel overseas the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which aims to counter propaganda from ISIS.

ISIS has been effective over the past several months at bringing its message to young people around the world through a series of highly produced and graphically violent videos, and through online forums.

“We’re out there contesting that space,” said Stengel, “and I think we’re doing well there.”

Why is ISIS so successful at luring Westerners?

Stengel recently returned from a trip to the Middle East, during which he met with officials from U.S. regional coalition partners in the fight against ISIS.

During his interview with CNN, Stengel weighed in on controversy surrounding comments made last week by Vice President Joe Biden, which seemed to call into question the commitment of some of those same key partners.

Stengel said the uproar over Biden’s remarks, which he later apologized for, is a “peripheral issue.”

“I don’t think that deters anybody at all,” Stengel added, “and in fact I think they regard it as a very minor distraction compared to this real challenge of mobilizing all of our collective forces against this abhorrent organization.”