Study Shows Terrorist Threats Predominantly from U.S. Citizens
President Donald Trump in his weekly address Feb. 3, noted the Executive Order he signed establishing a temporary ban on immigrants and refugees from 7 countries would “help keep terrorists out of our country” and establish a process to develop new vetting and mechanisms “to ensure those coming into America love and support our people. That they have good intentions.”
A new study warns he may be looking in the wrong direction when the source of the problem lay inside the country.
A new study from the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) at the University of Chicago and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Counter-Terrorism Policy Center finds that a large number ISIS supporters arrested, indicted or killed in the course of attacking U.S. targets, are U.S.-born citizens and engaged in society. It also found no refugees among the group studied, contrary to fears voiced by the Trump administration which has included refugees from “high-risk” countries in its temporary ban.
The report, The American Face of ISIS, says it is also challenging assumptions that ISIS supporters are uneducated, isolated and unemployed.
“What we are very much trying to show from these data is that 55 percent of attackers in the United States are born in the U.S.,” Keven Ruby, co-author of the study and senior research associate at CPOST, told News India Times. “Of these, almost half are recent converts and don’t belong to established Muslim communities,” he added.
“So not only does it challenge the assumption that you focus on the Muslim community, the travel ban just put in place is not going to solve the problem of ISIS,” Ruby emphasized.
The report focuses on 112 people who perpetrated offenses or were indicted by federal authorities for ISIS-related offenses, and in more detail at 104 individuals who were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for ISIS-related crimes between March 2014 and August 2016 and eight individuals who died either perpetrating a domestic attack on behalf of ISIS or fighting for ISIS in Syria.
The study found that as a group, the individuals mirror average Americans more than people think and that the common perception of a terrorist as a young, single, unemployed, disenfranchised male is wrong. The average age of the 112 individuals is 27 years old, with almost a third over 30; more than 40 percent were in a relationship (one-third were married); and nearly two-thirds had been to college and three-quarters had jobs or were in school—figures similar to the U.S. population as a whole.
“The strength of ISIS is in the videos with which it can basically recruit ordinary Americans to its cause,” Ruby said. Eighty three percent of the study group had watched ISIS videos, including execution videos and lectures by terrorist leaders.
The vast majority of the 112 individuals in the cohort are U.S. citizens. Nearly two-thirds were born in the United States, and nearly 20 percent were naturalized citizens.
This is in sharp contrast to individuals who had been indicted for al Qaeda-related offenses between 1997 and 2011 when only 55 percent of were U.S. citizens.
Furthermore, almost none of those individuals under study was a refugee. Out of 112, only three had refugee status—two from Bosnia and one from Iraq. About 30 percent of the individuals are converts to Islam, including 43 percent of U.S.-born indictees.
“The terrorist threat to America is changing. New data show how the threat comes almost exclusively from American citizens already within our borders, not refugees or foreign nationals,” said Robert Pape, co-author of the study, director of CPOST and a professor of political science at the University.
For policymakers, Pape said the report shows shutting the U.S. borders to refugees and visitors from Islamic countries won’t prevent support for ISIS and could blind authorities to real threats. Officials need to understand ISIS’s propaganda strategy in the U.S. and target its methods for driving recruitment and radicalization, he added.