Joining the Caliphate
The United States of ISIS: More Popular Than Al Qaeda Ever Was
Fourteen years after the war on terror began, the Islamic State has drawn more Americans to its cause than its predecessor.
In April, a 16-year-old in South Carolina was charged with illegal weapons possession in family court, but this was no routine gun case. Prosecutors claimed the Syrian-American teen planned to shoot up a U.S. Army base for ISIS. He and an older man allegedly planned to move to Syria and continue fighting for ISIS there.
Police said they found an ISIS flag in the teen’s room during a search. Because South Carolina doesn’t have its own terrorism statute, the state charged him with possession of a firearm by a minor. He pleaded out and is in juvenile detention, where he might remain until age 21.
This overlooked case is one of more than 66 against Americans for making common cause with ISIS since the beginning of 2014. For all the talk of al Qaeda “sleeper cells” after the 9/11 attacks, the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS has drawn far more people to its cause inside the U.S. and from a broad swath of the Muslim population.
“The typical American recruit is anything but typical,” Seamus Hughes of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism told The Daily Beast. “They run a spectrum between loners online to hardened fighters.”
The majority of the ISIS cases, involving several dozen people, allege they planned to join the caliphate in the Middle East. Half of the total cases involved FBI informants and agents, which has opened the U.S. government to criticism of inflating the ISIS threat through entrapment.
Several cases include women who sought to marry someone in ISIS. Others stand accused of providing material support—money, guns, or sending other people—to ISIS. A few were busted for essentially saying online that they supported ISIS. At least seven people are accused of plotting terrorist attacks at home.
Here are the five groups the accused American supporters of ISIS fit into:
THE LONE WOLVES
ISIS plans to establish a caliphate, starting in the Middle East. That, though, hasn’t stopped American enthusiasts from planning attacks inside the U.S. for ISIS.
Last May two Arizona men tried to attack a “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas, but were killed by two cops parked near the back entrance. Their attack was publicized by an ISIS propagandist on Twitter, who claimed it as the group’s first attack inside America. Another man was charged in relation to it months later. Just weeks later in Boston, another man was killed by police as he allegedly planned to behead “boys in blue.” Two other men were later charged in the plot.
Two cousins from Illinois made contact with undercover FBI agents in their alleged effort to join ISIS. Hasan and Jonas Edmonds were allegedly planning to move to Syria with the latter’s family, but got delayed. “Honestly, we would love to do something like the brother in Paris did,” Hasan allegedly told the undercover agent, referencing the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
Prosecutors allege that Hasan, an Illinois National Guardsman, gave Jonas detailed instructions on how to carry out an attack at a National Guard training center. They had a very detailed number of expected casualties: 120. Hasan is said to have provided information on what the rooms looked like and when to attack. He even offered to take the undercover agent an itemized list of potential victims, based on rank, in what seems like the most concrete of alleged plots foiled.
A group of other men in New York and New Jersey were arrested just before Independence Day. Officials said some of them had been seen casing New York City landmarks, looking for an easy target. At least one of them told his parents he would go to Syria or they could “watch me kill non-Muslims here.”
One of them, Fareed Mumuni, 21, was also accused of trying to stab an FBI agent who came to his home on Staten Island. Body armor shielded the agent from serious injuries.
Ten of the 66 accused are women. Most wanted to marry men of ISIS.
Shannon Maureen Conley, a Colorado teen who pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to provide support to a foreign terrorist organization, was smitten with a Tunisian man whom she planned to join in Syria. Portrayed by her attorneys and the media as an awkward misfit, she found her calling among fellow ISIS enthusiasts online who convinced the nurse’s aide that her skills could be useful on the battlefield. Conley was arrested before boarding a plane bound for Turkey, from where she would’ve crossed into Syria.
Conley would have found her life severely limited, which makes the allure of ISIS to American women a little puzzling. Dress codes in the caliphate dictate women be fully covered. Women are largely limited to being wives and stay-at-home mothers. Rape is omnipresent. A few elite wives, however, are known to be be integral to day-to-day operations of the caliphate, acting as advisers and overseeing sex slaves.
Some American women accused of supporting ISIS were not content to play housewife, however.
The FBI alleges Asia Siddique and Noelle Velentzas of New York tried to become amateur bomb-makers who would blow up landmarks in the city—roles they never would have been allowed to hold under ISIS rule.
“Why we can’t be some real bad bitches?” Velentzas allegedly said after pulling a knife from her bra.
While Jaelyn Young allegedly made plans to run off and join ISIS with her fiancé, a Mississippi imam’s son, she wasn’t following him either.
“I’m the one who made the contacts,” Young allegedly boasted to the FBI. “I’m the one who made the plans.”
Wannabe jihadists don’t have to move to Syria to help ISIS, however. Nor do they need to launch attacks here at home. Money and supplies work, too.
A group of six Bosnians, two of them U.S. citizens, were charged in February in the largest ISIS-financing bust. Authorities accused them of sending money and weapons to militants overseas, namely another Bosnian-American who was not charged in the indictment.
Among the items they are alleged to have sent to ISIS: money, U.S. military uniforms, combat boots, and accessories for firearms. The materials were allegedly sent to intermediaries who then transferred them to the Bosnian-American inside Syria.
Using Facebook chat transcripts and records of wire transfer service transactions, authorities claimed the group had transferred thousands of dollars while referring to ISIS members as “ours” in chats.
In New York, Abror Habibov and Dilkhayot Kasimov allegedly helped two other men raise funds to go fight in Syria. The complaints allege that Kasimov even delivered funds to one of the men when he was at the airport—just before authorities stopped him from boarding his flight.
While some people allegedly provided material support to ISIS in the form of money or goods, others were arrested and charged for voicing their support on social media, where ISIS does most of its recruiting.
Heather Elizabeth Coffman’s cover photo on Facebook said “We Are All ISIS,” according to prosecutors, and she said her job was “jihad for Allah’s sake.” The FBI said she lied about these statements when it asked Coffman about them. She pleaded guilty to making a false statement about a terrorism investigation and was sentenced to 54 months in prison.
Muhanad Badawi, a California man, was accused of conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State by allegedly giving his credit card to a friend who bought a plane ticket with it. Prosecutors used Badawi and his friend’s alleged pro-ISIS tweets to establish a link between them and ISIS.
THE TERRORIST ARMY RECRUITS
Through social media, the Islamic State has recruited dozens of would-be fighters from America to join the cause in Syria and Iraq.
Nicholas Teausant, a convert from California, was among those whose criminal complaint alleges a long history of threats about how he would help ISIS and what he would do to make his way to Syria. FBI informants said he vowed to kill his mother if she stood in his way. In particularly cruel moments, he allegedly acknowledged that just tying her up would allow him to escape, but then clarified that execution would give him more satisfaction.
In Buffalo, a father of grown children was arrested for allegedly plotting to go join ISIS, and recruiting others to come with him. Arafat Nagi, 44, allegedly pledged allegiance to the caliph, and an FBI informant made plans with him to “elicit information” about going to Syria.
While three Americans believed to be in Syria have been charged, dozens more have not—sometimes identified only when relatives are informed of their deaths in battle with other groups. At least two presumed Americans killed in battle have not yet been publicly identified, despite photos circulating on the Web. They went by the noms de guerre Abu Abdullah al Amriki and Abu Dawoud al Amriki.
The only American soldiers killed so far in the ISIS war were the ones fighting for ISIS. They will not likely be the last.