This Is What the Government Thinks an ISIS Fighter Looks like
New research shows a striking profile of a domestic ISIS fighter: median age, citizenship, and even footprint on social media. But knowing a suspect’s race, the study says, simply won’t help.
The rise of alleged domestic ISIS-inspired terrorists in the U.S.—or as is more often is the case, alleged wannabes—has a face. But it doesn’t necessarily have a race, a new study shows.
The study, released Thursday by researchers at the Center of National Security at Fordham Law, compiles the information of every ISIS-related arrest in the U.S. from March of 2014 to just days ago.
According to the report, 56 people have been either charged or convicted with ISIS-related crimes since March. Researchers also included the information of three people killed by law enforcement with alleged ISIS ties, bringing the total number of individuals up to 59.
From the two years of data, the researchers were able to outline the average American suspect in an ISIS-related arrest: 26 years old. Most likely a male U.S. citizen. Discusses ISIS on social media.
And if he’s been charged with planning to go overseas and fight, he’s more likely to be attracted to the ideal of a Islamic caliphate, or an interest in toppling Bashar al-Assad.
Targeting this person by race, however, would not be helpful, the study shows. The individuals are from a “wide swath of ethnic backgrounds” and “few are of Middle Eastern Arab descent,” said Greenberg in the statement.
Domestic plotters that fit the profile are likely inspired by the Charlie Hedbo attacks, the Garland shooting, or the Boston Marathon bombing, and may be more willing to attack police or the military. And some might have simply not have figured out a way to get to Syria.
And chances are, researchers say, the average plotter doesn’t get as riled up about 9/11 as most would assume.
The number of those charged in ISIS-related arrests has risen dramatically in recent weeks. From March to December of 2014, 14 people were charged or killed in an alleged attack or confrontation. Less than halfway into 2015, that number has jumped to 42.
One reason for that increase is the rise of domestic plotters. Fifteen out of the 17 alleged domestic terror conspirators have been arrested, or killed, since March 2015.
Researchers stopped compiling data a few days ago, on June 22, 2015. The arrests began with Nicholas Teausant, a 20-year-old California community college student with an extensive social media footprint charged with trying to join ISIS through Canada. The last person arrested on charges related to ISIS, Justin Nolan Sullivan, a 19-year-old living in North Carolina, was taken in this week, accused of plotting a violent attack in the U.S.
“The ISIS-inspired individuals in this study reflect a new dimension in the landscape of post-9/11 domestic terrorism,” said Center on National Security Director Karen Greenberg.
The results show, too, that the new American terror threat is increasingly eyeing young women.
Fifteen percent of those arrested for alleged domestic terror schemes are women, which researchers say shows an uptick in female terror arrests. They’re also disproportionately young. Over 60 percent are below the age of 21.
The study was conducted as a first step in an effort to determine ways to pinpoint who ISIS aspirants are, and how they behave before an attack. The results show that 81 percent are U.S. citizens and more than a third are converts to Islam.
Eighty percent of the cases involved social media, either because the individuals expressed their sympathy to terror organizations on Facebook or Twitter, or they were trying to recruit others to ISIS.
But law enforcement was also able to use ISIS’s propaganda machine to their advantage. The study shows that law enforcement discovered 18 people from their social media accounts alone.
Foreign fighters don’t just want to fight, the researchers say. “In addition to fighting, they envision serving the Caliphate through teaching, nursing, supporting soldiers, becoming wives and mothers, and policing,” according to the study.
Researchers found, too, that domestic plotters tend to be more inspired by more recent terror acts on U.S. soil.
“Unlike a dominant narrative of al Qaeda-related cases after 2011, the references to 9/11 are infrequent,” the study states.
In half of the cases, law enforcement and prosecutors used a confidential course, informant, or undercover agent to discover their suspects. That number bumps up to 79 percent in foiled plans for domestic terror.
Out of the 59 individuals recorded in the study, 49 were charged with material support of terrorism. Eleven were charged with weapons violations, six were charged with crimes involving weapons of mass destruction or explosive material, and eight were charged with fraud and false statements.
Only three people have actually made it to Syria.
The closest any of the cases got to launching an attack on U.S. soil since the beginning of the research came in May, when Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi opened fire outside a “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas. The two injured a security guard before they were shot to death in the parking lot.