Technical ReportPDF Available

The American Face of ISIS: Analysis of ISIS-Related Terrorism in the US March 2014-August 2016

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is mobilising sympathisers in the US at rates much higher than seen for previous terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. To understand this new American face of ISIS, the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) study examined 112 cases of individuals who perpetrated ISIS-related offences, were indicted by the US Justice Department for such offences, or both, in the US between March 2014 and August 2016. This is the first comprehensive analysis of ISIS-related cases to examine the profiles of indictees overall, as well as to identify characteristics associated with each of the offence types. The findings are striking, and provide a valuable contribution to understanding the contemporary face of ISIS-related terrorism in the US.
Content may be subject to copyright.
The American face of ISIS
Analysis of ISIS-related terrorism in the US
March 2014August 2016
SPECIAL REPORT
Authors: Robert Pape, Jean Decety, Keven Ruby,
AlejandroAlbanez Rivas, Jens Jessen, Caroline Wegner
Contributors: Piper Mik, Sarah Starr, Ala Tineh,
WalkerGunning, Jacinta Carroll
February 2017
About the authors and contributors
Dr Robert A Pape is professor of political science and director of the University of Chicago Project on
Securit y and Threats (CPOST).
Dr Jean Decet y is professor of psycholog y and psychiatry at the University of Chicago.
Dr Keven Ruby is the Senior Research Associate at CPOST.
Alejandro Albanez Rivas is the Data Manager at CPOST.
Jens Jessen is a research assistant at CPOST.
Caroline Wegner is a research assistant at CPOST.
Piper Mik is a research as sistant at CPOST.
Sarah Starr is a research assistant at CPOST.
Ala Tineh is a research assistant at CPOST.
Walker Gunning is the Executive Director of CPOST.
Jacinta Carroll is Head, Counter‑Terrorism Policy Centre, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
About CPOST
The Chicago Project on Securit y and Threats (CPOST) is an international security aairs research
institute based at the Universit y of Chicago. Founded in 2004 by Robert Pape, Professor of Political
Science at the university, CPOST is best known for creating and maintaining the most comprehensive
and transparent suicide attack database available. Itcontinues to pursue empirically based research
but does not ignore the human element.
Drawing on the diverse expertise at the University of Chicago, CPOST finds counterintuitive solutions to
complex threats. We are creating a non‑partisan open source toolkit to bet ter address emerging threats
for government and corporate partners, while training the next generation of dierence‑makers in
policy, business, the militar y and academia.
CPOST’s extensive rigorously verified databases allow us to pursue projects ranging from analysing
al‑Qaeda’s response to drone strikes in Yemen to scanning subject s’ brains as they watch ISIS
propaganda videos (in a ground‑breaking collaboration with leading neuroscientist/psychologist
DrJean Decet y). Follow us on Twitter @CPOST_UChicago or sign up for our newsletter on the web at
http://cpost.uchicago.edu/.
Acknowledgements
CPOST thanks the Department of Defense Minerva Initiative for supporting the production of
this repor t, along with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Oice of Naval Research, the
GPD Charitable Trust and the University of Chicago for their generous support of the centre.
About ASPI
ASPI’s aim is to promote Australia’s security by contributing fresh ideas to strategic decision‑making,
and by helping to inform public discussion of strategic and defence issues. ASPI was established, and
is partially funded, by the Australian Government as an independent, non‑partisan policy institute. It is
incorporated as a company, and is governed by a Council with broad membership. ASPI’s core values
are collegiality, originalit y & innovation, quality & excellence and independence.
ASPI’s publications—including this paper—are not intended in any way to express or reflect the views
of the Australian Government. The opinions and recommendations in this paper are published by ASPI
to promote public debate and understanding of strategic and defence issues. Theyreflect the personal
views of the author(s) and should not be seen as representing the formal position of ASPI on any
particular issue.
Important disclaimer
This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in relationto the
subject matter covered.  It is provided with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged
in rendering any form of professional or other advice orservices. Noperson should rely on the
contents of this publication without first obtaining advice from a qualified professional person.
Cover image: ISIS on an iPad screen. © GongTo/Shutterstock, Inc.
The American face of ISIS
Analysis of ISIS-related terrorism in the US
March 2014August 2016
Authors: Robert Pape, Jean Decety, Keven Ruby,
AlejandroAlbanez Rivas, Jens Jessen, Caroline Wegner
Contributors: Piper Mik, Sarah Starr, Ala Tineh,
WalkerGunning, Jacinta Carroll
February 2017
© The Australian Strategic Policy Institute Limited 2017
This publication is subject to copyright. Except as permitted under the Copyright
Act 1968, no part of it may in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
microcopying, photocopying, recording or otherwise) be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system or transmitted without prior written permission. Enquiries should
be addressed to the publishers. Notwithstanding the above, Educational Institutions
(including Schools, Independent Colleges, Universities, and TAFEs) are granted
permission to make copies of copyrighted works strictly for educational pur poses
without explicit permission from ASPI and free of charge.
First published February 2017
Published in Australia by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute
ASPI
Level 2
40 Macquarie Street
Barton AC T 2600
Australia
Tel + 61 2 6270 5100
Fax + 61 2 6273 9566
enquiries@aspi.org.au
www.aspi.org.au
www.aspistrategist.org.au
Facebook.com/ASPI.org
@ASPI_org
CONTENTS
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 5
INTRODUCTION 7
MORE NORMAL THAN YOU THINK 10
EXPLAINING DOMESTIC ATTACKERS, FACILITATORS AND FOREIGN FIGHTERS 16
VIDEOS PLAY A MAJORROLE 20
A NEW BREED: COMPARING ISIS TO AL-QAEDA INDICTEES 22
NOTES 23
4THE AMER ICAN FACE OF ISIS: A NALYSIS OF ISIS-REL AT ED TERRORISM IN THE US MARCH 2014 –AUGUST 2016
In this undated photo provided by the United States Attor ney for the Southern District of New York, Samy el-Goarany poses for a photo
with a weapon and the Islamic State group flag. Prose cutors showed this photo of Samy el-Goarany in federal cour t 17 January 2017,
during the trial of Ahmed Mohammed el-Gammal who is accused of helping Samy el-Goarany reach Syria where he traine d with the
Islamic State group before he was killed. The photo was shown while Samy el- Goarany’s brother, Tarek el-Goarany, was testifying. (US
Attorney’s Oice for the S outhern Distric t of New York via AP and AAP.)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is mobilising sympathisers in the US at rates much higher than seen for
previous terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.
To understand this new American face of ISIS, the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) study examined
112 cases of individuals who perpetrated ISIS-related oences, were indicted by the US Justice Department for such
oences, or both, in the US between March 2014 and August 2016. The oences fall into three categories:
1. attacking or conspiring to attack targets in the US
2. travelling or conspiring to travel to join ISIS abroad
3. facilitating others seeking to attack or travel.
Commentary to date on the type of people in the US who support ISIS is typically based on a few high-profile
individual cases and some speculation. This is the first comprehensive analysis of ISIS-related cases to examine the
profiles of indictees overall, as well as to identify characteristics associated with each of the three oence types.
Our key findings are as follows:
US ISIS indictees are very similar to the overall US population.
Their rates of marriage, college or higher education, and employment are close to the US average.
Indictees are mostly born and raised in America.
83% are US citizens, and 65% were born in the US.
None is a refugee from Syria.
A significant proportion are converts from outside established Muslim communities.
30% are converts to Islam, including 43% of US-born indictees.
Those indicted for attacking or conspiring to conduct an attack in the US are as likely to be US-born converts to
Islam as to be from established Muslim communities.
51% are recent converts to Islam.
49% are from established Muslim communities.
ISIS propaganda videos played a central role in the radicalisation of indictees.
83% watched ISIS propaganda videos, including execution videos and lectures by terrorist leaders.
ISIS has been more successful than al-Qaeda in mobilising support in the US.
ISIS is mobilising US indictees at a rate four times higher than al-Qaeda’s.
ISIS indictees are significantly more likely to be US citizens and recent converts than their al-Qaeda
indictee counterparts.
6THE AMER ICAN FACE OF ISIS: A NALYSIS OF ISIS-REL AT ED TERRORISM IN THE US MARCH 2014 –AUGUST 2016
Policy takeaways
Stopping immigration from Islamic countries won’t prevent support for ISIS in the US.
Defeating ISIS in the US requires a better understanding of the group’s propaganda strategy and why it’s more
successful than that of older groups, such as al-Qaeda.
INTRODUCTION
Who becomes a sympathiser of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and why? What explains why some travel
to fight for the group in Syria, others choose to attack at home, and others limit their activity to facilitating travel
and attacks? Are today’s ISIS sympathisers dierent from those of al-Qaeda who threatened the US with 9/11 and
its aermath?
To answer these questions, the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) conducted a comprehensive
review of the 112 cases of individuals who perpetrated oences or were indicted by the US Justice Department for
ISIS-related oences in the US between March 2014 and August 2016.1 These oences are:
1. attacking or conspiring to attack targets in the US
2. travelling or conspiring to travel to join ISIS abroad as ‘foreign fighters’
3. facilitating others seeking to attack or travel.
We found striking patterns
First, US ISIS indictees2 look more like average Americans than is commonly understood. While the image of the
‘typical terrorist’ is that of a young, single male under the age of 25years, the profile emerging from our research
presents a dierent picture. US ISIS indictees are older—nearly half are over 25—and a notable fraction (11%)
are women. In addition, their rates of marriage and higher education are comparable to the US national average,
and three-quarters were either students or employed at the time of the oence. In short, they are engaged with
society and have educational and career opportunities. They aren’t loners operating from the fringes of society.
Nevertheless, their opportunities and social relationships didn’t prevent them being radicalised and active
supporters of ISIS.
Second, the indictees are truly homegrown. The vast majority are US citizens (83%), and 65% were born in the
US. None is a Syrian refugee. Indeed, only three of the 112 had refugee status at the time of their oences, and
two of those had arrived in the US before 1999. Two of the three were from Bosnia and one from Iraq. However, a
significant fraction of those born in the US are second-generation Americans, consistent with studies investigating
ISIS recruitment in other Western countries, such as France.3 While data on the families of US indictees is limited, we
know that at least 17 were born into Muslim immigrant families, and evidence points to an additional four for whom
that is highly likely (together comprising 29% of the 73 US-born indictees).
Third, many indictees come from outside established Muslim communities. Half (51%) of those who chose to attack
in the US are recent converts to Islam, including some who converted less than a year before their arrest (Figure1).
This is in sharp contrast to the smaller number of converts among those who chose to travel to fight in Syria (19%) or
who facilitated attackers and ‘travellers’ or foreign fighters with money and logistical support (10%). Travellers were
on average the youngest oenders, at 25 years old. Facilitators were not only the oldest, averaging 29 years, but also
the least likely to be unemployed.
8THE AMER ICAN FACE OF ISIS: A NALYSIS OF ISIS-REL AT ED TERRORISM IN THE US MARCH 2014 –AUGUST 2016
Figure 1: Percentage of converts for each oence
Known Convert
10%
Not Convert
90%
Known Convert
51%
AttackersFacilitators Travellers
No
t Convert
49%
Known Convert
19%
Not Convert
81%
Note: Based on 112 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
Fourth, ISIS propaganda, and especially videos, played a central role in their radicalisation. Eighty-three per cent
of indictees reported watching ISIS videos, including videos of executions, which ISIS distributes widely on the
internet. Travellers were most likely to report watching videos (92%) and attackers the least (76%), although all
groups demonstrate a high rate of watching video propaganda.
Finally, ISIS has been more successful than al-Qaeda in mobilising support in the US, with four times more indictees
per year. ISIS indictees are also significantly more likely to be US citizens and recent converts than their al-Qaeda
counterparts. ISIS’s comparative success underscores not only the eectiveness of its propaganda strategy but also
the centrality of the internet in making the group’s propaganda available to potential supporters across the globe.
These findings challenge conventional stereotypes of terrorists and even the standard profiles of past groups.
The popular view of ISIS terrorists, commonly reinforced in some American media, is that they are Muslims from
outside the US or from within established Muslim-American communities.4 This view has led to some policy
proposals to exclude Muslims from migrating to the US. They are also regularly portrayed as young—with a high
proportion of teenagers—mostly male, and as lonely outsiders with little education and low job prospects, leaving
them especially vulnerable to the allure of terrorist groups.5
This popular view persists despite the fact that past expert studies have shown that terrorists are typically broadly
representative of their communities in terms of socioeconomic and educational measures.6
Our study built on existing research7 on the threat of ISIS in the US by including more recent cases, expanding the
variables to include a particular focus on propaganda consumption, and engaging in new analysis of subgroups of
oenders by citizenship and oence type that allows us to draw new insights into the face of ISIS in America.
Our findings are based on a comprehensive and rigorous review of the documentary evidence on the 112
indictees in our database, more than 1,600 pages of formal indictment material, criminal complaints, and media
coverage. Based on this review, we systematically identified and collected a broad spectrum of demographic
and socioeconomic characteristics as well as factors associated with radicalisation and the consumption of
militant propaganda.
We were able to source data on these variables for the overwhelming majority of indictees. Of note, we have data
for all 112 cases on the categories of age, oence type, citizenship, country of birth, religion, and whether they are
recent converts to Islam. We identified educational attainment for 72individuals (64%), employment for 90 (80%),
marital status for 74 (66%), and propaganda consumption for 87 (78%). Violent criminality and mental illness aren’t
common among ISIS indictees. According to our data, 14% had confirmed mental illness, while 13% had been
convicted of a violent crime.
9
INTRODUCTION
Our data allows us to identify patterns and make inferences based on important observable characteristics.
Additional research, including interviews, would be necessar y for a systematic evaluation of motivations and other
psychological factors in these cases.
ISIS has been remarkably successful in mobilising US citizens, in particular recent converts, at rates higher than
al-Qaeda’s. Other commentators have suggested that the path to ‘conversion’ may have been part of the jihadi
radicalisation and recruitment process. Indeed, this perspective is consistent with the relatively high number of
recent converts among attackers.
The average ISIS indictee is a 27-year-old male with no criminal record or mental illness who attended some college,
is employed or still in school, is in personal relationship, is a Muslim but may be recent convert, and is part of a local
group of like-minded radicals.
Our findings have significant policy implications.
Taken together, the increase in ‘born and bred’ Americans supporting ISIS and the very limited number of refugees
in our study suggest that limiting or halting immigration from Muslim countries will not eliminate or even markedly
mitigate the threat posed by ISIS to the US. Significantly, in the light of current debates about security threats
associated with Syrian refugees from the current conflict, there are no cases in our data of a refugee from Syria
perpetrating an ISIS-related oence in the US.
Additionally, because our study doesn’t point to a narrow, easily distinguishable profile, law enforcement oicers
can’t simply expect to identify ISIS supporters by tracking large numbers of traditionally religious Muslim men.
Instead, our security forces and intelligence forces must focus on limiting access to the tools used to carry out
attacks and the propaganda that inspires them.
To do so, we need to deepen our understanding of the appeal of this propaganda in order to sever the link between
individuals’ sense of disenfranchisement, perceived lack of opportunity and other factors and support for ISIS.
MORE NORMAL THAN
YOU THINK
What kind of person decides to fight for or support a foreign terrorist group like ISIS? CPOST’s data on individuals
indicted for ISIS-related oences in the US sheds new light on this question. The popular view is that individuals
likely to be attracted to Islamist extremist groups are most oen young male Muslims who are from established
Muslim communities in the US or have come to the US from such communities abroad.8 This view assumes they are
uneducated loners with few economic opportunities and little to lose, making them vulnerable to recruitment by
militant groups such as ISIS promising them purpose and opportunity.
Those assumptions don’t tell the whole story.
Strikingly, our study found that a substantial proportion of indictees doesn’t fit that profile. Indeed, on many
demographic and socioeconomic factors, the 112 indictees in our study are nearly indistinguishable from
average Americans.
Older and a higher proportion of females than expected
Although one might expect ISIS indictees to be males in their late teens or early twenties, the data shows that the
group is far more heterogeneous (Figure2). The average age is 27years, ranging from a low of 17 to a high of52.
Nearly half are older than25, the age commonly thought to be the upper bound for people willing to join and fight
for extremist groups.9 For example, a comprehensive study found the average age of suicide bombers from 1982 to
2003 to be23.10 Additionally, the fact that 11% of indictees on terrorism-related charges are female challenges the
presumption that support for ISIS comes only from young males, and that if women are involved it would only be in
a passive manner.11 The role of women in terrorist groups has long been noted, but the potential appeal of Islamist
groups like ISIS to women may be underappreciated.12
Figure 2: Age and sex
17
18-21
22-24
25-29
30-34
35-52
20%
18%
16%
31%
13%
2%
45%
Average age
is 27
F
emale
11%
Male
89%
Based on 112 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
11
MORE NORM AL THAN YOU THINK
What drove female indictees to support ISIS varies. Three operated together with male significant others, including
Jaelyn Young, who was arrested for attempting to travel to Syria with her fiancée, Muhammad Dakhlalla, using their
honeymoon as cover.13 Others, such as Shannon Maureen Conley, had developed a romantic relationship with an
ISIS fighter in Syria online; Conley was arrested aer attempting to travel to join her man.14 Yet others, such as Noelle
Valentzas and Asia Siddiqqi, conspired to attack targets in the US in apparent retaliation for US policy in Syria and, in
Valentzas’s words, to ‘make history’.15
US citizens, not foreigners or refugees
A key finding is that the vast majority are US citizens, and a strong majority were born in the US (Figure3).
Figure 3: Citizenship status
Citizen (by Birth)
Naturalized
Dual Citizenship
Green Card
Foreign Citizen
Refugee*
64%
15%
4%
10%
4%
3%
83%
*Held refugee status at time of ar rest.
Notes: Base d on 112 cases. Direct evidence of citizenship was not available for 2 of the 112 indictees in our database (Jalil ibn Ameer
Aziz and Imr an Rabbani) and birth country for 4 confirmed US citizens (Ali Saleh, Robert Blake Jack son, Daniel Seth Franey and Darren
Arness Jackson). However, contextual evidence sug gests all six are American-born US citizens, and we have coded them as such.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
Almost two-thirds were US citizens born in the US. In addition, about half of the non-US born individuals have
become naturalised US citizens. This highlights that the main threat from ISIS within the US stems from our own
citizens, not foreigners or refugees from the Middle East.
A typical example is Edward Archer, arrested for shooting and almost killing a police oicer in Philadelphia aer
pledging allegiance to ISIS.16 A US-born citizen and lifelong US resident, Archer was radicalised not by travelling to
Syria or Iraq, but by ISIS propaganda or by ISIS operatives via social media.
Only three of the 112 had refugee status at the time of their arrest. Two of the three are from Bosnia and have been
in the US since 1999. None is a Syrian refugee. Aws Mohammad al-Jayab, a refugee from Iraq who arrived in the US
in 2012, is the only recent refugee among the 112 cases. He travelled to Syria to fight with a group that would later
join ISIS and was arrested upon returning to the US.17 That ISIS indictees are much more likely to be US-born citizens
than in any other category means that radicalisation largely takes place inside the borders of the US.
Partners, not loners: nearly half were in a relationship
It’s commonly assumed that being married or otherwise in a relationship is incompatible with terrorism, which is
why terrorists are expected to be loners.18 However, consistent with recent research, relationships are prominently
represented in our sample (Figure4).
12 THE AMER ICAN FACE OF ISIS: A NALYSIS OF ISIS-REL AT ED TERRORISM IN THE US MARCH 2014 –AUGUST 2016
Figure 4: Relationship status
Married
Partner
Engaged
Single
Divor
ced
32%
4%
5%
50%
8%
42%
Note: Based on 74 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
We have data on the relationship status for 74 (66%) of the 112 indictees (Figure5). Of those, 42% were in some
sort of relationship at the time of their arrest, and a significant number (24) were married. Only half were single
and had never married. Even if we assume that all of the individuals for whom data on relationships was missing
were single, the total in a relationship would still be 30%, suggesting that relationships aren’t a prominent factor
in preventing individuals from supporting ISIS, particularly in relation to seeking to mount an attack in the US or
facilitating support.
Figure 5: Marriage: ISIS indictees vs. US average
18-24 25-29 30-34 >34*
10%
15%
US populationIndictees
36%
57%
50% 55%
44%
65%
* US average for ages 3 5–59.
Note: Based on 74 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database; US Census 2012.
In three cases, both partners in a relationship were indicted for their roles in a joint operation. For example,
Jaelyn Young and Muhammad Dakhlalla, arrested on their way to a Mississippi airport in order to travel to Syria,
were engaged at the time, and were seeking to travel together to live in the so-called Islamic State and aid ISIS.19
Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, responsible for killing 14in SanBernardino in December 2015 in an
attack claimed by ISIS, were married and had a daughter. Overall, 65% of indictees were radicalised to support
ISIS alongside like-minded others in some form of local group, including 13 with their spouses or extended
family members.
In other cases, the indicted individual was married, but their partner wasn’t involved in illegal activity and may not
even have been aware of it. Mediha Salkicevic, married with four children, was charged with transferring money
used to fund ISIS fighters in Syria, seemingly without her husband’s knowledge.20 Being married and having a family
13
MORE NORM AL THAN YOU THINK
didn’t prevent Salkicevic from actively supporting ISIS, even if having a large family may have made perpetrating an
attack or travelling to Syria less likely.
The distribution of married indictees closely matches that of the US population as a whole. Overall, indictees are
just as likely to be people in relationships and with other ties as average Americans. While surprising, the high
percentage of married indictees is consistent with recent studies, especially for transnational terrorists.21
Almost two-thirds attended college, similar to national average
The educational status of indictees is quite similar to that of American society as a whole, indicating that support for
ISIS is not explained by a lack of educational oppor tunities (Figure6).
Figure 6: Educational attainment
No High School
Some High School
High School
Some College
B.A.
Some Graduate
22%
15%
1%
43%
17%
1%
62%
Note: Based on 72 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
Of the 72 indicted individuals for whom educational status is known, 64% had completed some college or more
(Figure7), in line with the US average of 62% for the same age range as the indictees. In fact, the rate at which
indictees attended college matches the national averages for specific age groups. The overwhelming majority of
those with high school or some college attended secular institutions, which means they are not the product of
religious educational institutions.
Figure 7: Some higher education: indictees vs. US average, by age
18-24 25-29 30-34 >34**
56% 53%
65%
79%
65%
78%
50%
61%
US populationIndictees
** Averages some college rates for ages 35–5 4.
Note: Based on 72 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database; US Census 2015.
14 THE AMER ICAN FACE OF ISIS: A NALYSIS OF ISIS-REL AT ED TERRORISM IN THE US MARCH 2014 –AUGUST 2016
All but one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino attack, the attack on the convention centre in Garland, Texas,
and the Pulse Nightclub attack had a university degree. The exception, one of the Garland attackers, had attended
college but dropped out. An example of a more educated indictee is Mohammad Jamal Khweis, who travelled to
Syria and joined ISIS aer completing a degree in Administration of Justice from Northern Virginia Community
College.22 Khweis illustrates the trend of people with numerous educational and career opportunities becoming
radicalised. Overall, ISIS supporters in the US include people gaining an education and trying to further their
prospects in a manner quite similar to the typical American their age.
Three-quarters had jobs or were students
As with education, the data suggests that unemployment wasn’t a deciding factor in motivating individuals in the US
to perpetrate ISIS-related oences (Figure8).
Figure 8: Oender employment status
Employed
Student
Unemploye
d
46%
31%
23%
77%
Note: Based on 90 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
ISIS indictees generally had occupations and worked regular jobs with regular hours. Seventy-seven per cent of
individuals indicted either held a job or were students. For example, Nicholas Young, indicted for providing financial
support to ISIS, had been steadily employed as a transit police oicer for over 12years in WashingtonDC at the time
of his arrest.23 With stable employment and no reports of economic insecurity, Young doesn’t fit the stereotype of
an unemployed and poor member of society with no opportunities beyond terrorism. Syed Farook, one of the two
SanBernardino shooters, was employed as an environmental health specialist in the SanBernardino County Health
Department, making US$53,000 per year.24 With a comfortable salary and no indication of financial problems,
Farook too seems not to have been driven to terrorism by economic incentives or a lack of alternative options. In
short, like average Americans, the indictees are mostly occupied in some way, either as wage-earning employees or
as students.
Nearly one-third are recent converts to Islam
With one exception, all of the indictees were Muslims.25 However, 30% are recent converts to Islam, and some had
converted a year or less prior to their arrest (Figure9). These are individuals who don’t come from established
Muslim communities, don’t have family or cultural ties to the Middle East, and are unlikely to have longstanding
grievances related to the region.
15
MORE NORM AL THAN YOU THINK
Figure 9: Proportion of converts
Known Convert
30%
No
t Convert
70%
Note: Based on 112 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
Not surprisingly, the proportion of converts to Islam is highest among US-born citizens. Figure10 shows the
distribution of converts to Islam across the three citizenship groups.
Figure 10: US-born most likely to be converts
US Born
US Natur
alized
Non-US
43% 57%
95%
95%
5%
5%
Not convertConvert
Note: Based on 112 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
Forty-three per cent of US-born citizens who perpetrated or were indicted for ISIS-related oences were converts
to Islam. This further emphasises the appeal of ISIS to those outside the communities from which support for the
group is typically most expected in the US.
This group is significant in size, and contains individuals from all oence types. James Gonzalo Medina, a New
York-born oender of Hispanic descent, was arrested for attempting to detonate a bomb at a synagogue in Florida.
He seemingly had no connection to Muslim communities before his conversion to Islam four years before his arrest,
and even aer that had very sparse contact.26 Christopher Lee Cornell, an Ohio-born US citizen arrested for buying
weapons and ammunition for a planned attack, converted to Islam just six months before his arrest.27 Alexander
Ciccolo, the Massachusetts-born son of a Boston police chief, converted to Islam in the year prior to his arrest on
similar charges.28
The high prevalence of recent converts among indictees underscores the eectiveness of ISIS’s recruitment, and
especially propaganda, in mobilising individuals without longstanding ties to Islam or the Middle East to either take
up arms and attack targets in the US on ISIS’s behalf, travel to Syria in order to join the group, or facilitate the activity
of others.
EXPLAINING
DOMESTIC ATTACKERS,
FACILITATORS AND
FOREIGN FIGHTERS
So far, our analysis has treated the 112 ISIS indictees as a group, and as a group they have more in common with
average Americans than the standard profile of terrorists. However, we were able to go further than past reports and
investigate whether the characteristics of indictees vary by dierent oence types. What makes someone choose
to attack targets in the US in the name of ISIS, rather than travelling to fight for the group in Syria or assisting those
wishing to attack or travel?
To answer those questions, we coded ever y individual in our dataset for one of three possible oence categories:
Attackers: those conspiring to attack or having carried out an attack in the US
Travellers: those conspiring to travel or having travelled to join ISIS in Syria
Facilitators: those providing material aid to attackers or travellers with no evidence of intending to do either.
Oence type was assigned based on the best available evidence for a demonstrated willingness to attack, travel
or facilitate, such as mounting or preparing to mount an attack, travelling or making preparations for travelling to
Syria, or providing money or planning to assist others to attack or travel. Every indictee was coded with only a single
oence type based on the strength of the evidence.
Mohammad Badawi is an example of a facilitator. He was indicted for purchasing a one-way airline ticket for Nader
Elhuzayel to aid Elhuzayel’s travel to Syria, but did not plan to travel or attack himself.
Attackers and travellers account for 82% of oenders and are roughly evenly split (Figure11). Facilitators make up
the smallest group, accounting for the remaining 18% of oenders.
Figure 11: Distribution, by oence type
Attack
er
40%
Facilitator
18%
Tr
aveller
42%
Note: Based on 112 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
How does the profile of oenders vary by demographic and socioeconomic characteristics? Do they have dierent
pathways to radicalisation, including ties to Islam? The following analyses address these questions.
17
EXPL AINING DOMESTIC ATTACKERS , FACILITATORS AND FOREIGN FIGHTERS
Travellers are younger; facilitators are older and include a higher proportion
offemales
At an average 25 years old, travellers are the youngest among the three types of oenders and, along with attackers,
include the lowest proportion of females. Facilitators—those whose oence was to provide money and logistical
support to others—are far more likely to be older (on average 31) and female than the other two categories. Indeed,
women are twice as likely to be facilitators as either travellers or attackers (Figure12).
Figure 12: Age and sex, by oence type
Attacker
F
acilitator
Traveller
27.0
25.1
31.1
Attacker
Facilitator
Traveller
80%
20%
91%
91%
9%
9%
MaleFemale
Note: Based on 112 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
This distribution makes sense: travelling to fight abroad and attacking at home are high risk and therefore more
likely to appeal to younger males, while the decision to facilitate others in their oences poses a lower risk and is
more likely to appeal to older and more established individuals, who are also more likely to have the resources to
help finance the activities of others.
Attackers most likely to be in a relationship
The data shows that 53% of attackers—those indicted for attacking or conspiring to attack targets in the US—
were in a longstanding relationship (Figure13). This is surprising because relationships, through attachments
and responsibility, are commonly assumed to mitigate egoistic motivations for terrorism.29 The high proportion
of relationships among attackers further underscores the divergence between the stereotypical terrorist and
ISIS indictees.
Figure 13: Relationship status, by oence type
Attacker
F
acilitator
Traveller
50%50%
47%
27%
53%
73%
No relationshipRelationship
Note: Based on 74 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
18 THE AMER ICAN FACE OF ISIS: A NALYSIS OF ISIS-REL AT ED TERRORISM IN THE US MARCH 2014 –AUGUST 2016
In contrast to the profile of attackers, the relationship patterns of travellers and facilitators are consistent with
expectations. Travellers are the least likely to be in a relationship (about half as likely as attackers or facilitators).
Travellers are younger and therefore less likely to be in long-term relationships, especially marriage. Moreover,
being in a relationship could complicate travelling to Syria, which requires the individual to leave their old life and
relationships behind. Facilitators are older and more likely (50%) to be in an established relationship.
Education and employment don’t matter
One might expect education and employment to dier based on oence type, particularly given the dierences in
average age. However, while the data shows some dierences, they are typically minor, and without a strong pattern
(Figure14).
Figure 14: Higher education attainment, by oence type
Attacker
F
acilitator
Traveller
47%
67%
67%
53%
33%
33%
No collegeSome college
Note: Based on 72 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
Overall, attackers, travellers and facilitators attended college or other higher education at roughly similar rates.
Attackers are less likely than facilitators and travellers to have attended some college, but at 14% the dierence is
small. Despite being a much younger group, 67% of travellers had attended at least some college, implying that they
were not without connections and opportunities in the US prior to their decision to leave for Syria.
Employment, like relationship status, does not dier substantially across oence types (Figure15).
Figure 15: Employment, by oence type
Attacker
F
acilitator
Traveller 24%
26%
74%
87%
76%
13%
UnemployedEmployed + student
Note: Based on 90 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
Overall, attackers, travellers and facilitators attended college or other
higher education at roughly similar rates.
19
EXPL AINING DOMESTIC ATTACKERS , FACILITATORS AND FOREIGN FIGHTERS
Attackers and travellers are nearly equally likely to be unemployed, and roughly a quarter of each group were
jobless at the time of arrest. Facilitators were half as likely to be unemployed: 13% were not students or holding a
job. Higher rates of employment among facilitators is consistent with the fact that providing money and logistical
support requires income. Facilitators are also more likely to be foreign-born, and immigration to the US generally
requires one to have good prospects of getting a job. Finally, the facilitator role is the easiest role to have alongside a
job (and a family, etc.), increasing the likelihood that people with jobs seeking to support ISIS do so as facilitators.
Most attackers are recent converts to Islam
The most striking finding in our analysis of oence types is that attackers are much more likely than facilitators or
travellers to be recent converts to Islam (Figure16).
Figure 16: Convert rate, by oence type
Attacker
F
acilitator
Traveller
49%
90%
81%
10%
19%
51%
Not convertKnown convert
Note: Based on 112 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
While recent converts to Islam make up 30% of all indictees, they make up 51% of attackers. The percentage of
converts among attackers is between two and five times higher than that of converts among facilitators and
travellers. The high proportion of converts among attackers is the eect of deliberate choice. Sixty-eight per cent of
converts chose to attack in the US rather than travelling to Syria or aiding others in ISIS-related oences (Figure17).
Figure 17: Percentage of converts, by oence type
Attacker
F
acilitator
Traveller
68%
26%
6%
Note: Based on 73 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
What explains this pattern? Converts may be more likely to adopt the attacker role due to a lack of personal and
cultural connections to the Middle East, which would make it harder to establish the networks needed to be a
facilitator and make it less desirable to travel and live within the Islamic State.
The relatively high number of recent converts among attackers, including in a number of cases a lack of contact
with established Muslim communities and mosques before or aer conversion, suggests that conversion may have
been part of the radicalisation and recruitment process rather than that radicalisation occurred separately from
conversion to Islam.
VIDEOS PLAY A
MAJORROLE
ISIS is well known for its use of high-quality video propaganda to entice individuals and supporters to join it in
Iraq and Syria or attack enemies of the group abroad. While al-Qaeda and other groups have disseminated videos
over the internet, none rivals ISIS in the quality and quantity of the videos. Because the content of these videos is
frequently sensationalistic in its brutality (for example, showing the beheading of foreign hostages), they are widely
viewed and shared among sympathisers and the curious alike. As a result, knowledge of ISIS videos and exposure to
them is widespread, including in the US.
The CPOST ISIS Indictee Database has data on propaganda consumption for 87 of the 112 indictees. Eighty-four per
cent of those indictees watched extremist propaganda videos, chiefly those produced by ISIS (Figure18).
Figure 18: Exposure to propaganda videos
No
16%
Yes
84%
86% ISIS 53% Executions
Videos Watched
37% Awlaki
Note: Based on 87 cases, in which data on specific videos was available for 59.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
Eighty-six per cent of the 59 video watchers for whom data on specific videos was available specifically mentioned
ISIS videos. ISIS has produced many hundreds of videos since it declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in July 2014,
including recruitment videos targeting Western audiences and specific appeals to sympathisers in the West to attack
targets where they live. Fiy-three per cent reported watching execution videos, including the video showing the
group’s execution of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot. While many who watched executions were attracted by the
violence that the videos depicted, others, such as Hamza Naj Ahmed, testified that although he watched execution
videos, he was more aected by videos that showed ISIS ‘helping the innocent people’.30
Six indictees specifically identified the ISIS video ‘Flames of War’, released in response to the start of the US-led air
campaign against the group in September 2014 and one of the earliest videos to achieve the high production quality
for which ISIS has become infamous. In addition to videos made by ISIS, 37% reported watching video versions of
lectures by American-born imam Anwar Al-Awlaki, who le the US for Yemen in 2004 and became a central figure
21
VIDEOS PLAY A MA JORROLE
in the militant group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Shannon Maureen Conley ‘le behind a pile of Awlaki
DVDs’ when she attempted to travel, and Munther Omar Saleh said he watched ‘almost all of [al-Awlaki’s] lectures’.
31Awlaki was killed by a US drone strike in 2011, but his lectures on Islam and jihad remain popular among Islamists.
Travellers are most likely to have watched some sort of propaganda video: more than nine in ten have done so
(Figure19). Evidence suggests that propaganda videos have played an important role in radicalisation for all oence
types, as more than three-quarters of attackers and facilitators have viewed them as well. The vital trend is that all
oenders, regardless of role, are highly likely to have watched propaganda videos (Figure20). ISIS videos seem to be
highly eective in at least speeding up radicalisation and encouraging people to act on their beliefs. ISIS’s eective
use of the internet for propaganda purposes has increased the rate at which it’s able to attract active supporters,
especially outside of its area of territorial control, compared to other groups, past and present.
Figure 19: Propaganda video consumption, by oence type
Attacker
F
acilitator
Traveller
24%
83%
92%
76%
17%
8%
Not video watcherVideo watcher
Note: Based on 87 cases.
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
Figure 20: The average ISIS indictee
Male 89%
Average 27 years
US citizen 83% (by birth 64%)
Some higher education 62%
Employed or studying 77%
Known convert 30%
No history of mental illness 86%
Radicalised in group 65%
Traveller or attacker 82%
Watched propaganda videos 86%
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database.
A NEW BREED:
COMPARING ISIS TO
AL-QAEDA INDICTEES
To get a better sense of the characteristics of ISIS indictees, we compared them with individuals who committed or
were indicted for conspiring to commit oences in the US on behalf of al-Qaeda.
Table1 compares key demographic and socioeconomic factors between the 112 ISIS indictees in the CPOST ISIS
Indictee Database and the 171 individuals indicted for al-Qaeda-related oences between 1997 and 2011 profiled by
Robin Symcox and Emily Dyer of the Henry Jackson Society in 2013.32
Table 1: Comparison of ISIS and al-Qaeda indictees
Variables ISIS Al-Qaeda ISIS indictees …
Average age 27 years 30 years are younger
% Female 11% 5% are more likely to be women
% Some college 64% 65% have the same education
% Unemployed 23% 31% are les s likely to be unemployed
% Convert s 30% 23% are more likely to be convert s
% US citizens 82% 55% are far more likely to be US citizens
Source: CPOST ISIS Indictee Database; Symcox and Dyer 2013.
The most striking finding is ISIS’s higher rate of mobilisation in the US: it recruits almost four times as many
individuals as al-Qaeda per year (an average of 45 per year for ISIS, compared to 12 per year for al-Qaeda).
Compared to al-Qaeda indictees, ISIS indictees are much closer demographically to the average American. Most
strikingly, 82% of ISIS indictees are US citizens, compared to just 55% of al-Qaeda indictees. In addition, ISIS
indictees are more likely to be employed, bringing them closer to the average American than al-Qaeda indictees.
The higher proportion of converts to Islam among ISIS indictees implies that ISIS is more eective at radicalising
Americans who have no family or cultural connection to Islam.
NOTES
1 The study includes only cases of individuals judged to have acted in support of ISIS. We exclude seven unnamed
indicted minors (individuals under the age of 17) for which little public information is available.
2 For simplicity, we refer to all cases as ‘indictees’. The vast majority of cases, 104 out of 112, are indictees. The
remaining eight were never indicted because they died in the course of perpetrating a domestic attack or
fighting in Syria, but surely would have been had they survived.
3 See, for example, Olivier Roy, ‘France’s Oedipal Islamist complex’, Foreign Policy, 7 January 2016, online.
4 For example, in June 2016, Fox News reported that the ISIS threat to the US was ‘mostly involving foreign- born
suspects, including dozens of refugees’. Judson Berger, ‘Anatomy of the terror threat: files show hundreds of US
plots, refugee connection,’ FoxNews.com, last modified 22 June 2016, online.
5 Rukmini Callimachi, ‘ISIS and the lonely young American’, The New York Times, 27 June 2015, online; Meredith
Melnick, ‘Why are terrorists so oen young men?’, Huington Post, Healthy Living section, 23 April 2013, online;
David Brooks, ‘How ISIS makes radicals’, The New York Times, 8 December 2015, online.
6 Robert A Pape, Dying to win: the strategic logic of suicide terrorism, Random House, New York, 2005; Alan B
Krueger, Jitka Maleckova, ‘Does poverty cause terrorism? The economics and the education of suicide bombers’,
New Republic, 2002; Brent L Smith, Kathr yn D Morgan, ‘Terrorists right and le: empirical issues in profiling
American terrorists’, Studies in Conict & Terrorism, 1 January 1994, 17(1):39–57.
7 Lorenzo Vidino, Seamus Hughes, ISIS in America from retweets to Raqqa, George Washington University
Program on Extremism, December 2015; Sebastian L Gorka, Katherine C Gorka, ISIS: the threat to the United
States, special report, Threat Knowledge Group, November 2015.
8 Berger, ‘Anatomy of the terror threat’; Kyle Balluck, ‘Extremists have targeted refugee program to enter US,
McCaul says’, The Hill, 7 December 2015, online.
9 As Smith and Morgan note, ‘Virtually all studies of the personal traits of terrorists conclude (or assume) that the
average terrorist is young, usually between 20 and 25 years of age.’ ‘Terrorists right and le, 50.
10 Pape, Dying to win, 207.
11 Erin Marie Saltman, Melanie Smith, May 2015, Till martyrdom do us part: gender and the ISIS phenomenon,
Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
12 Lindsey A O’Rourke, ‘What’s special about female suicide terrorism?’, Security Studies, 2009, 18(4):681; Matthew
P Dearing, ‘Like red tulips at springtime: understanding the absence of female martyrs in Afghanistan’, Studies in
Conict & Terrorism, 17 November 2010, 33(12):1079–1103; Pape, Dying to win, 208–209.
13 Devlin Barrett, ‘Mississippi couple arrested for allegedly attempting to join ISIS’, Wall Street Journal, US section,
11 August 2015, online.
14 ‘Colorado woman who tried to join Islamic State sentenced to 4 years’, Los Angeles Times, 23 January 2015,
online.
15 Stephanie Cliord, ‘Two women in Queens are charged with a bomb plot’, The New York Times, 2 April 2015,
online.
24 THE AMER ICAN FACE OF ISIS: A NALYSIS OF ISIS-REL AT ED TERRORISM IN THE US MARCH 2014 –AUGUST 2016
16 Jeremy Roebuck. ‘FBI Director: cop shooter loyal to ISIS likely acted alone’, The Philadelphia Enquirer, 15
January 2016, online.
17 Jon Seidel, ‘More questions than answers at hearing for “hipster terrorist”’, Chicago Sun Times, 11 August 2014,
online.
18 Russel and Miller, in their 1977 study of 18 terrorist groups, capture the logic: ‘The unmarried terrorist is still the
rule rather than the exception. Requirements for mobility, flexibility, initiative, security and total dedication to
a revolutionary cause all preclude encumbering family responsibilities …’. Charles A Russel, Bowman H Miller,
‘Profile of a terrorist’, Military Review, August 1977, 57(8):21–34.
19 ‘Families of alleged ISIS honeymooners stunned’, CBS News, 11 August 2015, online.
20 Marwa Eltagouri. ‘Schiller Park mother of four faces terrorism charges’, Chicago Tribune, 7 February 2015, online.
21 For suicide bombers, see Pape, Dying to win. For the members of the IRA, see Paul Gill, John Horgan, ‘Who
were the volunteers? The shiing sociological and operational profile of 1240 Provisional Irish Republican Army
members’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 1 July 2013, 25(3):450–451.
22 Matt Zopotsky, Rachel Weiner, ‘American ISIS fighter who “found it hard” returns to face criminal charges’,
Washington Post, 9 June 2016, online.
23 Rachel Weiner, ‘Police oicer for DC subway system accused of trying to help ISIS’, Washington Post, 3 August
2016, online.
24 Saeed Ahmed, ‘Who were Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik?’, CNN, 4 December 2015, online.
25 The exception is 20-year-old Joshua Ryne Goldberg, an American of Jewish origin charged with inciting attacks
on behalf of ISIS and providing information on building bombs. Despite these charges, he is described as an
‘internet troll’ who took on various personalities online, including as an Australian ISIS jihadist, a neo-Nazi
blogger and a le-wing Australian activist. There’s no evidence of conversion to Islam, and it’s unlikely that
religious beliefs played a role in his actions. See Elise Potaka, Luke McMahon, ‘FBI arrests Jewish American for
posing as Australian online jihadist’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 September 2015, 2016, online.
26 ‘Synagogue bomb plot suspect facing additional charge’, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 30 June 2016, online.
27 ‘Christopher Lee Cornell: the man who allegedly plotted to attack US Capitol “fulfilling the directives of violent
jihadists”’, Washington Post, accessed November 17, 2016, online.
28 ‘Son of Boston police captain arrested as possible terrorist, ABC News, 14 July 2015, online.
29 Bruce Homan recounts how the Palestinian Liberation Organization successfully demobilised its terrorist wing,
Black September, by incentivising its cadre to marr y. Bruce Homan, ‘All you need is love: how the terrorists
stopped terrorism’, The Atlantic, December 2001, online. See also Bradley A Thayer, Valerie M Hudson, ‘Sex and
the shaheed: insights from the life sciences on Islamic suicide terrorism’, International Security, 17 March 2010,
34(4):37– 62.
30 Stephen Montemayor, ‘Another ISIL recruit defendant pleads guilty as trial nears’, Star Tribune, 25 April 2015,
online.
31 Scott Shane, ‘The lessons of Anwar al-Awlaki’, New York Times, 27 August 2015, online.
32 Robin Simcox, Emily Dyer, Al-Qaeda in the United States: a complete analysis of terrorism oences, Henry
Jackson Society, London, 2013, online.
Some previous and forthcoming ASPI publications
ISSN 2200-6648
The American face of ISIS
Analysis of ISIS-related terrorism in the US
March 2014–August 2016
... Online militant propaganda videos by ISIS and other groups are strongly implicated in recruitment to terrorism in the West [1][2][3][4] . Indeed, over 80% of ISIS offenders arrested in the US had watched ISIS propaganda 5 . Beyond mere use of social media and high production values, ISIS has pioneered a heroic martyr narrative. ...
Article
Full-text available
The Islamic State (ISIS) was uniquely effective among extremist groups in the Middle East at recruiting Westerners. A major way ISIS accomplished this was by adopting Hollywood-style narrative structures for their propaganda videos. In particular, ISIS utilized a heroic martyr narrative, which focuses on an individual’s personal glory and empowerment, in addition to traditional social martyr narratives, which emphasize duty to kindred and religion. The current work presented adult participants (n = 238) video clips from ISIS propaganda which utilized either heroic or social martyr narratives and collected behavioral measures of appeal, narrative transportation, and psychological dispositions (egoism and empathy) associated with attraction to terrorism. Narrative transportation and the interaction between egoism and empathy predicted video recruitment appeal. A subset of adults (n = 80) underwent electroencephalographic (EEG) measurements while watching a subset of the video-clips. Complementary univariate and multivariate techniques characterized spectral power density differences when perceiving the different types of narratives. Heroic videos show increased beta power over frontal sites, and globally increased alpha. In contrast, social narratives showed greater frontal theta, an index of negative feedback and emotion regulation. The results provide strong evidence that ISIS heroic narratives are specifically processed, and appeal to psychological predispositions distinctly from other recruitment narratives.
Article
Evidence from multiple sources suggests converts to Islam are significantly overrepresented in the ranks of Salafi-jihadist terrorists. Researchers have been speculating for some time why this might be the case. This paper identifies, and critically examines, four hypothetical explanations commonly found in the literature: (1) some explanations focus on the significance of prior personal characteristics of the converts; (2) some explanations emphasize the rapidity of the movement from conversion to radicalization; (3) some explanations highlight the lack of religious knowledge on the part of radicalized converts; and (4) some explanations point to the role of the zealotry of converts. Examining each explanation, we find the causal mechanisms hypothesized are inadequate and the hypotheses are incongruent with the data we have collected on radicalized Canadian converts. In the end, we offer an alternative hypothesis, based on the analysis of the response of radicalized converts to an experience of disappointment that is common in the post-conversion period.
Article
In examining the Global War on Terror, the effects of presidential rhetoric on the framing of terrorism has been well documented. However, little previous work links terrorism and its status as an “othered” phenomenon to differential legal prosecution in a post-9/11 era. Using the Prosecution Project data set, we compared “othered” individuals, as defined by a Muslim, Arab/Middle Eastern, and/or foreign-born status, to “non-othered” individuals charged with terroristic felonies. Furthermore, we subdivided the dataset into three analytical time blocks: the George W. Bush administration immediately post-9/11, the latter half of the Bush administration, and the Obama administration. For the first and third time blocks, we found that “othered” individuals were prosecuted significantly more frequently than “non-othered” individuals. These findings call into question the effect of presidential rhetoric and the national framing of terrorism on the legal prosecution of “othered” individuals.
Article
Full-text available
This article presents an empirical analysis of a unique dataset of 1240 former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). We highlight the shifting sociological and operational profile of PIRA's cadre, and highlight these dynamics in conjunction with primary PIRA documents and secondary interview sources. The effect of these changes in terms of the scale and intensity of PIRA violence is also considered. Although this is primarily a study of a disbanded violent organization, it contains broad policy implications beyond the contemporary violence of dissident movements in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We conclude with a consideration of how a shifting sociological profile impacts upon group effectiveness, resilience, homogeneity, and the turn toward peaceful means of contention.
Article
This study analyzes the interaction between the motivations of individual attackers and terrorist group strategies. To do so, I combine a quantitative analysis of all known suicide terrorist attacks between 1981 and July 2008 with a strategic account of why terrorist organizations employ female suicide terrorism (fst) and case studies of individual female attackers. I advance five central claims. First, I reveal the superior effectiveness of fst from the perspective of the groups that employ women. Second, I explain that terrorist groups increasingly enlist women as suicide attackers because of their higher effectiveness. Third, I demonstrate that terrorist groups adapt their discourse, catering to the specific individual motives of potential female suicide attackers in order to recruit them. Fourth, I show that female attackers are driven by the same general motives and circumstances that drive men. Furthermore, and in contrast to the existing literature, women attackers uphold, rather than eschew, their societies' norms for gender behavior. Attempts to transform these societies into gender-neutral polities are therefore destined to increase fst. Finally, I conclude that, unless target states adapt their defensive strategies, we should expect an increase in fst.
Article
In an era where female suicide terrorism is on the rise in conflict regions such as the Middle East, the North Caucasus, and South Asia, why has Afghanistan been largely immune to this trend? Why do some violent groups use female suicide terrorism and others avoid it? This is a critical question for policy makers and analysts attempting to understand a dangerous terrorist phenomenon and how it may evolve in Afghanistan. During the anti-Soviet jihad, narratives were woven of men and women marching through the mountains of Nuristan to “offer their blood for the Islamic revolution like red tulips at springtime.” But today, women are wholly absent from the Taliban and their jihad in Afghanistan. This article analyzes, in particular, the absence of women in Taliban martyrdom operations. There are three primary findings from this study that explain the low propensity for female suicide bombers in Afghanistan. First, a permissive social and geographic environment in Afghanistan gives insurgents freedom of mobility and a resistance capacity characterized by a reduced necessity for female suicide bombers; second, the capacity of a fiercely conservative culture restricts female participation in both Afghan society and within insurgent organizations; and third, the pronounced absence of a female culture of martyrdom limits women from participation in insurgent actions and narratives.
France's Oedipal Islamist complex
  • Olivier See
  • Roy
See, for example, Olivier Roy, 'France's Oedipal Islamist complex', Foreign Policy, 7 January 2016, online.
Why are terrorists so often young men?', Huffington Post, Healthy Living section
  • Rukmini Callimachi
  • Isis
  • The
  • Young American
Rukmini Callimachi, 'ISIS and the lonely young American', The New York Times, 27 June 2015, online; Meredith Melnick, 'Why are terrorists so often young men?', Huffington Post, Healthy Living section, 23 April 2013, online;
How ISIS makes radicals', The New York Times
  • David Brooks
David Brooks, 'How ISIS makes radicals', The New York Times, 8 December 2015, online.
ISIS: the threat to the United States, special report
  • Katherine C Sebastian L Gorka
  • Gorka
Sebastian L Gorka, Katherine C Gorka, ISIS: the threat to the United States, special report, Threat Knowledge Group, November 2015.
Anatomy of the terror threat
  • Berger
Berger, 'Anatomy of the terror threat';
Extremists have targeted refugee program to enter US, McCaul says
  • Kyle Balluck
Kyle Balluck, 'Extremists have targeted refugee program to enter US, McCaul says', The Hill, 7 December 2015, online.
Virtually all studies of the personal traits of terrorists conclude (or assume) that the average terrorist is young, usually between 20 and 25 years of age
  • As Smith
  • Morgan Note
As Smith and Morgan note, 'Virtually all studies of the personal traits of terrorists conclude (or assume) that the average terrorist is young, usually between 20 and 25 years of age.' 'Terrorists right and left', 50.