MANHATTAN (CN) – Suspected militants accused of flocking to the self-proclaimed Islamic State hail from many backgrounds, but few trace their heritage to Middle-Eastern Arab descent, researchers found.
In a study titled “By the Numbers: ISIS Cases in the United States,” the Center on National Security at Fordham Law surveyed 56 terrorism prosecutions related to the group known more broadly as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) between March 1, 2014, and June 22 this year.
The study released Thursday also looked at three suspects who have been killed.
“Whether foreign fighters or domestic plotters, the ISIS-inspired individuals in this study reflect a new dimension in the landscape of post-9/11 domestic terrorism,” Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security, said in a statement.
“This new terror threat is distinctive largely because of the young age of the accused, the presence of women, the role of social media in their radicalization, and the desire of many of them to travel abroad and serve what they view as the caliphate,” Greenberg added. “We have also seen a pattern of domestic plots directed at U.S. military and government targets rather than civilian targets, although very recent arrests have involved more mass murder plots.”
As ISIL’s territory grew from scattered Iraqi cities to a broader swath of the region, U.S. prosecutions of the group’s alleged recruits accelerated from “just over one per month (from March to December 2014) to an average rate of over seven per month (from January to June 22, 2015),” the study found.
U.S. citizens represented “vast majority” of these cases at 81 percent, and at least one-third of the cases involved converts to Islam, researchers found.
“Overall, the accused are diverse and difficult to profile, racially and ethnically,” the study states. “They belong to a wide swath of ethnic backgrounds, including African, African American, Caucasian, Central Asian, Eastern European, and South Asian. Few are of Middle Eastern Arab descent.”
Researchers confirmed that ISIL’s social-media presence played a role in 80 percent of the cases.
The majority of the cases (42) involved suspected foreign fighters, and a smaller number (17) allegedly plotted domestic attacks, according to the study.
While the average age of those studied was just more than 26 years old, researchers found 21-years-old to be the median age of those hoping to become foreign fighters. Nine of the cases involved women.
More than half of the cases involved the use of at least one confidential informant (29) and material-support-for-terrorism charges (49).
The use of undercover informants in terrorism prosecutions has previously been a source of controversy.
In 2011, New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice released a study called “Targeted and Entrapped,” arguing that FBI informants “manufactured” terrorism threats by offering Muslim incentives to shoot, bomb or destroy targets selected by the bureau.
In a phone interview, Greenberg spoke to the evolution in the use confidential informants against ISIL suspects versus the al-Qaida cases of old.
She commented that prosecutors today largely focus on “intervention” to protect predominantly young, would-be foreign fighters from themselves.
“They’re headed to serious trouble and danger,” she noted.
Greenberg emphasized that it would be a mistake to view ISIL cases under an al-Qaida paradigm.
“We’re in a new ballgame, and that ballgame is more related to the general descent into violence [in the United States],” she said.
The Center for National Security’s study falls at a time when a white nationalist’s massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., is raising a national conversation about homegrown domestic terrorism.
Earlier this week, New America Foundation finding that right-wing violence killed nearly twice as many people as Islamic militants in the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The New America Foundation tallied 26 people killed by “deadly jihadist attacks,” as opposed to 48 who fell to “deadly right wing attacks” in the post-9/11 era.
Greenberg also urges broadening the national dialogue about terrorist violence.
“This isn’t a message about Islam,” she said. “This is a message about us.”
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