U.S. Authorities Have Arrested 56 ISIS Sympathizers This Year, Report Finds | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Authorities Have Arrested 56 ISIS Sympathizers This Year, Report Finds

Dec 1, 2015
Originally published on December 1, 2015 5:57 pm
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U.S. authorities have arrested 56 people this year in connection with their ties to the Islamic State. According to a new report, that is the highest number of Americans charged with terrorism-related offenses since September 11. The new study examined hundreds of court documents as well as the social media accounts of ISIS sympathizers. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports that the information gives a better picture of Americans who want to join the Islamic State.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: I asked officials at George Washington University's program on extremism what in their new report surprised them most.

LORENZO VIDINO: There's no method to the madness. We have all kinds of profiles, all walks of life, all age groups, no socioeconomic common background.

JOHNSON: Professor Lorenzo Vidino has studied radicalism in Europe and America for 15 years. But he says the ISIS recruits who come from the U.S. defy efforts at profiling.

VIDINO: That makes the work of law enforcement, and of those that try to prevent radicalization in the first place, very, very challenging.

JOHNSON: The report finds that more than 80 percent of those charged with ISIS-related crimes are men and half of them have traveled or tried to travel to join the fight. Most of the people charged with wrongdoing were nabbed through stings or undercover operations. And the tempo of arrests has sped up this year. Vidino describes that shift in law enforcement strategy.

VIDINO: Get them off the streets before they can actually make the switch from being keyboard warriors and just fantasizing about the caliphate and killing infidels online to actually doing something.

JOHNSON: The FBI has opened investigations in all 50 states, but the new report finds that authorities in New York and Minnesota have charged the most defendants. Seamus Hughes is deputy director of the program at George Washington.

SEAMUS HUGHES: The youngest individual was a 15-year-old from Pennsylvania, and the oldest was a 47-year-old former Air Force officer.

JOHNSON: Hughes once worked on countering extremism for the government's National Counterterrorism Center. He says the government could be doing more to build off-ramps for people who may have flirted with extremist ideas and to develop stronger partnerships.

HUGHES: Whether that's a religious leader or a mentor or a trusted adviser, you can pull that person aside and say, you know, I think you're going on the wrong path. Let's have a conversation.

JOHNSON: Hughes says the Justice Department should consider reaching out to some of the people who have been charged in the U.S. and who have since grown disillusioned with the Islamic State; maybe offering them immunity from prosecution in exchange for their help in spreading the message that ISIS is no place to turn. The report also describes the group's powerful reach on social media - 1,800 videos, propaganda in nine different languages. Alberto Fernandez used to work on countering radicalization at the State Department. Fernandez says the virtual state of ISIS is booming. But he says the Islamic State may actually be losing some territory. And Fernandez says that could be the key to countering its allure.

ALBERTO FERNANDEZ: They need to be seen as and actually be losers. That is the single most powerful thing that can be done to take some of the air out of their message.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.