Fifty-six individuals have been arrested on suspicion of plotting or helping support the Islamic State in the U.S. this year, the largest number arrested in support of Islamist terrorism in any year since Sept. 11, according to a new study.
Those caught participating in activities supporting the terrorist organization are a young and diverse group, with many being converts to Islam, according to an analysis by George Washington University.
The school’s Program on Extremism examined the demographic data on the 71 suspects arrested in conjunction with ISIS-related activities since March 2014. Among the findings:
⦁ 86 percent of those arrested are men;
⦁ The average age of those arrested is 26, though one-third were younger than 21;
⦁ 40 percent of those arrested were converts to Islam;
⦁ 55 percent of those arrested were caught in an operation that involved undercover work.
“The diversity of ISIS’s American recruits and the wide range of ways they demonstrate their support requires careful consideration prior to any potential policy response,” the report concludes. “Because there is no standard recruit profile, there is also no silver bullet that will blunt ISIS’s allure.”
Among those whose arrests are highlighted in the report are a recently married couple from Mississippi who secretly planned to travel to Syria on their honeymoon in order to join the Islamic State, a Cincinnati man who converted to Islam after falling in with a group of radicals online and was later arrested when he divulged plans to bomb the U.S. Capitol, and a 15-year-old boy arrested near Philadelphia for a purported “ISIS-inspired” plot to attack Pope Francis during his visit to the U.S.
The report also highlights the role that online communications and social media play in both radicalizing individuals, calling it “crucial.”
Researchers identified 300 Americans or U.S.-based Islamic State sympathizers who are active on social media and contribute to sharing the propaganda, contributing to an online “echo chamber.”
While the report highlights the difficulty in stopping radicalization, given the diversity not only of the people who become involved but their reasons for doing so, it does suggest a few potential remedies for battling the terrorist group’s propaganda machine.
The report suggests that the U.S. should give more consideration to ratcheting up its own publicity campaign, for instance by highlighting the stories of those who have become disillusioned with the group.
“The government should consider, within reason, limited immunity for some returning foreign fighters, as their messages are more likely to resonate than those delivered by most other counter-messaging programs,” the report states.