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September 5, 2014

The American Face of Foreign Terror Recruits

marcos-alonso-zea-terrorism

Marcos Alonso Zea of New York attempted to join AQAP

U.S. intelligence estimates indicate that significant numbers of Americans – as few as a dozen or as many as 300, according to some officials – have traveled abroad to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Although most of these individuals have not been publicly identified, concrete information is available about 20 Americans who fought or attempted to travel abroad since the beginning of 2013. An analysis of their backgrounds provides interesting statistics that may supplement our understanding of the people attracted to terror organizations and provide clues about the many additional, unidentified Americans believed to have traveled abroad.

For example, the information tells us that:

  • They range in age from 18 to 44, but the majority are in their 20s.
  • Nine of them joined or attempted to join ISIS.
  • Six of them joined or attempted to join the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria Jabhat al Nusra.
  • Three of them joined or attempted to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.
  • 13 of the 20, or 65%, are reportedly converts to Islam.
  • They come from across the country: Six came from California, two each from Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and New York. Other states represented include Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts and Arizona.
  • Only two of the 20 were women. (ADL has doc­u­mented 13 female cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents of the U.S. arrested on ter­ror­ism charges since 2002.)

The number of Americans identified as attempting to join ISIS spiked sharply in 2014. Seven of the nine Americans identified above attempted to join the terror group just this year.  Whereas in 2013, half of the Americans identified attempted to join the conflict in Syria, but only one to ISIS.

This influx of Americans attempting to join ISIS is taking place as ISIS steps ups its threats against the U.S., including beheading Americans and expanding its sophisticated online media campaign designed to motivate and recruit westerners.

Indeed, con­fir­ma­tion by U.S. offi­cials that two Amer­i­can men with links to Min­nesota were killed last month in Syria is the lat­est indi­ca­tion that ISIS has replaced Al Shabaab in Soma­lia as the ter­ror­ist des­ti­na­tion of choice for Amer­i­can mil­i­tants. 

A full list of names follows:

  • Ahmad Abousamra of Massachusetts: Believed to be working with ISIS in Iraq or Syria (identified in 2014).
  • Abdi­rah­maan Muhumed of Minnesota: Killed in Syria in August 2014 apparently fighting with ISIS.
  • Dou­glas McAu­thur McCain of California: Killed in Syria in August 2014, apparently fighting with ISIS.
  • Donald Ray Morgan of North Carolina: Arrested in August 2014 on firearm charges; believed to have been attempting to join ISIS.
  • Adam Dandach of California: Arrested in July 2014 on passport fraud charges; believed to have been attempting to join ISIS.
  • Michael Todd Wolfe of Texas: Arrested in June 2014 for attempting to join ISIS.
  • Moner Abu-Salha of Florida: Killed in a suicide attack he carried out in May 2014 on behalf of Jabhat al Nusra.

    moner-abu-salha-nusra

    Moner Abu-Salha of Florida joined Jabhat al Nusra

  • Shan­non Mau­reen Con­ley of Colorado: Arrested in April 2014 for attempting to join ISIS.
  • Mohammed Has­san Ham­dan of Michigan: Arrested in March 2014 for attempting to join Hezbollah in Syria.
  • Nicholas Teausant of California: Arrested in March 2014 for attempting to join ISIS.
  • Basit Javed Sheikh of North Carolina: Arrested November 2013 for attempting to join Jabhat al Nusra.
  • Marcos Alonso Zea of New York: Arrested in October 2013 for attempting to join AQAP.
  • Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen of Cal­i­for­nia: Arrested in Octo­ber 2013 for attempt­ing to join Al Qaeda. Nguyen had previously fought in Syria.
  • Amir Farouq Ibrahim, of Penn­syl­va­nia: Assumed dead in July 2013 and believed to have fought with ISIS.
  • Justin Kaliebe of New York: Arrested in June 2013 for attempt­ing to join AQAP.
  • Nicole Mans­field of Michi­gan: Killed in May 2013, report­edly fight­ing with Jab­hat al Nus­ra.
  • Abdella Ahmad Tounisi of Illinios: Arrested in April 2013 for attempt­ing to join Jab­hat al Nusra.
  • Eric Har­roun of Ari­zona: Arrested in March 2013 for trav­el­ing to Syria to fight with Jabhat al Nusra. He pleaded guilty to non-terror-related charges in Sep­tem­ber, 2013, and was sen­tenced to time served. That Har­roun fought in Syria is uncon­tested; how­ever, reports dif­fer as to whether he fought with Jabhat al Nusra or with the Syrian Free Army, which is not considered a terrorist organization.
  • Matthew Aaron Llaneza of Cal­i­for­nia: Arrested in Feb­ru­ary 2013 for attempted domes­tic ter­ror­ism and plans to travel to join the Tal­iban in Afghanistan.
  • Shel­ton Thomas Bell of Florida: Arrested in Jan­u­ary 2013 for attempt­ing to join AQAP.

In addition to those individuals above, two apparent Americans have been featured in propaganda videos from Syria, although their identities have not been fully verified:

  • A man called Abu Abdurahman al-Trinidadi, allegedly American of Trinidadian origin, featured supporting ISIS in a video released in August 2014.
  • A man called Abu Dujana al-Amriki, allegedly American, featured supporting ISIS in a video released November 2013.

Yet another American has been identified as fighting with ISIS because of his death in a Syrian airstrike in September 2014. Further information about that individual has not yet been released.

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August 20, 2014

Americans Respond To ISIS Recruitment

Update– 8/27/14: Douglas McAuthur McCain of San Diego, died while fighting with ISIS in Syria in August 2014.

Even as it fights on a number of fronts in the Middle East, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al Qaeda-inspired terrorist group that claims sovereignty in sections of Syria and Iraq, continues to recruit westerners through its sophisticated online propaganda campaign.al-hayat-ad-propaganda

Some Americans are heeding the call.

In 2014, five of the six Americans arrested in the U.S. for attempting to join the conflict in Syria and Iraq were accused of attempting to join ISIS: Donald Ray Morgan of North Carolina in August (arrested on weapons charges but believed to have been attempting to join ISIS); Shannon Maureen Conley of Colorado in July; Adam Dandich of California in July (charged with passport fraud but believed to have been attempting to join ISIS); Michael Todd Wolfe of Texas in June; and Nicholas Teausant of California in March. The sixth, Mohammed Hassan Hamdan of Michigan, allegedly attempted to fight in Syria with Hezbollah.

Furthermore, In June the FBI said it launched an investigation into 15 Somali Americans from Minnesota believed to have joined ISIS.

At least two other Americans have appeared in videos released by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.A video released in August 2014 featured an alleged American national called Abu Abdu­rah­man al-Trinidadi encouraging others to join ISIS. And in May, Moner Abu Salha of Florida was identified in a Jabhat al-Nusra video as having participation in a suicide attack.

U.S. intelligence officials estimate that over 100 American nationals have travelled to join the conflict in Syria, a conflict that has since spread to Iraq.

The effect of ISIS’ increased strength and notoriety, as well as its advanced online recruitment strategies, appear to be having an effect. Of the seven known Americans who either traveled to or attempted to travel to Syria to fight with militants last year, only one was believed to have fought with ISIS; a video released online in November 2013 featured an apparent American called Abu Dujana al-Amriki, praising ISIS.

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May 28, 2014

Reports Of American Suicide Bomber In Syria

Update — 5/29/2014: U.S. officials have confirmed that the suicide bombing was conducted by an American citizen who grew up in Florida.

News that an American may have been one of four suicide bombers involved in an attack in Syria on May 25 conducted by Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), Al Qaeda in Syria, has been circulated by various extremists on social media over the past two days.syria-abu-hurayra-al-amriki-suicide-bomber

If accurate, the attack further indicates the integration of foreign fighters, and specifically Westerners, with terrorist organizations in Syria.

Abu Hurayra Al Amriki would be at least the fourth American rumored to have been killed while fighting in Syria, joining Nicole Mansfield, Amiir Farouk Ibrahim and a man identified as Abu Dujana al Amriki. An apparent image of Abu Hurayra Al Amriki holding a cat and juxtaposed to images of the bombing was shared by several JN supports on Twitter.

He would also be at least the fourth known American to have successfully undertaken a suicide bombing on behalf of an Al Qaeda linked terrorist organization. The other three, Shirwa Ahmed, Farah Mohamad Beledi and  Abisdalan Hussein Ali, were among a wave of Americans who joined Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda in Somalia, primarily between 2007 and 2012.

The U.S. State Department’s “Think Again, Turn Away” account on Twitter, which aims to counter terrorist sentiments online, Tweeted: “another life wasted by #alqaeda’s cult of death. Thanks to them #Assad remains in power while Syrians suffer.” U.S. officials, however, have not confirmed whether or not an American was actually involved in the attack.

Two other Americans, Nicholas Teausant and U.S. legal permanent resident Mohamad Hassan Hamdan, are known to have attempted to travel to Syria to fight alongside terrorist organizations this year. There were several other Americans publically identified who joined or attempted to join the conflict in 2013.

Concerns over Americans fighting in Syria have been increasing since the start of the conflict, with “dozens” believed to have travelled there thus far according to U.S. intelligence officials. Last week, the Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor to investigate individuals travelling to Syria, and they have long been the subject of high levels of scrutiny by law enforcement.

Although casualty counts were unavailable as of this writing, the suicide attack reportedly killed or wounded “dozens” of Syrian troops. The attack had been directed at Syrian army positions in the Idlib province of Syria.

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