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September 5, 2014

The American Face of Foreign Terror Recruits

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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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June 20, 2014

Texas Terror Arrests Highlight Ongoing Travel Threat

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Rahatul Ashikim Khan & Michael Todd Wolfe

The arrests of two 23-year-old U.S. citizens in Texas in separate incidents on Tuesday for allegedly planning to join terrorist groups overseas underscores the ongo­ing con­cerns over Amer­i­cans join­ing ter­ror­ist groups abroad and the con­tin­ued allure of Al Qaeda and its affil­i­ates.

Dozens of Americans and per­ma­nent res­i­dents have been charged in recent years in con­nec­tion with attempts to jointer­ror­ist groups abroad, includ­ing Al Shabaab in Soma­lia and Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula in Yemen, as well as terrorists groups in Syria.

Michael Todd Wolfe of Austin, Texas, is alleged to have attempted to travel to join a terrorist group fighting in Syria. The criminal complaint filed against him indicates that he was initially interested in joining Jabhat al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate, but later decided instead to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which broke with Al Qaeda earlier this year.

Wolfe, a convert to Islam who grew up in Texas, was arrested at George H.W. Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport just before he attempted to board a flight to Europe, en route to Syria.

Authorities say the second individual, Rahatul Ashikim Khan of Round Rock, Texas, conspired with others to recruit people who would “travel overseas to support terrorist activities including committing violent jihad,” in particular with Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia and Kenya. Khan is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Bangladesh, and is a college student at the University of Texas, Austin.

Demonstrating the central role the Internet plays in online radicalization and recruitment, both Wolfe and Khan had used the Internet to abet their activities. Wolfe allegedly watched videos online of terrorism in Syria. Khan called himself a “jihadi” and used an online chat room to identify potential terrorists between March 2011 and January 2012, according to court documents.

Khan allegedly spent time on a chat room dedicated to Abdullah al-Faisal, a Jamaica-born Muslim preacher who served four years in a British prison for urging his followers to kill non-Muslims, including Americans, Hindus and Jews. Al-Faisel was also the “imam and spiritual advisor” of Revolution Muslim (RM), a New York-based fringe anti-Semitic Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tion that jus­ti­fied ter­ror­ist attacks and other forms of vio­lence for many years.

Americans traveling abroad to join terrorist groups have been a consistent threat since 2001, with three distinct waves of travel apparent. Between 2001 and 2005, Americans travelled mostly to join Al Qaeda Central and the Taliban. Between 2007 and 2011, travel and support were especially directed at Al Shabaab. Travel to Syria – the greatest threat since 2011 – has been the third wave; since the start of the Syrian civil war, as many as 100 U.S. citizens are believed to have travelled to Syria to join the fighting.

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