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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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July 22, 2013

Florida Teen, Shelton Thomas Bell, Latest American To Attempt To Join Al Qaeda

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Shelton Thomas bell

The latest American citizen to apparently respond to Al Qaeda’s call by attempting to join the terrorist group is 19-year-old Floridian Shelton Thomas Bell.

Bell, who according to prosecutors attempted to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, has been charged with conspiring and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.

Since 2007, at least 52 American citizens and permanent residents have been arrested or charged for successfully traveling or attempting to travel abroad to reach Al Qaeda affiliate groups. Many joined or attempted to join Al Shabaab in Somalia, while others have received training in Pakistan. More recently, some Amer­i­cans have been attracted to Jab­hat al-Nusrah in Syria.

Bell, reportedly a Muslim convert, “devised a plan to travel to the Arabian Peninsula to join Ansar al Sharia (AAS),” an alias for (AQAP), “and participate in violent armed conflict that he termed ‘jihad,’” according to the federal indictment.

Bell and a juvenile traveled to Jordan September 2012 and made contact with someone who could facilitate their travel to Yemen and introduce them to terrorists, according to the indictment.

The indictment also alleges that between May 2012 and September 2012, Bell and others engaged in physical, firearms, and other training in preparation for what Bell described as “the actions of jihad,” including “a night-time mission” in which they vandalized religious statues at a Jacksonville cemetery.

Bell allegedly also made video and audio recordings for the purpose of soliciting and recruiting others to participate in violent jihad.

Leaders of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville reportedly notified law enforcement about Bell because they were concerned about conversation he was having about weapons and jihad at their mosque.

AQAP has been described by the U.S. government as “the most active and dangerous” branch of Al Qaeda. The growth of AQAP has led American officials to indicate that Yemen could become Al Qaeda’s next operational and training hub for the group’s militants from around the world.

A key component of AQAP’s operational strategy entails reaching out to English-speaking audiences with its messages and propaganda in order to recruit new members. This material encourages Western audiences to adopt its ideology and carry out attacks against Western interests in the Arabian Peninsula and abroad.

The driving forces behind AQAP’s English-language propaganda machine were Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric, and Samir Khan, an American blogger and propagandist, both of whom were killed in a September 30, 2011 drone strike.

Bell, who worked as a computer repair vendor at a flea market in Jacksonville, is in jail awaiting trial on unrelated grand theft charges.

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