ISIS a greater draw for US-born recruits than al-Qaeda: Report

ISIS’s American recruits are more likely to be younger, less educated and US-born citizens.
Thursday 20/12/2018
People lay flowers, in New York City, for those killed after an American-born man who had recently pledged allegiance to ISIS killed 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016.
US-born. People lay flowers, in New York City, for those killed after an American-born man who had recently pledged allegiance to ISIS killed 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016.

WASHINGTON – A report by the RAND Corporation concludes that the Islamic State (ISIS) has had more success in recruiting Americans to its cause than has its predecessor organisation, al-Qaeda.

Moreover, al-Qaeda’s US recruits tend to have connections to the region or to Islam and who had immigrated to the United States. By contrast, ISIS’s American recruits are more likely to be younger, less educated and US-born citizens.

The RAND report was funded by the US Defence Department.

RAND’s researchers analysed all known cases of US citizens or people within the United States connected to a foreign terrorist organisation with an Islamist orientation since September 11, 2001.

Their findings indicate that the number of US recruits drawn to al-Qaeda and its offshoot groups has declined precipitously, commensurate with the rise of ISIS, and that the average terrorist recruited by ISIS is more likely to be an African-American or a white US-born citizen, many of whom converted to Islam during their radicalisation process.

The report states that, of the 26 individuals responsible for the 23 domestic attacks in the United States from September 2001-September 2017, two were non-residents — both of whom entered the country legally — 13 were US-born citizens, seven were naturalised US citizens and four were US legal permanent residents.

Of the 476 individuals the RAND researchers studied, 44% were US-born, 27% were naturalised US citizens, meaning that “about three-quarters of individuals constituting the domestic terrorist threat have historically lived in the United States either since birth or long enough to complete the arduous naturalisation process.”

“The stereotype of a Muslim, Arab, immigrant male as the most vulnerable to extremism is not representative of many terrorist recruits today. Although they are still primarily male, recruits are also increasingly likely to be female,” said Heather Williams, lead author and a senior policy researcher at RAND. “Historically, terrorist recruits were more likely immigrants of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent.”

The RAND findings are relevant to US defence, intelligence, law enforcement officials and policymakers who may have a perception of a likely terrorist recruit that could bias counterterrorism policy and efforts. RAND said: “The changing racial and national demographic of terrorist recruits suggests that the draw of extremism does not necessarily appeal to something unique among the Muslim or Middle Eastern communities. Instead, the call to extremism — now much more accessible outside those communities, thanks to social media — appeals to a number of individuals from a variety of backgrounds.”

RAND researchers recommended greater cooperation among US law enforcement agencies, in particular, the FBI, which may be able to share additional information regarding factors such as recruits’ conversion to Islam, educational background and past criminal history that could be helpful to understanding the reasons why these individuals were drawn to foreign terrorist organisations.

Part of the assessment, the report said, should be a close look at the social-psychological factors that make individuals susceptible to the message of jihadist groups, including “socioeconomic status, education, religion, neighbourhood, personality, peer and familial relations, personal crises, mental disorders, [and] experiences with discrimination or victimisation.”