NBC recently released the names of 15 U.S. residents who allegedly traveled to join ISIS since 2013. The names had been provided to the network by an individual who claimed to be a defector from ISIS and were reportedly verified by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center and other counterterrorism specialists.
While three of the individuals on the list – Abdi Nur, Yusuf Jama, and Douglas McCain – had already been publicly known, the other 12 had not. The list serves as a reminder that, while a considerable number of U.S. residents who have attempted to travel to join ISIS have been identified, there are still more whose identities remain unclear – as many as 250 according to law enforcement sources. The names and backgrounds of individuals on the NBC list also serve as vital reminders of the diversity of the individuals attracted to Islamic extremist ideology, and reinforces what we do know about who these individuals are.
Individuals on the list came from across the U.S. Among the states represented were California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York , Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. This geographic diversity is no surprise. ADL’s analysis of U.S. residents linked to activity motivated by Islamic extremism between 2009 and 2015 indicated that the individuals had been arrested in 32 states, as well as internationally. States with the highest numbers of arrests included New York, Minnesota, California and Illinois.
One of the individuals on the list was female, and the rest were male. While fewer women have engaged in activity motivated by Islamic extremism than men, the proportion of women has increased in recent years. ADL documented only 12 U.S. women in total linked to terror motivated by Islamic extremist ideology in the 11 years between 2002 and 2013, but there were 10 in 2014 and seven in 2015 (excluding the woman on the NBC list); there has already been one woman out of the 11 U.S. residents linked to activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology thus far in 2016.
Interestingly, the woman on the list, Zakia Nasrin, was joined in her extremist pursuits by her husband and her younger brother. Of the 109 U.S. residents linked to terrorism motivated by Islamic extremism in 2014 and 2015, at least 28 individuals were accused or implicated together with family members.
The average age of the individuals on the list when they traveled to join ISIS was 22 years old. The oldest was 33 and the youngest 18. This is a little younger than average. ADL data indicates that the average age of U.S. residents who traveled or attempted to travel to join terrorist organizations abroad between 2009 and 2015 was 25 years old, while the average overall age of U.S. residents linked to activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology was 28. However, the number of young people has been increasing as well; in 2015, there were a total of 25 out of 81 U.S. residents linked to terror motivated by Islamic extremist ideology who were 21 years old or younger.
At least one of the individuals on the list claimed to have converted to Islam. A little over one quarter of U.S. residents who have been linked to activity motivated by Islamic extremism in recent years similarly were not raised identifying as Muslims, but rather converted or claimed to have converted to Islam, at least nominally. Importantly, these conversions do not necessarily mean they are accepted as Muslims by the mainstream American Muslim community, nor does it mean they have been particularly observant. As with other individuals linked to activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology, these converts embraced radical interpretations of Islam.