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.
- 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.