ADL Report: Domestic Islamic Extremism Remains Significant Threat to U.S.

Extremists change tactics amid shift in terror landscape; Foreign terrorists inspire 49 deaths in 2016

New York, NY, March 23, 2017 … Amid a changing landscape, Islamic extremism remained a potent threat to U.S. domestic security in 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s annual snapshot of activity spurred by foreign terror groups.

The ADL report on domestic Islamic extremist activity in 2016, issued today, found a total of 45 U.S. residents were linked to terror plots and other activity inspired by foreign terror organizations’ extremist ideology.

While that number was down significantly from the 81 residents linked to similar plots in 2015, the total number of domestic fatalities increased to 49, a substantial increase from the 19 deaths linked to U.S. residents inspired by foreign terrorist organizations in 2015. All 49 deaths occurred during the June 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Many plots were thwarted before they could be carried out, coming to light after law enforcement moved in to make an arrest. But six incidents – including the killings in Orlando, the deadliest terror attack by a U.S. resident since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing – ended in violent acts, resulting in 49 deaths and at least 104 injuries.

“Islamic extremism still presents a potent threat to our domestic national security,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “The Islamic State and other terrorist groups overseas continue to churn out online propaganda that is luring the disaffected into their ranks. This propaganda continues to give a green light to would-be terrorists in the U.S. to carry out the attacks here rather than waiting to travel abroad and join the fight in countries such as Syria and Iraq.

“It is critical to make clear the overwhelmingly vast majority of American Muslims reject extreme interpretations of Islam as abhorrent and counter to their religious beliefs and everything they stand for,” Mr. Greenblatt added. “Any attempt to blame all Muslims for the actions of a few should be rejected categorically. America and its government can be vigilant about addressing the individuals most susceptible to terrorist indoctrination while respecting the rights of Muslims in our communities.”

ADL, which tracks domestic terrorist plots and activity, identified several new trends in the U.S. inspired by foreign terrorist organizations. “We’re seeing changes that we believe will reverberate for at least the next few years,” said Oren Segal, Director of ADL’s Center on Extremism. “For example, extremists are adapting to new realities by employing a broader range of weapons and choosing different types of targets, both of which create significant uncertainty for the public and pose a challenge for public safety officials attempting to respond quickly to these terror threats.”

Highlights from the ADL report include:

  • 2016 saw Islamic extremists in the U.S. employ a wider range of targets and weapons, and the perpetrators appear to be inspired by more than one terror group.
  • The 45 U.S. residents linked to terror plots and other activity in 2016 were living in 18 states at the time of their arrests.  Two states stood out with a disproportionate number of residents linked to terror in 2016: Virginia, with nine residents, and Florida, with six.
  • The vast majority of the U.S. residents demonstrated some level of support for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
  • Plots are increasingly focused on public spaces such as nightclubs and malls rather than symbolic targets such as government buildings. Nine plots in 2016 targeted locations of convenience, including a mall, a prison, and residents outside of an apartment building.
  • More extremists are using non-traditional terror weapons (knives, cars) in their attacks. This is likely due to new instructions in terrorist propaganda, which urges followers to emulate recent knife and car attacks in Europe and the Middle East.
  • Nearly half – 21 of the 45 residents – were accused of being involved in plotting actual attacks, rather than trying to travel abroad and provide “material support” to terrorist groups, a higher percentage than in recent years (30 percent in 2015, and one-quarter overall between 2009 and 2015).
  • There’s a persistent gender gap: Only two of those linked to terror plots were women.
  • Anti-Semitism frequently plays a significant role in terror group propaganda and self-expression, and anti-Semitic sentiment is disproportionately high among those implicated in domestic Islamic extremism. 

More from this Section