Press Release

In Wake of Brussels Attack, ADL Report Sheds Light on Influence of ISIS on U.S. Terrorist Activity

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New York, NY, March 23, 2016 … In the aftermath of the coordinated terrorist attacks earlier this week in Brussels, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a new report documenting the significant increase of U.S. terrorist activity inspired by foreign terrorist organizations.

The report, The ISIS Impact on the Domestic Islamic Extremist Threat, which details activity between 2009 and 2015, analyzes the landscape of domestic Islamic extremism before and after the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Brussels.

According to ADL, a total of 80 U.S. residents were linked to terrorism motivated by Islamic extremism in 2015, representing a nearly 200 percent increase from the previous year. The majority of those linked to terrorism claimed to have supported ISIS.

“The tragic attacks in Brussels remind us of the need to continuously evaluate the threat posed by foreign terrorist organizations and the influence they have on communities around the world,” said Oren Segal, Director of ADL’s Center on Extremism. “While there are significant differences in the threats to the U.S. and Europe, this report identifies some meaningful similarities, which can help us understand the threats and develop solutions to counteract them.”

As in Europe, the vast majority of U.S. residents linked to terror plots and other activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology in 2015 acted in support of ISIS. ISIS and other terrorist groups continue to take advantage of technology to mobilize followers, spread their messages and expand their influence worldwide. While in-person networks are stronger and more prevalent in Europe, and particularly in Belgium, than in the U.S., the internet and social media sites remain a pivotal element of the modern radicalization process worldwide.

The ADL report provides a breakdown of:

  • Demographic information of U.S. residents linked to activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology between 2009 and 2015, including their locations of arrest, ages, genders and backgrounds.  The report identified terror plots in 22 states, with the highest number of arrests taking place in New York, Minnesota and California.
  • Which foreign terrorist organizations U.S. residents have supported, including a year-by-year breakdown since 2002.
  • The types of activity U.S. residents motivated by Islamic extremist ideology have engaged in, including attacks, plots and a range of material support, including efforts to join terrorist groups abroad.
  • The role of the Internet and social media in the radicalization process.

The ADL report comes at a time when new information has been released about the attack at University of California, Merced in November 2015. While the motive was originally unclear, the FBI released a statement earlier this week indicating that the perpetrator had downloaded ISIS propaganda and may have been radicalized online.

Among other key findings: The report found that 20 individuals in 2015 – one-quarter of all U.S residents linked to terror plots or activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology -- were not raised identifying as Muslims, but rather converted or claimed to have converted to Islam.  Those involved in this activity came from diverse racial, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds.

“Understanding the backgrounds, demographics, and aspirations of U.S. residents engaged in activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology can provide valuable insights into the trends and nature of terrorism we currently face and how we can best be equipped to combat it,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “As we saw the events tragically unfold in Brussels, ISIS terror has far reaching influence across the globe.  And the risk is not only from ISIS members themselves, but from those who might be radicalized by their hateful message.”

Among the trends highlighted in the report are the increase in the number of women linked to activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology; their ages, the percentage of individuals who claim to have converted to Islam from other religions prior to their activity; and lower than expected rates of past criminal activity in the population studied compared to the general U.S. population.