Homegrown Islamic Extremism in 2014

February 17, 2015

Read what ADL has discovered about homegrown Islamic extremism and the influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL). This new report from ADL's Center on Extremism provides information on:

  • Americans implicated in terror-related activity
  • How terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda leverage social media to recruit Americans
  • The role of anti-Semitism in terrorist narratives

Americans Implicated in Terror-Related Activity

At least 17 American citizens and permanent residents motivated by the ideology propagated by ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups overseas were charged in 2014 with terror-related offenses.

Three others were identified as died fighting abroad, and an additional five minors are believed to have attempted to join such groups but were not charged. Of these 25, nearly all engaged to some degree with online terrorist propaganda and 19 are believed to have attempted to join or aid ISIS.

Residents from 20 states have been charged in connection with Islamic terrorism since 2012, according to ADL.

So far in 2015, an Ohio man was arrested in January for allegedly plotting an attack on the U.S. Capitol building. Christopher Lee Cornell had read and shared propaganda from ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) online, indicating that he hoped to undertake his attack in support of ISIS. And in February, six U.S. residents from Missouri, Illinois and New York were arrested in February, accused of providing support and resources to ISIS.

These individuals, however, are only a fraction of the total number of homegrown extremists believed to have joined ISIS and other terrorists groups in the region. According to a November 2014 statement by FBI Director James Comey, the FBI is currently tracking nearly 150 Americans who travelled to Syria, “a significant number” of whom went there to fight.

Perhaps the biggest threat to domestic security is the potential for some of these individuals to return to the U.S. with new training and experience, as well as reinforced hopes for carrying out attacks in the communities they came from.

How Terrorist Groups Such as ISIS and Al Qaeda Leverage Social Media to Recruit Americans, and its Impact

The rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its increasingly sophisticated social media communication and recruitment strategies influenced a diverse group of people from around the world, including the United States, throughout 2014.

ISIS' far-reaching propaganda machine has not only attracted thousands of recruits, but also helped Syria and Iraq emerge as the destination of choice for this generation of extremists.

During its ascent, ISIS has transformed the way terrorist groups and their supports reach and recruit followers around the world by developing an aggressive social media strategy. ISIS not only spreads its messages and influence through social media, but also employs tactics that empower individual supporters to take part in the creation and distribution of its narrative.

The Role of Anti-Semitism in Terrorist Narratives

Terrorist groups, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, have been particularly focused on exploiting hatred of Jews in an effort to connect with, appeal to and recruit a cadre of would-be extremists in the United States, Europe and around the world, and continue to call for violent attacks against American and Jewish targets on U.S. soil throughout 2014.

The recent terror attacks in France underscore this concern. Cherif Kouachi, one of the men who attacked the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris on January 7, 2015, told reporters that he trained in Yemen with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Similarly, Mehdi Nemmouche, who killed 4 people at the Brussels Jewish museum in May 2014, fought in Syria with ISIS prior to his attack, according to a French journalist who claims he was held captive by Nemmouche in Syria.

Updated: April 22, 2015

Reports as of April 2015 indicate that an additional individual, 20-year-old Hoda Muthana of Alabama, travelled to join ISIS in November 2014. She has not yet been charged.