- In 2017, 29 individuals living in the United States and motivated by Islamist extremist ideology were arrested for providing material support to terror organizations abroad, or for plotting attacks in the United States.
- 83 percent, or 24 of the 29 individuals, claim they were inspired by ISIS. The remaining five say they were inspired by other Islamist extremist groups, including the former al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and Hezbollah.
- Nine murders in the U.S. in 2017 were linked to Islamist extremist ideology.
- Eight of the 29 individuals were plotting attacks (eight separate plots), and three of these plots turned into attacks, yielding nine deaths and 16 injuries.
- Attackers continue to use non-conventional weapons such as knives, cars, and homemade bombs to target soft targets — generally low-security, crowded public spaces. This strategy is not limited to attacks motivated by Islamist extremist ideology; white supremacist James Fields used a vehicle in the 2017 Charlottesville ramming murder of Heather Heyer.
- Apprehended terror suspects motivated by Islamist extremist ideology tend to be men who are about 30 years old.
- The number of murders in the U.S. in 2017 motivated by Islamist extremist ideology (nine) fell by approximately 82 percent from the 2016 total of 49.
- In 2017, 59 percent — or 20 — of the 34 domestic extremist-related killings in the United States were related to right-wing extremism, while nine (26 percent) were attributed to Islamist extremist ideology.
- Since 2002, 127 individuals have been involved in 98 domestic plots or attacks motivated by Islamist extremist ideology, 90 percent of whom were either United States citizens, lawful permanent or temporary residents, or in the United States with documentation at the time of their arrest. Of the 90 percent, 52 percent were U.S. born. In the same time frame, 161 individuals motivated by right-wing extremism were involved in 94 plots or attacks. While approximately seven percent — or seven — of the Islamist extremist attacks were lethal, roughly 23 percent of the right-wing extremist attacks — or 22 — were deadly. Both Islamist and right-wing extremist attacks have become more lethal over time.
- Since 2014, the majority of plots have focused on soft targets, rather than symbolic targets. Many ISIS-inspired attacks in the United States have targeted universities, shopping malls, nightclubs, bike paths and public transportation.
- Islamist extremists are increasingly acting alone, rather than in groups. This is due, in part, to increased use of social media and encrypted messaging applications, which allow prospective attackers to use private chatrooms to access propaganda, bomb-making manuals and other sources of inspiration or instruction.
On October 31, 2017, according to police reports, Sayfullo Saipov drove a rented pickup truck into a crowded bike path in lower Manhattan, killing eight and injuring 12 others in what would later be pronounced the fifth deadliest act of violence ever committed by a U.S. domestic extremist and the deadliest in New York since September 11th, 2001.
The attack was one of 2017’s eight Islamist extremist-inspired plots. Eight individuals plotted eight separate attacks, many of which never came to fruition. This is in line with a recent trend of Islamist extremists planning and carrying out attacks on their own, finding inspiration from terrorist propaganda posted on encrypted networks.
This report will first discuss 2017 plots and Islamist extremist-related arrests, highlighting wider methodological and demographic trends, including the lone actors and targets they are increasingly choosing. It will then contextualize these findings by analyzing Islamist extremist plots dating back to 2002, tracing the evolution of Islamist extremist plots in the United States, revealing that more than half of all domestic U.S. Islamist extremists were born in the United States. In fact, 90 percent of the 127 individuals involved in Islamist extremist plots in the United States since 2002 were U.S. citizens or living in the United States with documentation. The biggest threat, then, does not come from individuals residing outside U.S. borders; instead, the terrorism tends to be homegrown, increasingly influenced by the pervasive propaganda flowing from virtual terrorist networks.
The report will also explore ways in which propaganda from prominent foreign terror organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda is directly impacting these U.S.-based individuals, as prospective attackers are interacting with terrorist materials on encrypted networks and planning their attacks with strategies recommended by these groups.