Submitted by: Veronica Coffin
The recruitment of Americans of all walks of life to join the Islamic State is “unprecedented,” according to a study released this week from the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
The report, titled “ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa,” found that the average age of the American Islamic State sympathizer is 26 and the vast majority are male. More than half have traveled or attempted to travel abroad, 40 percent converted to Islam and authorities have made arrests in 21 states, though there are 900 active investigations ongoing in all 50 states.
“The phenomenon of Americans joining jihadist groups is not new, but the size of the ISIS-related radicalization and mobilization is unprecedented,” Lorenzo Vidino, director of the program and one of the authors of the report, said in a statement.
More than a quarter of the 71 people charged for Islamic State-related activities were involved in plots to carry out attacks on American soil and more than half were interested in acting as an undercover agent, the report said.
But beyond those averages, it’s difficult to draw any conclusions about characteristics of those who join because of the diversity among them, Vidino said.
“Other than size, diversity is the other main characteristic of this phenomenon. We have seen cases in big cities and rural towns. The individuals involved range from hardened militants to teenage girls, petty criminals and college students,” he said.
In addition to differences in race, age, social class, education and family background, their motivations are also diverse and “defy easy analysis,” the report said.
One of the initial driving factors for many young Americans to become interested in the Syrian civil war was “an underlying sense of sympathy and compassion” when pictures began surfacing of the dire living conditions under Syrian President Bashar Assad, the report said. Westerners who support the Islamic State also are often searching for a sense of belonging or their own identity.