Small Wars Journal

Trends in the Draw of Americans to Foreign Terrorist Organizations from 9/11 to Today

Trends in the Draw of Americans to Foreign Terrorist Organizations from 9/11 to Today by Heather J. Williams, Nathan Chandler and Eric Robinson – RAND Report

This report seeks to better understand why the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been more successful than its predecessor organization, al Qaeda, in recruiting individuals within the United States. The authors consider whether the demographic profile of individuals drawn to foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) has changed over time or whether new groups are more successful appealing to the same segment of the population. They take an expansive approach, analyzing all known cases of U.S. citizens or persons within the United States connected to a FTO with Islamist orientation since September 11, 2001, and use consistent criteria for inclusion and exclusion to identify individuals meeting this definition, and coding multiple demographic variables. They then conduct a quantitative analysis of the entire population, as well as the population broken down by group and by role (i.e., foreign fighters, homegrown violent extremists, etc.). Their findings reveal that the number of U.S. recruits drawn to al Qaeda and its affiliate groups has declined precipitously, commensurate with the ascent of ISIL, and that the average terrorist recruited by ISIL is not only younger and less educated but more likely to be African American/black or Caucasian/white and a U.S.-born citizen. Historically, terrorist recruits were more likely immigrants of Middle Eastern descent. These findings are relevant to U.S. defense, intelligence, and law enforcement officials, as well as to civilian academic and policymaking audiences, who may be unaware of this altered demographic profile, a perception that could bias counterterrorism policy and efforts…

Read the entire report.