The New York Times
WASHINGTON — American authorities this year have arrested nearly fivedozen people in the United States for helping to support or plot with theIslamic State, according to a new study, the largest number ofterrorism-related arrests in the country in a single year since September 2001.
The Islamic State recruits defy any single profile, the study found,although they are younger than previous terrorism suspects, are drawn heavilyfrom converts to Islam and reflect increasingly prominent roles for women inthe terrorist organization.
A demographic snapshot of the 71 individuals arrested on chargesrelated to the Islamic State since March 2014, including 56 this year, emergedfrom a comprehensive review of social media accounts and legal documents ofnearly 400 American sympathizers of the Islamic State conducted by researchersat George Washington University.
The volume and diversity of those arrested underscore the growingchallenge the F.B.I. and local law enforcement agencies face in trying toidentify, monitor and, if necessary, apprehend suspects at a time when theIslamic State has sharply increased its appeal to Westerners through Twitter,Facebook and other social media.
“The individuals range from hardened militants to teenage girls, pettycriminals and college students,” said Lorenzo Vidino, the director of theuniversity’s program on extremism, which conducted the study. “The diversity isstaggering.”
The report, “ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa,” was made publicon Tuesday.
Even before the recent attacks in Paris, at least three dozen people inthe United States suspected of ties to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS orISIL, were under heavy electronic or physical surveillance, according toAmerican officials. Those under investigation typically have little terrorismexpertise or support from a cell, making it even more difficult for theauthorities to predict or detect who might carry out a strike.
“For law enforcement, it’s extremely difficult to determine who makes abig leap from keyboard jihadist to doing something,” said Dr. Vidino, who hasstudied Islamism for 15 years.
The people in the George Washington University study ranged from a15-year-old boy to Tairod Pugh, who was formerly enlisted in the Air Force andwas 47 at the time of his arrest. The average age of the American supporter ofthe Islamic State was 26, the report found, reflecting a pattern unfolding inother Western countries as social media attracts younger recruits.
John P. Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security,has said that of the terrorism-related arrests in the past 18 months, mostlyinvolving the Islamic State, 80 percent of those arrested were younger than 30,and 40 percent were under 21.
According to the study, about 14 percent of those arrested were women,and the vast majority were American citizens or permanent residents,emphasizing the threat the authorities are combating from homegrown recruits,compared with foreigners infiltrating the country.
Some 40 percent of those arrested were converts to Islam, a largerrepresentation among American supporters of the Islamic State than the 23percent of American Muslims over all who are converts, according to the study.
Slightly more than half of those arrested had tried to travel abroad,most likely to Iraq or Syria, or were arrested during their travels to conflictzones, the report said. At least seven Americans have died fighting with theIslamic State in Iraq or Syria.
But American authorities have recently detected a trend that theybelieve shows the effect of the group’s new message to stay at home and carryout attacks there: There has been a significant drop in the number of Americansseeking to go to Syria and Iraq to join the group. Counterterrorism officialssay that since July, an average of two Americans a month have tried to travelor successfully traveled to Islamic State territory, compared with nine a monthover the previous year.
More than half of those charged were arrested in an operation involvingan informant or an undercover agent, the report said, a tactic that has causedtensions between the F.B.I. and some American Muslims.
The story of a newlywed couple arrested in August in Mississippi asthey began a trip to Syria to join the Islamic State illustrates several ofthese trends.
The couple, Jaelyn Delshaun Young, 19, and Muhammad Oda Dakhlalla, 22,were on their way to the airport in Columbus when they were arrested by F.B.I.agents after unwittingly making travel plans with undercover federal agents onsocial media that included discussing a trip to Syria via Greece and Turkey asa honeymoon ruse.
That case was just one of about 900 open inquiries that the F.B.I.director, James B. Comey, said were related to the Islamic State. Most of themhave not become wide-ranging investigations, because they were generated bytips that were not substantiated. According to law enforcement officials, theF.B.I. typically has about 10,000 open counterterrorism inquiries.
The Islamic State’s use of social media to recruit followers has beenwidely reported, but Dr. Vidino said the study found that paths toradicalization were varied: Some responded to online propaganda; others soughtmeaning in like-minded groups that actually travel to Syria and Iraq.
Much of the study’s research focused on the Twitter activities of about300 individuals identified as American supporters of the Islamic State. Nearlya third of those accounts are said to be operated by women. The AmericanIslamic State adherents who traveled to war zones posted real-time updates oftheir exploits, the report said, and at times scolded supporters of the groupback home “for their lack of commitment to the cause.”
Correction: December 2, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the Air Force rank ofTairod Pugh, one of the people the researchers investigated, because ofincorrect information in the study. He was enlisted personnel, not an officer.
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A version of this article appears in print on December 2, 2015, on pageA3 of the New York edition with the headline: ISIS Followers in U.S. AreDiverse and Young.
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