This deception is a favorite of the radical Muslims in Congress, Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and their far left partners-in-crime in Congress and the White House.
Part I: Terrorism Cases: 2001-Today
New America Since 9/11, hundreds of Americans and people residing inside the United States have been charged with jihadist terrorism or related crimes, or have died before being charged but were widely reported to have engaged in jihadist criminal activity. The rise of ISIS has brought an unprecedented surge in terrorism cases though there have been cases every year since 9/11, as illustrated below. As the years have passed since the peak of ISIS’ influence, the number of terrorism cases has declined.
Part II: Who are the Terrorists?
Far from being foreign infiltrators, the large majority of Muslim jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents.
In the post-9/11 era, conventional wisdom holds that the jihadist threat is foreign. The conventional wisdom is understandable; after all it was 19 Arab hijackers who infiltrated the United States and conducted the 9/11 attacks. Yet today, as Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born cleric who became a leader in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, put it in a 2010 post, “Jihad is becoming as American as apple pie.”
Far from being foreign infiltrators, the large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents. Moreover, while a range of citizenship statuses are represented, every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident except one who was in the United States as part of the U.S.-Saudi military training partnership.
The Trump Travel Ban and Lethal Attacks
On January 27, 2017 President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning entry from seven majority Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia) citing national security reasons. None of the deadly attackers since 9/11 emigrated or came from a family that emigrated from one of these countries nor were any of the 9/11 attackers from the listed countries. Nine of the lethal attackers were born American citizens. One of the attackers was in the United States on a non-immigrant visa as part of the U.S.-Saudi military training partnership.
On March 6, 2017, the Trump administration issued a new executive order that dropped Iraq from the travel ban among other changes. In September 2017, the Trump administration again revised the ban, dropping Sudan while adding restrictions on travel from Chad, Venezuela, and North Korea.
Of the sixteen lethal jihadist terrorists in the United States since 9/11:
- three are African-Americans
- three are from families that hailed originally from Pakistan
- one was born in Virginia to Palestinian immigrant parents
- one was born in Kuwait to Palestinian-Jordanian parents
- one was born in New York to a family from Afghanistan
- two are white converts – one born in Texas, another in Florida
- two came from Russia as youth
- one emigrated from Egypt and conducted his attack a decade after coming to the United States
- one emigrated from Uzbekistan
- one was a Saudi Air Force officer in the United States for military training
Origins of Lethal Jihadist Terrorist Attackers in U.S. Since 9/11
What About Non-Lethal Attacks?
When the data is extended to include individuals who conducted attacks inside the United States that were foiled or otherwise failed to kill anyone, there are only four cases that the travel ban could have applied to.
However, in at least two of those cases, the individual entered the United States as a child. In a third case the individual had a history of mental illness and assault not related to jihadist terrorism. In a fifth, non-lethal attack Adam al-Sahli, who conducted a shooting at a military base in Corpus Christi on May 21, 2020, was born in Syria but was a citizen because his father was an American citizen and thus would not have been subject to the travel ban.
On March 3, 2006, Mohammed Reza Taheri-Azar, a naturalized citizen from Iran, drove a car into a group of students at the University of North Carolina, injuring nine people. However, Taheri-Azar, though born in Iran, came to the United States at the age of two. As a result his radicalization was homegrown inside the United States.
On September 17, 2016 Dahir Adan, a 20-year-old naturalized citizen from Somalia – though born in Kenya, injured ten people while wielding a knife at a mall in Minnesota. However, like Taheri-Azar, Adan had come to the United States as a young child.
On November 28, 2016 Abdul Razak Ali Artan, an 18-year-old legal permanent resident who came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia in 2014 — having left Somalia for Pakistan in 2007 — injured eleven people when he rammed a car into his fellow students on the campus of Ohio State University and then proceeded to attack them with a knife. However, it is not clear that the attack provides support for Trump’s travel ban. Artan left Somalia as a pre-teen, and if he was radicalized abroad, it most likely occurred while in Pakistan, which is not included on the travel ban. Furthermore, it is far from clear that Artan radicalized abroad rather than inside the United States, and in a Facebook posting prior to his attack, he cited Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric born in the United States, whose work — which draws largely upon American culture and history — has helped radicalize a wide range of extremists in the United States including those born in the United States.
On November 12, 2017, Mahad Abdirahman, a 20-year-old naturalized citizen who was born in Somalia, stabbed and injured two men at the Mall of America. During his trial, Abdirahman stated he was inspired by ISIS. However, Abdirahman’s case is far from clear evidence for the travel ban. He had previously been hospitalized for mental illness and prescribed medication that he stopped taking. He also faced an earlier assault charge having stabbed a psychiatrist with a pen.
Many are converts to Islam
A large proportion of jihadists in the United States since 9/11 have been converts. This is not entirely surprising as one in five American Muslims are converts according to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center though converts do appear to be over-represented among jihadists. In addition a small number of cases involve non-Muslims, including those convicted in the Liberty City Seven case who were followers of the Moorish Science Temple, a syncretic religion combining aspects of Islam and other religions.
The large number of converts and even non-Muslims among those accused of jihadist terrorism challenges visions of counterterrorism policy that rely on immigration restrictions or focus almost entirely on second generation immigrant populations.
Part III. Why do they Engage in Terrorism?
Peter Bergen’s “Why Do Terrorists Commit Terrorism” in the New York Times, David Sterman’s “It’s foolish to try to simplify the motives of terrorists” in the Washington Post, as well as our report, “ISIS in the West,” delve further into some of the questions of motivation.
In Bergen’s article drawing upon the more than 350 terrorism cases in this database, he notes:
The easy explanation — that jihadist terrorists in the United States are “mad” or “bad” — proved simply wrong. Around one in 10 had mental health problems, below the incidence in the general population. Nor were they typically career criminals: Twelve percent had served time in prison, compared with about 11 percent of the American male population.
…Perpetrators (are) generally motivated by a mix of factors, including militant Islamist ideology; dislike of American foreign policy in the Muslim world; a need to attach themselves to an ideology or organization that gave them a sense of purpose; and a “cognitive opening” to militant Islam that often was precipitated by personal disappointment, like the death of a parent. For many, joining a jihadist group or carrying out an attack allowed them to become heroes of their own story.
As Peter Bergen notes in “Jihadist Terrorism 15 Years After 9/11”:
Even in the cases of the dozen perpetrators who carried out the ten lethal jihadist terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11, only three of the terrorists had a documented history of mental illness.
The Influence of Anwar al-Awlaki (former resident of the U.S. and advisor to the Clinton Admin)
The rise of social media and the Internet as a force in the proliferation of jihadism in the United States was facilitated by a number of key figures who fine tuned the message and the distribution apparatus.
Among them were Samir Khan, the North Carolinian who would come to edit Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) propaganda magazine, Inspire, and Zachary Chesser, who became involved with Revolution Muslim, an organization that put out extremist propaganda via websites and YouTube videos, and made the infamous threat against the South Park television show creators.
But the extremist with the most widespread influence was the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whose influence continues to play a role in radicalization half a decade after his death in an American drone strike in Yemen.
Jihadists Influenced by Awlaki by Year
Jihadists influenced by or in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, who died in an American drone strike in in 2011. Years indicate when an individual was killed or charged.
Part IV: What is the Threat to the United States Today?
In the almost two decades since 9/11, there is only one case of a jihadist foreign terrorist organization directing a deadly attack inside the United States since 9/11, or of a deadly jihadist attacker receiving training or support from groups abroad. That case is the attack at the Naval Air Station Pensacola on December 6, 2019, when Mohammed Al-Shamrani shot and killed three people.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed the attack and according to the FBI, evidence from Al-Shamrani’s phone confirms he was in contact with an AQAP militant and AQAP prior to his entry to the United States continuing though the attack and also confirms the will presented in AQAP’s video claim was sent to them by Al-Shamrani. The exact character and level of the interaction between Al-Shamrani and AQAP remains unknown.
Since 9/11, jihadists have killed 107 people inside the United States. This death toll is similar to that from far-right terrorism (consisting of anti-government, militia, white supremacist, and anti-abortion violence), which has killed 114 people. (However, when you consider the population numbers of so-called Right Wingers in America (150 million) with the numbers of Muslims in America (3.5 million), the Islamic threat is chilling, especially as the Muslim migrant and birthrate population continue to soar)
The United States has also seen attacks in recent years inspired by black separatist/nationalist ideology and ideological misogyny. Individuals motivated by these ideologies have killed twelve and seventeen people respectively and those with Far-Left views have killed one person.