Researcher Publications

The American Face of ISIS

By Robert A. Pape, Jean Decety, Keven Ruby, Alejandro Albanez Rivas, Jens Jessen, Caroline Wegner, Piper Mik, Sarah Starr, Ala Tineh, Walker Gunning, Jacinta Carroll | February 06, 2017

Robert Pape, Jean Decety, Keven Ruby, Alejandro Albanez Rivas, Jens Jessen, Caroline Wegner. 2017. The American Face of ISIS: Analysis of ISIS-related Terrorism in the US, March 2014-August 2016. A Special Report of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. February.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is mobilising sympathisers in the US at rates much higher than seen for previous terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. 
To understand this new American face of ISIS, the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) study examined 112 cases of individuals who perpetrated ISIS-related offences, were indicted by the US Justice Department for such offences, or both, in the US between March 2014 and August 2016. The offences fall into three categories: 
1. attacking or conspiring to attack targets in the US 
2. travelling or conspiring to travel to join ISIS abroad 
3. facilitating others seeking to attack or travel. 
Commentary to date on the type of people in the US who support ISIS is typically based on a few high-profile individual cases and some speculation. This is the first comprehensive analysis of ISIS-related cases to examine the profiles of indictees overall, as well as to identify characteristics associated with each of the three offence types. 
Our key findings are as follows: 
• US ISIS indictees are very similar to the overall US population. 
– Their rates of marriage, college or higher education, and employment are close to the US average. 
• Indictees are mostly born and raised in America. 
– 83% are US citizens, and 65% were born in the US. 
– None is a refugee from Syria. 
• A significant proportion are converts from outside established Muslim communities. 
– 30% are converts to Islam, including 43% of US-born indictees. 
• Those indicted for attacking or conspiring to conduct an attack in the US are as likely to be US-born converts to Islam as to be from established Muslim communities. 
– 51% are recent converts to Islam. 
– 49% are from established Muslim communities. 
• ISIS propaganda videos played a central role in the radicalisation of indictees. 
– 83% watched ISIS propaganda videos, including execution videos and lectures by terrorist leaders. 
• ISIS has been more successful than al-Qaeda in mobilising support in the US. 
– ISIS is mobilising US indictees at a rate four times higher than al-Qaeda’s. 
– ISIS indictees are significantly more likely to be US citizens and recent converts than their al-Qaeda indictee counterparts.