By: AnnaMaria Di Pietro, Sinclair Broadcast Group
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Sixty-four Americans have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join jihadist groups, according to a new report out of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
The report, titled “The Travelers: American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq,” takes a deep dive into the background of Americans who left the United States to join those groups since 2011.
While the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will soon be cut back, the effort to stop Americans from leaving is ongoing. Depending on their journey, travelers are classified in these three categories:
- Pioneers: arrived early in the countries and rose to leadership in their organization
- Networked travelers: use their contacts with jihadi groups to organize their travel
- Loners: travel without the help with anyone they know personally
The report’s co-author, Bennett Clifford, said that these jihadists all have different backgrounds.
“Our main finding is that there’s not a single profile of these individuals,” Clifford said. “They come from all walks of life."
Today, we release our new report by @amhitchens @seamushughes @_bCliff. It’s the culmination of a multi-year investigation into all Americans known to have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join jihadist groups. Read the report here. https://t.co/BFUSUUhoPA #TheTravelers pic.twitter.com/Bqow0EYqVn— Program On Extremism (@gwupoe) February 6, 2018
While the study found there is not a “one-type fits all” profile of a jihadist traveler from the U.S., a broader look at some demographic trends show these travelers tend to be male, with an average age of 27. It also found that most of the travelers came from Minnesota, Virginia, and Ohio, but were spread across the country.
Of the 64 travelers who have been identified, 12 returned to the United States by the time the report was completed, nine of those who came back were arrested and charged with terrorism-related offenses, and one was identified to have returned with the intent to plan an attack.
One of the biggest challenges the United States is facing is stopping those already in the country from turning to terrorism.
While the number is shrinking and pales in comparison to some of their counterparts in Europe, the report found that very few travelers are lone wolves, and that more of those who are interested in joining are urged to stay at home.
Clifford said this idea centers back to being able to plan an attack in the U.S. or other native countries where jihadists get their start.
“There’s been kind of a narrative promoted by ISIS starting in about 2015 or 2016, directed at not only American but other potential foreign fighters, from Europe and from elsewhere, telling them that they can be more valuable to the Islamic State or whichever jihadist group, if they simply stay in their home countries and commit an attack, rather than trying to travel and get arrested," Clifford said.