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ISIS' Foreign Fighters
Where Are the American Jihadists?

America may be less exposed to the threat of homegrown ISIS fighters than our European allies, new figures suggest. Furthermore, U.S. intelligence services seem to have an increasingly detailed grasp of where they are. According to a new report in The Hill:

[A]t least 124 Americans have gone or have attempted to go abroad to join jihadist fronts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and more recently, Syria.

Forty-one of these would-be jihadis were arrested before they left the United States and 24 were killed while abroad — six in suicide bombings, two as a result of American airstrikes and two as a consequence of internal disputes within the terrorist groups. The cause of the other deaths is unknown. Thirteen more were arrested while abroad, three of whom were extradited and prosecuted in the United States. Thirteen are still at large. Of those known to have returned to the United States, 32 were arrested and one was killed.

Thirty-seven went or tried to go to Pakistan; 34 went or tried to go to Somalia; 20 to Syria; 18 to Afghanistan; and 11 to Yemen. The remainder went to other countries. Forty-two wanted to join al Qaeda or one of its affiliates, 34 wanted to join al Shabab, and eight joined or wanted to join Lashkar-e-Taiba. Twelve intended to join ISIS, four wanted to join Jabhat al-Nusra or other al Qaeda in Syria, and another four sought the Taliban. Some were ready to join any jihadist group.

So far, the U.S. has been using a law enforcement approach toward this threat. We use the FBI and local law enforcement officers, rather than the intelligence apparatus, to track some who try to leave to join the jihad and those who’ve returned, and prosecute those we can.

While this report shows that we’re managing things from a law enforcement perspective here in the U.S., it may also indicate that our intelligence capabilities within Syria have improved, given that we know this much about the ultimate fates of the American jihadists. That would be a welcome change from previous reports, some given by prominent Administration officials, that our knowledge of what’s happening on the ground is woefully lacking. Following a Florida man’s suicide bombing in Syria this past spring, U.S. intelligence officials went so far as to describe the country as a “black hole.”

The Hill report is necessarily low on details about these efforts. But it may indicate that our intelligence capabilities are now better able not only to protect the U.S. from radicalized citizens, but to track what’s happening on the ground in the hellhole that is Syria.

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  • gabrielsyme

    I think it highly likely that the giving of all these details about those the intelligence services have positively identified as trying to go aid jihadist groups is a way of avoiding the question of how many are being missed, or we don’t know where they are or whether they’re fighting for ISIS or not.

    If 124 have been positively identified, how many have not? How many do the intelligence services think have “probably” gone to join ISIS? How many have they missed altogether?

    • FriendlyGoat

      I never was a fan of Donald Rumsfeld, but he was right to raise questions about the “unknown unknowns”, and so are you. A figure of 124 sounds so “exact” when it undoubtedly is not.

      Besides, the quiet jihadis we really need to worry about are the ones who don’t go anywhere but rather decide to just do their suicide missions here.

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