American Jihadists Balk at 'Terribly' Kept Bathrooms, Errand-Boy Duties in Islamic State
WASHINGTON -- American jihadists who have gone to join ISIS abroad have found themselves not fitting in with their foreign counterparts and often have been relegated to serving as errand boys, a new study found.
"The Travelers: American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq," issued by George Washington University's Program on Extremism, studied 64 jihadists who made it to ISIS territory -- 11 percent female. The average age of these jihadists was 27 when they made the journey, and they originated from 16 different states; Minnesota, Virginia and Ohio produced the highest number of American jihadists.
Forty-four percent of them are still at large, while a little more than a third died overseas. A dozen were detained here or abroad, and three returned to the United States but faced no charges -- one of the three eventually returned to Syria and conducted a suicide bombing.
More than 70 percent of the American jihadists in the study were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Nearly 83 percent joined ISIS once abroad, while the remainder picked other terror groups.
The study divides the jihadists into pioneers, who made the journey early in the caliphate and attained leadership positions while acquiring critical terrorism skills; networked travelers, who go through connections with family or acquaintances and comprise the majority of the U.S. jihadists studied; and loners, who make the journey without any connections and may network on the internet. Only four American jihadists in the group studied were deemed pioneers.
"Most of the 250 to 300 American jihadist recruits mentioned by authorities have not been publicly identified, suggesting on-going investigations, sealed indictments, and some uncertainty," the report foreword notes, adding "there is no single profile of the American travelers and their motives vary greatly."
Of the seven travelers who have been convicted in U.S. courts since 2011, the average prison sentence is 10 years behind bars. "In some cases, prosecution is infeasible. At times, it is difficult to garner evidence about a traveler’s activities in Syria and Iraq that is admissible in a court of law. As a result, prosecutors are often forced to charge returned travelers with lesser offenses." None of the returnees in the report has been linked to a terror attack in the United States.
"Considering that many convicted American travelers will be released within the next five to ten years, prison deradicalization programs should be regarded as a priority. There are no deradicalization or rehabilitation programs for jihadist inmates in the U.S. federal prison system," the report adds. "Without these programs, incarcerated travelers have few incentives to renege on their beliefs, and may attempt to build networks in prison or radicalize other prisoners."
One of the first Americans to travel to Syria, an East Coaster referred to as Mo, went to join ISIS in June 2014 and turned himself in at a U.S. consulate in Turkey five months later. Mo told the authors of the report that he decided to go "live in a sharia environment" after one of his professors screened the Theo van Gogh movie Submission. He then began consuming the online lectures of American al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki; he claimed he chose ISIS because he determined they were less violent than al-Qaeda and hoped he could start a business in the sharia caliphate.