So far this year, 56 people have been charged in the United States with crimes related to the Islamic State group — a record number of terrorism-related arrests in any year since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, according to a first-of-its-kind review released Tuesday.
In all, 71 individuals have been charged with activities related to ISIS since March 2014, according to the review by the George Washington University Program on Extremism.
The list includes David Wright and Nicholas Rovinski, the two local men who were arrested in June after allegedly conspiring to support ISIS by beheading anti-Islamic activist Pamela Geller. Their alleged coconspirator, Usaamah Rahim, was shot and killed during a confrontation with Boston police. Another Massachusetts man charged with supporting the Islamic State is Alexander Ciccolo, the 23-year-old from Western Massachusetts who allegedly schemed to bomb a local university.
The report, called “ISIS in America,” also found that roughly 250 Americans have been identified as having traveled or attempted to travel to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, and that there are 900 active investigations against Islamic State sympathizers in all 50 states.
Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of the Program on Extremism and one of the report’s authors, said in an interview that ISIS has proven to be a prolific recruiter, with much of its work conducted online through various social media platforms.
“The bar for Americans to join these terrorist organizations has been lowered, allowing a level of connectivity and interaction with recruiters and propagandists unheard of just a few years ago,” Hughes said.
He added, “There’s a fascinating dynamic going on online of American ISIS supporters, which I don’t think people totally grasp. We wanted to start a conversation about what this actually looks like, what the typical profile of an ISIS recruit in America looks like.”
According to the study, however, there is no exact profile.
Most of those charged were men, and their average age was 26. But the study found wide differences among them in terms of race, age, social class, education, and family background.
Hughes said the Islamic State’s diversity showed the success it has had in recruiting online.
“The demographics are all over the place,” Hughes said.
Edward Davis, Boston’s former police commissioner who now consults on security matters, said in an interview that the study shows that people from all backgrounds are being lured by ISIS’s propaganda. That included Rahim, of Roslindale, who allegedly lunged at police with a military-style knife, after plotting an Islamic State-inspired attack.
It also includes Ciccolo of Adams, the son of a Boston police captain, who has a history of mental illness and had become obsessed with Islam.
“I think that you have a combination of zealots who are dedicated to jihad, and then you have people with psychological problems and other issues that are causing them to lean towards this violent rhetoric, but the sum total is the same,” said Davis, who was not part of the study.
Davis said people tend to forget about thwarted attacks.
“The ISIS threat is real, and the point they have gotten people to go over the edge is a troubling development,” he said.