ISIS: STATE OF TERROR
LINKSBlogs of War
Making Sense of Jihad
Views from the Occident
American Al Qaeda Members
News, documents and analysis on violent extremism
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
How Many American Jihadists?UPDATED 1/14/2011: This post has been updated with new material derived from my forthcoming book, "Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go To War In The Name Of Islam," the first comprehensive look at the phenomenon of American jihadists from the 1970s to the present. The book is scheduled to be released in April/May 2011. Pre-orders are available now. For information about review copies or for media interviews on American jihadists, contact me here.
The question "How many American jihadists are out there?" has been posed to me by reporters and other interested people from time to time. In 2009 and 2010, a series of stories were published by journalists around the country who are just "discovering" that Americans have signed up for jihad. So I wanted to give a little bit of perspective on the history of American jihadists, which will be greatly expanded on in the book.
How long has this been going on? And how many are there?
It seems as if most people writing on this issue believe that American jihadists sprang into existence after 9/11. The linked article is particularly disappointing in its shallow pool approach, given the source.
Not only is this untrue, but it's desperately important. What U.S. policymakers need to understand is that Americans have been involved in these activities since the dawn of the modern age of terrorism -- to be more specific, at least two American citizens took part in the Siege of Mecca in 1979.
There were a few incidents before this which qualify as "jihadist," but they aren't networked jihad, more like individual expressions of political frustration. I discuss one of the most memorable of these incidents in the book.
Since 1979, Americans have taken part in every single major jihadist conflict around the globe, to a greater or lesser extent. Americans fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, they fought the Serbs in Bosnia. Every major Islamic terrorist attack against the U.S. homeland has included American collaborators, and many attacks overseas have as well.
For the book and thereafter, I have examined the following numbers of cases:
A few important things to remember about this list:
Also important to keep in mind is that these are people whose involvement in jihadism amounted to more than just idle talk. So if you're counting the Internet "jihobbyists" (as Jarret Brachman calls them), there are still more people to think about.
How many? It depends on where you draw the line for the definition of jihobbyist. Someone who is a daily consumer of jihadist material and only an occasional contributor? Or should they be daily contributors? Do you count only those who participate on the top 10 forums (a relatively small number)? Do you count people who take part only in jihadist forums, or those who sign up for strict Salafist forums? Do they have to take part in those forums' jihadist section, or should we count those who merely enable and legitimize forums which have jihadist sections?
For every case we know about, there are X cases we don't know about. Depending on what value you assign to X and what you consider "significant" jihadist activity, the total number of Americans likely to have taken part in jihadist activity is at least in the thousands, and possibly tens of thousands.
More data will likely surface in coming months (of 2011) which will help create a more precise estimate of current activity, which I expect to on the high end. But most data is likely to focus on the post-September 11 era.
Hopefully all of this illuminates the fact that American jihadists are not necessarily a wacky new trend.
At this point, I do believe that the number of current American jihadists is higher than it was prior to September 11, but the increase is likely not as dramatic as some in the media would like to portray it.
Rather, I think the trend is that the Americans who do sign up are much more visible now, in part because we care more than we did in the 1980s and 1990s,and in part because the Internet encourages them to identify themselves, as opposed to the pre-9/11 era, when most individual consumers of jihadist propaganda talked about their interests in person and (mostly) behind closed doors.
Beyond the "significant" jihadists, lie the jihobbyists. I think the number of people casually interested in jihad is growing thanks to the Internet. Until fairly recently, we haven't seen a lot of indicators that jihobbyists were becoming active jihadists. But in 2010 and 2011, there has been a notable uptick in such cases. The conversion rate of jihobbyists to jihadists is a massive concern going forward.
Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.
Tweets referencing this post:
"...smart, granular analysis..."ISIS: The State of Terror
"Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger's new book, "ISIS," should be required reading for every politician and policymaker... Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations... a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group." -- Washington Post
More on ISIS: The State of Terror
"...a timely warning..."Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam:
"At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times
More on Jihad Joe
Jihad Jane: Colleen LaRose Indictment
Jihad Jane's Manifesto
Pennsyvlania Woman Charged With Recruiting For Jih...
Who's Abu Yahya Mujahideen Al-Adam?
Different American Al Qaeda Arrested
Full Text of Today's Adam Gadahn Video
Clean Version Of Today's Gadahn Video
Report: Adam Gadahn Arrested in Pakistan
Gadahn's Oscar Ambitions Thwarted
American Terrorist Gadahn Praises American Terrori...
New York Pipe Bomb Suspect Linked to Revolution Muslim
The Utility of Lone Wolves
Interview with Online Jihadist Abu Suleiman Al Nasser
A Way Forward for CVE: The Five Ds
How Terrorists Use The Internet: Just Like You
PATCON: The FBI's Secret War on the Militia Movement
Interview About Jihad With Controversial Cleric Bilal Philips
Forgeries on the Jihadist Forums
U.S. Gave Millions To Charity Linked To Al Qaeda, Anwar Awlaki
State Department Secretly Met With Followers of Blind Sheikh
State Department Put 'Political Pressure' On FBI To Deport Brother-in-Law Of Osama Bin Laden In 1995
FBI Records Reveal Details Of Nixon-Era Racial Profiling Program Targeting Arabs
Gaza Flotilla Official Was Foreign Fighter in Bosnia War
U.S. Had 'High Confidence' Of UBL Attack In June 2001
Behind the Handshake: The Rumsfeld-Saddam Meeting