Domestic ISIS Arrests Are on the Rise Again.
Terror arrests have doubled since 2018
Police have arrested more than twice the number of domestic ISIS terrorists and sympathizers in the first eight months of this year than they charged in all of 2018.
The FBI and local police departments have arrested 24 people for ISIS-related offenses as of Sept. 3, according to data assembled by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism (POE). That arrest count—which includes individuals who attempted to travel to fight for the group overseas, provide material support for its efforts, or kill Americans in a terrorist attack—dwarfs the 11 arrests made in 2018. Authorities are on pace to exceed the 38 arrests made in 2017.
Andrew Mines, the research fellow responsible for the statistics, emphasized that a “small sample of individuals” prevents scholars from reaching statistically significant conclusions from his data set. Nevertheless, he said the uptick could be related to a shift in ISIS strategy as it transitions from a territorial entity focused on Syria and Iraq to a more decentralized terrorist organization.
“ISIS’s messaging received a revamp with the end of the physical caliphate,” Mines told the Washington Free Beacon. “They were taking a lot of hard hits throughout 2018 but with this kind of steady decline and now this resurgence through different affiliates through the globe, the messaging now is both remaining but also expanding, spreading throughout the globe.”
The U.S.-led coalition successfully annihilated ISIS as a territorial entity in 2019, prompting President Donald Trump to declare victory over the terror group. While coalition efforts destroyed the organization’s home base in Iraq and Syria, ISIS remains a persistent threat across the globe, with affiliates launching terror attacks in countries including Sri Lanka, Russia, and the Philippines. A 2018 White House white paper acknowledged that “ISIS remains the foremost radical Islamist terrorist group and the primary transnational terrorist threat to the United States.”
“Despite many setbacks, ISIS maintains a sophisticated and durable media and online presence that allows it to encourage and enable sympathizers worldwide to conduct dozens of attacks within target countries, including the United States,” the White House wrote. “The increase in attacks by persons mobilized to violence in the United States underscores the ability of ISIS to inspire terrorist attacks.”
The data also showed that ISIS sympathizers in the United States are shifting their interest away from attempting to travel to join the fight to committing acts of terror at home. More than 75 percent of offenders were charged for attempting to join the caliphate in 2014 compared to 36 percent in 2018. Domestic terror plots have meanwhile jumped from 12 to 45 percent of total arrests during that span of time.
Counterintuitively, coalition success might be driving this change in behavior, according to Mines.
“When that [ISIS] territory is shrinking and the international community is closing down the gateways and becoming a lot more savvy with how individuals are able to use different travel routes and entry points into countries [with ISIS presence,] … the messaging from the top is going to be that domestic attacks are a more viable option,” Mines said.
The program published court documents related to 18 of the 24 arrests this year. While some of the charges were for non-violent offenses such as violating a plea agreement or contacting ISIS affiliates, many arrests involved some violent plots that aimed to strike at prominent symbols of American life.