What we know about ISIS-related crimes in the U.S.


HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For the past three years, ISIS has replaced al Qaeda as the primary terrorist concern in the United States and abroad. ISIS operatives or sympathizers have carried out horrific attacks in London, Paris, Brussels, as well as Orlando, Florida and San Bernardino, California. With investigations into possible ISIS suspects all over the country, the FBI and federal prosecutors have brought terrorism charges in 135 cases, with a 100 conviction rate in resolved cases.

This week, the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School here in New York released a report on those cases, and the center's director, Karen Greenberg, joins me now to discuss it.

Let's start with — you know, we're talking in the context of another attack in London. What's different about the attacks that are happening in the United States versus what's happening in Europe?

KAREN GREENBERG, DIRECTOR, CENTER ON NATIONAL SECURITY AT FORDHAM LAW SCHOOL: Specifically, what's different is that we have not seen a lot of attacks the way Europe has in the past many months.

The second thing is, is that in Europe, many of them have been highly organized attacks involving numerous individuals. Whereas, the plots in this country often don't amount to attacks. Law enforcement often stops them before they even get to any kind of coherent plot. The attacks that we have seen have sort of been separate from what law enforcement is doing.

But for the most part, the landscape looks very different in the United States in terms of number, complexity, and other things like that.

SREENIVASAN: So, a lot of the times, I guess, in the U.S., it's people that are plotting to and sometimes with the assistance of the government, and a kind of a sting operation?

GREENBERG: You know, it's interesting, there's always been sting operations for terrorism. And what you've seen with the ISIS cases is a marked increase in the percentage of cases that the FBI is bringing that are informant cases. So, for example, this year, in 2017, where we've only seen 17 indictments so far, I think it's over 80 percent of them are FBI stings. So, it tells you that they see this as a preventive model that they're relying upon, but it's got a lot of controversy around it.

SREENIVASAN: Is there a profile of the type of person that does this?

GREENBERG: There is no profile. The most frequent age is 20 years old. They're usually men. They can — males. They can be from any ethnic background.

Many of them are looking for their day in the sun. Many are looking for purpose or some kind of mission, but that is not something quantifiable and not something predictable. So, no.

SREENIVASAN: One of the things that leapt out from the report is what, 78 percent of defendants are U.S. citizens.


SREENIVASAN: Sixty percent born in the U.S.

GREENBERG: Yes, yes. These are Americans. They're American kids who grew up and have — make a decision at some point in their late adolescence, for the most part, that they — they want to engage in violence or that they are fantasizing about violence.

And many of them come to ISIS in their sort of wandering. Some of them tried to join militias first. Some of them tried to join the army first. You know, it's different patterns.

SREENIVASAN: Does Europe look at U.S. as a model then?

GREENBERG: I don't think so.

Europe is much closer to the fight in the Middle East. The numbers of returning foreign fighters to Europe are, you know, staggering in terms of their numbers. That's what they're worried about. The numbers of Muslims in jail and in prison in Europe is very high. And so, prison radicalization is also very important.

Our sample — not our sample, the 135 cases, very few of them had criminal records. Some of them may have engaged with police in the past, but they are not served time in prison, they have not been indicted. They haven't been foreign fighters. So, it's a different — it's a different context.

SREENIVASAN: You know, you show that the numbers have actually been decreasing year over year since 2015.


SREENIVASAN: What are we to make of that? That does mean that we're — it's working, our interventions or punishments, or has strategy shifted?

GREENBERG: I think law enforcement has sent out a very clear message: don't go there. Don't think about it. That's the first thing.

The second thing is, during the first year, a number of these individual wanted to go abroad. They wanted to fight. They were foreign fighters.

And the FBI intervened in a very strong way there, but I don't think it was just that. I think the news headlines about what happened when these individuals went abroad, I think the amount of brutality and death has made individuals who want to go abroad, you know, much less. And it may be that some of the counter-extremist programs that are active in places like Minneapolis and other major cities around the country, may be working.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Karen Greenberg from the Center of National Security at Fordham Law School — thanks for joining us.

GREENBERG: Thank you for having me.

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