New data from the Senate Judiciary Committee reveals that 40 refugees have been arrested on terrorism-related charges since 9/11; a number far higher than the State Department’s previous estimate of a dozen.
Clarion Project reported in November 2015 that a little-noticed poll showed that 13% of Syrian refugees express favorable feelings towards the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). The Obama Administration plans to resettle between 8,000 and 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year. It is about half way towards that goal, having resettled about 4,000.
The new congressional numbers show that 580 individuals have been convicted on terrorism-related charges since 9/11, with 131 convictions happening since early 2014 when ISIS burst onto the scene.
Of the 580, at least 40 are refugees (a little less than 7 percent of the total) and 380 are foreign-born (65.5% of the total). The top countries of origin are Pakistan (by far), followed far behind by Somalia, Yemen, Colombia and Iraq.
The convicts are most commonly associated with Al-Qaeda or one of its branches. The second most common allegiance is to Hezbollah, followed by the Colombian FARC narco-terrorist group; Hamas; Lashker-a-Taiba; the Taliban (if you combine the Afghan and Pakistani branches); the Tamil Tigers; the United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia; ISIS and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The obvious conclusion from the fresh data is that counter-terrorism efforts should be laser-focused on immigration and screening policies, particularly in regards to Muslim countries that are terror hotbeds, since over 65% of cases involved foreigners who came to the United States.
That number doesn’t include convicts whose parents came into the U.S. and may have brought ideas that helped radicalize their children. A clear example is Orlando shooter Omar Mateen’s father, who has praised the Taliban and is now known to have served as an official in a Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamist organization in 1997.
The Washington Post has also addressed some misconceptions and semantics games when it comes to the security issues surrounding the estimated 800,000 refugees who have come into America since 9/11. Counts of terror-linked refugees may not include asylum-seekers and their families who are in the U.S. but have not yet acquired the refugee label.
The Post mentions that the Tsarnaev brothers who committed the Boston bombings were in the U.S. because their father is an asylum-seeker and they are not included in the counts.
In addition, the aforementioned numbers do not include information about those arrested but not convicted and those under investigation. A senior FBI official said in 2013 that there are dozens of counter-terrorism investigations into refugee suspects. That was before the dramatic spike in radicalization sparked by the success of ISIS and its declaration of a caliphate.
As Clarion explained, the U.S. can benefit from accepting some properly-vetted Muslim refugees, including those from Syria. A ban on all Muslim immigration isn’t feasible (putting aside the moral question), but a vetting process aimed at detecting Islamists is. Such ideological vetting can help genuine moderate Muslims by identifying them and possibly expediting their processing.
Homeland Security whistleblower Philip Haney had great success in detecting extremists by tracking associations with Islamist movements and institutions until the overlapping extremism of political correctness and Islamism stopped him from continuing. Almost every time someone is arrested on terror-related charges, we hear about previous signs of extremism such as attending a radical mosque or a social media posting.
The new data shows that the majority of terrorist convicts come from foreign countries, and a small but worrisome percentage are refugees. It isn’t Islamophobic or bigoted to recognize the intersection between national security and immigration and make proper adjustments to reflect reality.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.