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An inside look at Americans who joined ISIS
By Russel Read
Sometime in 2014, a U.S. citizen named Abdullah Ramo Pazara was killed in Syria fighting Kurdish forces on behalf of the Islamic State. He was one of the first of many Americans to do so.
The Islamic State and those it has inspired are responsible for the deaths of dozens of Americans, yet the group still has drawn hundreds of U.S. persons to its black banner in the past four years.
But who are the people who would turn on their country to join one of the most vicious terrorist groups in history? And how did they do it?
The answer, like terrorism itself, is complicated.
"We found there wasn't a single profile of a member of IS [Islamic State] or an American member of IS," Bennett Clifford, a research fellow at the George Washington University's Program on Extremism, told me in an interview. "What we found is there are some general trends, most of them tend to be young. We also found that they come from a variety of different backgrounds."
Clifford and his colleagues recently released a report from a study they conducted on 64 Americans who traveled to Syria and Iraq since 2011 to join terrorist groups in the area. Unsurprisingly, most are male, 89 percent in fact. What was more unexpected was the fact that 70 percent were either U.S. citizens or permanent residents, meaning few were actually immigrants. Their backgrounds vary widely, and they come from across the country, though Minnesota, Virginia and Ohio had the highest rates.
The report refers to the Americans as "travelers," and classifies them in three types: pioneers, loners and networked travelers, based on how they were able to get to the so-called caliphate.