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The Origins of Jihadist-Inspired Attackers in the U.S.

25 Nov

After 9/11

Half of the attacks since 2001 were
committed by men born in the United States.

The paths to violence for the United States-born attackers varied. Some were recent converts to Islam. At least three who were born in the U.S. had previous criminal histories, and one had a history of mental illness. One seemed to have radicalized after spending time in Yemen. Another became radicalized after being convicted of lying to F.B.I. agents — denying he had made plans to travel to Somalia when in fact he had.

Security experts argue that the risks of routine travel — including the U.S. visa waiver program, which allows citizens of Britain, France, Belgium and 35 other countries to enter the United States without a visa for stays of up to 90 days — are greater than the threat of foreign terrorists coming through the refugee program.

“Further restricting the acceptance of refugees does not address the most likely vulnerability to attacks from abroad, which is the large number of people from visa-waiver countries involved in the conflict in Syria,” said David Sterman, a researcher for the International Security Program at the New America think tank who has been cataloging terrorist attacks carried out since Sept. 11.

Attacks With the Most Victims

Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 13 people in a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Tex., in 2009, was born and raised in Virginia. Mr. Hasan had exchanged messages with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American radical cleric who was later killed by a drone strike in Yemen. Despite those exchanges, investigators have not linked Mr. Hasan’s attack to terrorism.

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, settled in the United States after their parents were granted political asylum, which involves a less extensive vetting process than the program for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

At the time of the Boston bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a naturalized American citizen, and Tamerlan had a green card.

Attacks by Foreign Residents

Since 2001, “hardly any foreign-born have committed (or tried to commit) terrorism in (or on the way to) the U.S.,” John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State and the Cato Institute who tracks terrorism in the United States, wrote in an email.

Richard C. Reid, who tried to detonate explosives in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001, is a British citizen, and would not have needed a visa to enter the United States. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man who tried to detonate explosives in his underwear during a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009, had a tourist visa.

Most Prominent Attacks Linked to Extremist Islam


Richard C. Reid, British

Tried to detonate explosives in his shoes during a flight from Paris to Miami.

Hesham Mohamed Hadayet

Fatally shot two people at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport.

Naveed Haq

Shot and killed one person and wounded five others at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.

Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar

Drove a sport utility vehicle through a crowded common area at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad

Killed one soldier and wounded another at a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark.

Nidal Malik Hasan

Killed 13 people and wounded dozens of others in a shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Nigerian

Tried to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear on a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

Faisal Shahzad

Planted a car bomb in Times Square.

Yonathan Melaku

Fired shots at five military buildings in the Washington area, including the Pentagon.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

The two brothers were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured; an M.I.T. police officer was killed during the subsequent manhunt.

Ali Muhammad Brown

Charged with murdering three men in Washington State and one in New Jersey.

Alton Nolen

Charged with first-degree murder in the beheading of a co-worker in Oklahoma.

Zale H. Thompson

Attacked police officers with a hatchet in New York.

Elton Simpson

Nadir Hamid Soofi

Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem

Mr. Simpson and Mr. Soofi opened fire outside a gathering in Garland, Tex., that showcased artwork and cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Both men were killed by the police. Mr. Kareem was later charged with helping plan the attack.

Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez

Killed four Marines and one sailor at a military recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tenn.