ISIS Supporters In America: The Jihadis Next Door?

Vocativ has found dozens of Americans around the country who openly support ISIS. And they're all followers of a radical Michigan-based cleric

In recent months, as ISIS began executing Western hostages and dialing up multiple threats to attack property and citizens in the U.S., Vocativ’s analysts have been using our deep web technology to uncover a potential ISIS presence in America.

Two Americans have been charged in the past month with allegedly attempting to hatch attacks against American targets on behalf of ISIS, and an Oklahoma man named Alton Nolen beheaded a co-worker last Thursday at a food distribution plant. Colleagues say Nolen had been actively trying to convert them to Islam, and his Facebook page is riddled with radical missives like “Sharia law is coming!”

Over the past few weeks, Vocativ’s analysts have been able to home in on a network of ISIS supporters in the U.S. We’ve found dozens of Americans who openly support the militant Islamic group.

In many ways, they’re just like you. They post selfies on Twitter and Facebook, share memes, hang out with friends. They talk about their favorite TV shows, movies and music. They share news about their families.

But they’re also pledging support to the brutal regime seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate across the Middle East.

One American ISIS supporter is a young man from New York City who is now studying at a prominent Jesuit university in the Midwest. (Vocativ has withheld names of persons who are currently the subject of investigationThe ISIS flag serves as his Facebook profile banner, and he has also posted a picture of a man wearing a balaclava and carrying a sword on his back with the phrase “Under the Shade of the Sword,” a reference to an infamous book about the clash of Christianity and Islam. A favorite quote—”How can you defeat an enemy who looks into the barrel of your gun and sees paradise?”—is attributed to a Russian general speaking of the Chechen mujahideen.

It’s a stark contrast to the rest of his profile, which features smiling graduation pictures and outings to a pool with a young woman.

We reached out to the university student, but he did not respond to our queries. We did, however, speak with his mother by phone. She says the family moved to the Midwest from New York five years ago. The family is originally from East Africa, but she says her son, who was born in the U.S., has never left the country. He is a freshman in college, where he is on scholarship and majoring in chemistry. He is beginning to make friends with other chemistry majors at the school, she says. 

She says he hopes to go on to graduate school and get a job with a big American company. “He says he wants to work for P&G [Proctor & Gamble],” she says. Asked how we could reach her son, she says he is “never doing anything but studying” and “doesn’t have a phone.”

Minutes after we spoke with the mom, her son’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were taken down.

We called the police department in the city where the teen’s university is located. A police spokesperson says the student we identified had “potentially put out questionable messages through social media.” The spokesperson says at the very moment we’d called, members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force—which consists of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement—were meeting to determine the threat level posed by the student: “I am sitting here right now with a couple of agents who have received some information and begun working on something.”

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