Fordham University Report Examines ISIS Prosecutions In The U.S. Karen Greenberg of Fordham University explains a report on ISIS prosecutions in the U.S.

Fordham University Report Examines ISIS Prosecutions In The U.S.

Fordham University Report Examines ISIS Prosecutions In The U.S.

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Karen Greenberg of Fordham University explains a report on ISIS prosecutions in the U.S. Responding to a lawmaker who cited a number from her study on NPR to show the potential danger from refugees, Greenberg says the number was correct, but that further context shows the number to be less important than it seemed.


Let's look a little more closely at some evidence about refugees, foreigners and terrorism. An executive order by President Trump sought to stop refugees from coming to the United States, even though none in the past in recent years have been specifically blamed for terror attacks on U.S. soil. On this program, Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana defended the president's order, and he added this.


MIKE JOHNSON: I would point out Fordham Law School's Center on National Security - their new report on ISIS prosecutions in the U.S. They determined that nearly 20 percent of alleged facilitators in ISIS prosecutions in our country do involve refugees and asylees. I mean, those kinds of facts are not as widely publicized. But they should be. I think the American people have a right to know that.

INSKEEP: We promised to check out the report that he mentioned. And so we've called Karen Greenberg, who's the author of it. She's director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. She's in our New York studios. Good morning.

KAREN GREENBERG: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Is the congressman right - that there are some people who were refugees or asylum seekers who facilitated some kind of terror activity in the U.S.?

GREENBERG: He's correct. What he's - what he misstated was exactly what percentage this was of individuals who are accused of some sort of ISIS-related crime in the United States.

INSKEEP: He said it was almost 20 percent of alleged facilitators. What's the correct number?

GREENBERG: Well, there are - in the database that he's citing, there were 19 individuals that were accused of being facilitators, which meant largely that they were helping to fund others or helping to inspire others to go abroad because the report he's referring to came out last year when there was still a significant number of foreign fighters who were trying to go to Syria or Iraq.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is people going the other way, not necessarily people...

GREENBERG: The facilitators were mostly facilitating those going abroad. And the refugees among those facilitators were three people. So he took a piece of the pie and then narrowed that even further. And so it was 18 percent. And he said 20 percent to round up. But the fact is that there are a handful of refugees in the 125 cases that we've seen to date of ISIS-related cases in the United States and that it's an extremely small proportion.

And so I don't - so he just misrepresented it. And you can understand why, which is that this fear mongering about refugees, which, I think, is largely a distraction from some very important issues about terrorism, was convenient for the political argument.

INSKEEP: OK. So what he's right about is that there were three people who were refugees or asylum seekers who had some kind of involvement with encouraging people to go overseas. You say he's wrong about the number. What is a larger risk here? If we're thinking about defending the United States against terror attack, where are these attacks coming from, according to your study?

GREENBERG: OK. So let's be clear. Eighty percent of the individuals involved in these terrorist plots or wanting to go abroad are U.S. citizens. Sixty percent of them are U.S.-born, and 40 percent of them are converts. So in other words, this is a homegrown issue. And we need to address the fact that there are - there is a wide swath with different ethnicities, different nationalities, different religions that are attracted to the message of ISIS.

And we need to nip this in the bud earlier. We need to take care of these individuals when they're younger. Many of them start to go down this road when they're teens. And we need to focus here and begin to think about this in a ameliorative way if we're going to truly feel safe in our country.

INSKEEP: So in a couple of seconds, you're saying the president should focus more at home than abroad?

GREENBERG: He should focus at home, and he should focus in a constructive way to help individuals find constructive lives here.

INSKEEP: Karen Greenberg of Fordham Law School, thanks very much.

GREENBERG: Thank you.

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Clarification Feb. 10, 2017

We have edited this Web introduction to make clear that Karen Greenberg believes the lawmaker did not provide enough context about the figures in the report.