Americans In ISIS: Some 300 Tried To Join, 12 Have Returned To U.S. : Parallels Some have risen to senior positions, others died in the fighting and many remain unaccounted for, according to a report. Twelve returned, but none has carried out an attack on U.S. soil.
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Americans In ISIS: Some 300 Tried To Join, 12 Have Returned To U.S.

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Americans In ISIS: Some 300 Tried To Join, 12 Have Returned To U.S.

Americans In ISIS: Some 300 Tried To Join, 12 Have Returned To U.S.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For the first time, we have detailed information about some of the Americans who have left to fight with the Islamic State. A new report is the most comprehensive account so far of what has happened to them. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here to talk with us about it. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: First off, how many Americans have tried to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria over the years?

MYRE: Best estimate is about 300 or so, and this comes out in a report from George Washington University's Program on Extremism. They've gone through court records, talked to government officials, even talked to some of those who have in fact returned. But, just to put it in perspective, it's about 1 percent of the estimated 30,000 foreign fighters that went to fight for the Islamic State.

MARTIN: Many coming from Europe, a lot of other places. So what happened to these Americans?

MYRE: Well, we don't know in all cases, but we do know in some. I mean, 50 of them got picked up by law enforcement before they could get on the plane, so they never got there. But this report was able to track 64 who did make it to Iraq and Syria. One, for example, is a guy named Zulfi Hoxha from New Jersey. He went there in 2015, became an ISIS leader, had been seen in some of their more gruesome propaganda videos. They found that 20 had been killed on the battlefield and that 12, in fact, returned to the United States.

MARTIN: And then what? I mean for that dozen who came home, what happened to them when they got back here?

MYRE: Nine of them got arrested. Two of them are known to law enforcement but have not been arrested. One turned around and went back to Syria and killed himself in a suicide attack.

MARTIN: Have any come back and tried or successfully pulled off any attacks in the U.S.?

MYRE: No. Now, there's one individual who came back with instructions to carry out an attack. His name is Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud. He's from Ohio. He came back in 2014, got arrested in 2015. And a lot of these cases have been under the radar. Law enforcement doesn't talk about it much. But just last month, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison. So he's the only one who's even plotted to carry out an attack. And I spoke with Seamus Hughes, who's one of the co-authors of the report, and here's what he had to say.

SEAMUS HUGHES: I think what we were struck with was the few number of attorneys that we saw. I think there was always concern that this wave of what the FBI used to call the terrorist diaspora would come back, and in many ways, it's just a trickle right now.

MARTIN: So that hasn't happened, this big wave of people coming back.

MYRE: It hasn't happened in this country, really hasn't happened anywhere.

MARTIN: More broadly, what has happened to all the foreign ISIS fighters since the group was defeated in Iraq and Syria? Have they gone mostly back to their home countries?

MYRE: No, they haven't. And that's been one of the surprises, not only in the U.S., but in Europe and elsewhere. They've been - we don't know, exactly. The hardcore guys are expected to stay and fight. Some are - have been detained by the U.S. allies in Syria, and it's really not clear what's going to happen to them. We just don't know what - where - if they're going to be repatriated or if they're going to stay where they are.

MARTIN: Stay on the battlefield. NPR's Greg Myre for us this morning. Thanks so much.

MYRE: Thank you, Rachel.

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