The Truth about Foreign-Born Domestic Terrorists

Remembering the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings in Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts. Wikimedia Commons/@Ingfbruno

The actual foreign-born terrorist threat shows that perspective is sorely needed.

There were two potential terrorist attacks this weekend. The first was a stabbing-rampage by Dahir Adan in a Minnesota mall that injured several people but didn’t kill anyone. Adan was shot dead by off duty part-time police officer Jason Falconer. Shortly thereafter ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. The second attack was a bombing in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood and an attempted bombing in Seaside Park, New Jersey—the former wounded twenty-nine people. The suspect of the bombings is twenty-eight-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahami.

These two men share many characteristics: their Islamic faith, sex and age are nearly identical. They were also both born abroad. Adan immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was two years old, according to the Washington Post. Rahami was a naturalized citizen who was born in Afghanistan but it is unclear when and what visa he used to arrive.

Neither of the attacks this last weekend succeeded in killing anybody but they do fit into a few patterns I identify in a new paper from the Cato Institute, which catalogues all foreign-born terrorists from 1975 to the end of 2015, how many people they killed and what visa they used to enter the country. Two facts about these terrorists are related to patterns I uncovered.

First, last weekend’s terrorists didn’t kill anyone in their attacks. During the time period I studied, 74 percent of all foreign-born terrorists did not murder anyone. We should be grateful that they are so incompetent.

Second, Adan was a two-year old child when he immigrated with his parents, long before he could harbor the desire to become a terrorist. That’s similar to the case of Shain Duka, Britan Duka and Eljvir Duka, all ethnic Albanians from Macedonia who illegally crossed the Mexican border as young children with their parents in 1984.

The Dukas were three of ten illegal immigrant terrorists in my report and the only three to have crossed the border with Mexico illegally. They were the three conspirators in the planned Fort Dix plot that was foiled by the FBI in 2007. Like Adan and possibly Rahami, they became terrorists at some point after immigrating here and nobody was killed in their failed attacks.

Foreigners, whether as immigrants or those in the country temporarily, are disproportionately responsible for killing people in terrorist attacks. According to my paper’s findings, 88 percent of all Americans killed on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks were killed by foreign-born terrorists. From 1975 to the end of 2015, 3,024 people were murdered in terrorist attacks. Of the 154 foreign-born terrorists, only forty are responsible for all of those murders while the other 114 failed to kill anyone or their plots were foiled by law enforcement and they were subsequently convicted of terrorism charges.

About 98.6 percent of the victims, 2,983, were murdered on 9/11. The high death toll and dramatic nature of that attack naturally dominates our thinking on terrorism. But 9/11 also sticks in our mind because it was a one of a kind. September 11 was about ten times as deadly as the next deadliest confirmed attack (although there was an attack in the Iraq War that might have been one-sixth as deadly). The other attacks on U.S. soil are all much smaller.

A total of twenty-four of the forty-one victims killed in other terrorist attacks were murdered after 9/11 while seventeen were murdered in the years before the attacks. The potential terrorist attacks by Adan and Rahami fit a recent profile of lone wolf amateurs attempting to go on killing sprees with loose affiliation, if any, with foreign terrorist groups. Rahami was apparently incompetent because the phone he used to trigger the bombs had photos of him and his family on it. While some dramatic lone wolf attacks by foreigners succeed, like the five murders committed by Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez in 2015, most are failures.

This record of terrorism failure and incompetence doesn’t make the public feel much better. A December 2015 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 47 percent of Americans are “somewhat worried” or “very worried” that they or someone in their family will be a victim of terrorism. A Morning Consult poll found that 26 percent of Americans worried about immigration are most concerned with national security. Polls conducted after this last weekend will probably show a spike in concern.