Three Out of Four International Terrorism Offenders Are Foreign-Born

549 Convicted since 9/11, 73 percent immigrants

Sayfullo Saipov / Getty Images


73 percent of the 549 individuals convicted of international terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts were immigrants, according to a new report issued Tuesday by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

"This report reveals an indisputable sobering reality—our immigration system has undermined our national security and public safety," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  "And the information in this report is only the tip of the iceberg: we currently have terrorism-related investigations against thousands of people in the United States, including hundreds of people who came here as refugees."

Federal law enforcement agencies considered international terrorism—distinguished from domestic terrorism by the jurisdiction or transnational nature of the terrorist activity—a higher priority following the September 11th attacks, after which the law defined more criminal activities as qualifying for the designation. In recent years, many international terrorism charges stem from attempts to join or provide material support to ISIS.

The set of individuals who were convicted of such crimes contained, according to the report, a plurality of non-citizens: 254 out of 549. Among that group was Abdinassir Mohamud Ibrahim, a Somali citizen admitted to the United States as a refugee, and subsequently sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison for working to recruit others to the Islamic terror organization Al-Shabaab.

A further 148 were foreign-born, but had become naturalized citizens. Those included Nader Elhuzayel, a naturalized citizen who kept a hit list of Defense Department employees and planned to travel abroad to join ISIS before his arrest.

A final 147 were, like North Carolina resident Justin Sullivan, native-born Americans who were radicalized. Sullivan, 21, was plotting a mass shooting in the name of ISIS when he was arrested, according to a U.S. Attorney at the time of his conviction.

There were a record 43.2 million immigrants in the United States as of 2015, about 13 percent of the population; slightly more than a million immigrants arrive to the United States per year.

The report specifically highlights convicted international terrorists who were admitted to the United States by the diversity visa lottery or by chain migration, policies the White House has highlighted as objectionable in its immigration reform efforts. Chain migration is responsible for about 61 percent of all immigration to the United States between 1981 and 2016.

Among those terrorists, although not included in the report due to the date of his crime, is Times Square truck attacker Sayfullo Saipov, an admit of the diversity visa lottery program who killed eight in November.

The report, which covers the period between Sept. 11, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2016, was issued in accordance with Executive Order 13780, which was intended to increase protections against would-be terrorists entering the United States. As a part of that effort, DHS and DOJ were instructed to provide certain public information about certain terrorism-related activity engaged in by immigrants.

In line with that instruction and in addition to the breakdown by immigration status of convicted international terrorists, the report provides information on would-be immigrants whom federal agencies judged to be national security risks.

DHS reported, for example, that in fiscal year 2017, it had 2,554 encounters with individuals on the terror watchlist attempting to enter the United States. 335 of those were attempting to enter by land, 2,170 by air, and 49 by sea. Between FY 2010 and FY 2016, the Customs and Border Patrol agency denied the boarding of 73,261 would-be foreign travelers who may have presented an immigration or security risk.

Those statistics also included information about illegal aliens deported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which has removed 1,716 people since Sept. 11, 2001, due to national security concerns. A recent review found that between 2013 and 2015, under the Obama administration, ICE officials consistently failed to properly screen illegal immigrants for terrorist ties.

Cabinet-level officials saw the conclusions of the report as evidence that the United States' current immigration regime was inadequate to ensure national security.

"This report is a clear reminder of why we cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists, and why we must examine our visa laws and continue to intensify screening and vetting of individuals traveling to the United States to prevent terrorists, criminals, and other dangerous individuals from reaching our country," said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. "Without legislative change, DHS will continue to see thousands of terrorists a year attempt to enter the United States, and while we must be right every time, the terrorists only need to be lucky once."

"The pillars of President Trump's immigration policy—securing our porous borders, moving to a merit-based immigration system that ends the use of diversity visas and chain migration, and enforcing our nation's laws—will make [law enforcement's] jobs easier and make the United States a safer place," Sessions said.

Charles Fain Lehman

Charles Fain Lehman   Email Charles | Full Bio | RSS
Charles Fain Lehman is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He writes about policy, covering crime, law, drugs, immigration, and social issues. Reach him on twitter (@CharlesFLehman) or by email at

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