“That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse,” Obama said. He also called on Muslim-American leaders to speak out against Islamic views that do not promote tolerance and human dignity.
Khan is one of a handful of Muslim-Americans who are working to stop ISIS from recruiting young Americans, not just Muslims. She works mostly online, but also offline, hosting training for imams and community leaders around the country. She shows mosque leaders how to spot youth at risk of being radicalized.
She recently held a workshop for 100 teens in Northern Virginia to teach them the difference between Islamic theology and terrorist ideology. Usually, it is the youth who don’t go to mosque regularly or study the Quran closely who are most likely to be brainwashed, she says.
“If young people knew more about [Islamic] values, they would know when they are being manipulated,” says Khan.
The ISIS reach in Western countries has sparked international concern after recent terrorist attacks in Paris and California. The Pakistani woman who orchestrated the shootings in San Bernardino last week with her husband had pledged support on Facebook to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Experts on violent extremism are raising the alarm over the influence of ISIS here in the United States. About 250 Americans have traveled or tried to travel to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS fighters as of November, according to Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
His staff has spent the past six months combing through FBI court files and monitoring social media to understand the appeal of the terrorist group here in America. One thing they discovered is that Americans who join ISIS come from all backgrounds.
“The diversity is incredible,” Vidino says. “We see Caucasians, Latinos, African-Americans and Jews. It really defies any attempt to create a common profile. It makes it even more difficult to understand their motives.”
People arrested this year in connection to the terrorist group include a white, teenage girl from suburban Denver who recently converted to Islam and a Cuban-American man from Miami.
Though the Islamic State has a much stronger influence in Europe, there are about 900 active investigations against ISIS sympathizers in all 50 American states, according to the George Washington University report. Most of them were “groomed” by ISIS supporters through social media networks such as Twitter and Instagram. And many embraced their radical interpretation of Islam as a way to find belonging and a sense of personal identity.
Federal prosecutors around the country have charged 71 people with ISIS-related activities since March 2014. Charges include attempting to support a known terrorist organization to plotting deadly attacks on U.S. soil. Most of the arrests have happened since January, making 2015 the year with the most terrorism-related arrests since September 2001.