The FBI is investigating about 850 cases involving domestic terrorism and more than 4,000 involving international terrorism.
In a breakdown provided to the Washington Examiner, roughly 5,000 open terrorism investigations across the United States and around the world were shown, along with the number of domestic terrorism arrests and international terrorism arrests, which have remained fairly constant over the past three years.
In the 2019 fiscal year, the bureau arrested 121 international terrorism suspects and 107 domestic terrorism suspects, compared with 100 international and 115 domestic arrests in 2018 and 110 international and 150 domestic arrests in 2017.
“Preventing terrorist attacks remains the FBI’s top priority,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement to both the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees over the last week. “However, the threat posed by terrorism — both international terrorism and domestic violence extremism — has evolved significantly since 9/11.”
The threat is shifting and expanding, especially online.
Wray warned domestic terrorists and violent extremists are being radicalized and recruited online, such as in recent deadly mass shootings in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Ohio. They “tend to work online and move quickly at the speed of social media, leaving dangerously little warning time from espousing radical views to attack,” Wray said.
The FBI says that about 40% of the estimated 850 domestic terrorism investigations are “racially motivated violent extremism cases,” mostly involving white supremacy. Racially motivated violent extremism — especially that posed by white supremacists — has increasingly caught the DOJ’s and FBI’s attention in recent months.
Racially motivated violent extremists have been traveling overseas, including to different parts of Eastern Europe, to connect and in some cases, train with like-minded people, said Wray, who has repeatedly called white supremacist terrorism “a persistent, pervasive threat.”
“We have seen some connections between U.S.-based neo-Nazis and overseas analogs,” Wray said. “And certainly probably a more prevalent phenomenon we see more right now is racially motivated violent extremists here who are inspired by what they see overseas. So, for example, the Christchurch attack in New Zealand, we’ve had folks that we’ve arrested here that were motivated by what they saw happening over there. So, they’re not working together, but they’re just fueled by each other.”
In about half of the domestic terrorism cases, the people involved have anti-government and anti-authority motivations, which the FBI classifies into Sovereign Citizen Extremism, where individuals claim immunity from U.S. government authority; Anarchist Extremism, where individuals reject all authority; Militia Extremism, where individuals view themselves as self-appointed protectors of the U.S. Constitution; Animal Rights and Environmental Extremism; and Abortion Extremism, which encompasses both pro-life and pro-choice extremists.
“More and more on the domestic terrorism side, including this white supremacist violence category, it’s not really about groups in the same way we used to think about groups with al Qaeda and Hezbollah. It’s more diffuse — more unstructured and undisciplined,” Wray said.
Wray said the threat posed by the Islamic State remained despite the destruction of its physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, in part because of the terrorist group’s ability to inspire new recruits and to spur more loosely-connected attacks through the internet and in part because of the possibility that the remnants of the group move out of Syria and into other nations to carry out attacks, he told the Senate on Tuesday.
“The biggest ISIS-related threat to the homeland is, in many ways, the online-inspired — in effect, the virtual caliphate — so that threat is something that we’ve been all over with or without the presence in Syria,” Wray said.
The FBI and its partners have been collecting biometric information so they can share fingerprints and DNA with allies to better intercept fighters who have spread out before they can do any harm.
Out of the more than 4,000 international terrorism cases handled by the FBI, an estimated 1,000 are ISIS-related, another 1,000 are connected to homegrown violent extremists, and the other 2,000 or so are associated with foreign terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and al Shabaab, according to the FBI. A new State Department report released in November revealed that Iran “remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism” and even provided sanctuary to al Qaeda fighters in its country.
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