Number of Americans Trying to Join ISIS Doubles in a Year: Department of Justice

The number of Americans fighting with ISIS overseas or trying to join the group has more than doubled in the last year alone, a leading Justice Department official says, a concerning statistic as overseas ISIS recruiters increasingly call for terror plots inside the U.S.

U.S. officials estimate more than 250 U.S. citizens have joined, or have been trying to join, ISIS in Iraq and Syria -- up from 100 a year ago, according to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Carlin. The numbers are informed estimates based on investigation elements like interviews with family members, video from overseas and authorized wiretaps.

Ten cases of ISIS-inspired domestic terror plots were uncovered in the past year, Carlin said. 

"We are seeing a definite increase in the number of individuals who want to commit attacks here in in the United States," Carlin said. "I think we’ve been, for a period of time now, where it's been blinking red inside the United States.”

Carlin said 70 ISIS-related cases have been brought by the Justice Department in 2015 – up from 12 in 2014.

"We are on track to double the number of convictions that we’ve brought since even last year," said Carlin.

President Obama visited the United Nations Tuesday urging world leaders to help stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq, and calling for increased efforts to counter ISIS’s online propaganda and recruiting efforts. He asked the leaders of 60 nations to help bring stability inside Iraq and Syria -- even offering to work directly with Iran and Russia.

U.S. intelligence officials have said only a tiny percentage of Americans respond to ISIS online messaging. Carlin said in 70 cases this year, most who became radicalized are under 25 years of age.

FBI Director James Comey has said there are ISIS-related investigations now underway in all 50 states. But Carlin said the NYPD and FBI have extra work to do in New York as the city remains a top terror target.

"We continue to see a disproportionate amount of cases that come out in the New York area," Carlin said.

Justice Department officials were in New York this week in part to try to encourage local communities to do more and to be proactive in helping to counter the terror group’s message. Officials reminded the mayors from numerous cities, and mayors from cities in other countries, that ISIS continues to carry out mass killings and use rape as a weapon. 

Meanwhile, Carlin said more ISIS terror cases will likely come inside the U.S. in the weeks ahead.

"Unless we attack the root causes of terrorists encouraging attacks from overseas, playing defense will only work for so long," he said.

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