U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Choosing Where to Fight: Do Social Networks Distinguish American ISIS Foreign Fighters from ISIS-Inspired Terrorists?

NCJ Number
Journal of Conflict Resolution Volume: Online Dated: 2023
Date Published
27 pages

This paper reports on the authors’ social network analysis aimed at determining why American extremists would choose to attempt to travel to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS between 2013 and 2020, or, conversely, choose to remain and carry out an ISIS-inspired attack within the U.S.


Why did some American citizens choose to travel to fight in Syria and Iraq rather than engage in Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-inspired terrorism within the United States? To answer this, the authors conducted a social network analysis (SNA) on a sample (n = 224) of extremists who either plotted ISIS-inspired attacks within the United States or attempted to travel to Syria or Iraq to join the group between 2013 and 2020. They tested how network size, network interconnectedness, and the importance of trusted network members impacted the choice of American ISIS offenders to travel or plot terrorist attacks. Their results showed that Americans were more likely to choose to travel to fight when they had access to large, dense networks that were embedded with trusted associates. Those without access to similar networks abandoned their preferences for foreign fighting and instead plotted attacks within the United States. The findings provide pertinent policy implications for countering violent extremism. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: January 1, 2023