U.S. efforts to stop terrorist hopefuls from being courted by (and traveling to fight with) Islamist militant groups in the Middle East have mostly failed, a new report by a federal government task force says.
And wannabe soldiers from Minnesota make up a significant part of the ever-evolving problem.
The Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel published results Tuesday of a six-month investigation into foreign fighters wooed by or involved with Jihadist groups such as the Islamic State.
The eight-member task force, made up of U.S. House members (none from Minnesota), examined case studies involving 58 individuals from the United States who either joined or tried to join Islamist combat groups in Iraq and Syria.
Of those, 15 suspects came from Minnesota – that's 26 percent of the cases they looked at, and the highest from any state. The most high-profile case involves six Minnesota men accused of attempting to join the Islamic State; three of them have reportedly agreed to plead guilty.
California and the New York-New Jersey area were the second highest, the task force found, with seven suspects from each. In all, the 58 cases involved young people (mostly men) from 19 different states.
Those numbers only come from a sample size, though, as the number of American foreign fighters is thought to be in the hundreds, the report says.
That's significant growth from just a couple years ago when the number of Americans who traveled to fight was thought to be in the "dozens." By 2014 it was up to about 100, and earlier this year they pegged the number at at least 250, the task force's report says.
That's out of 25,000 estimated total foreign fighters in the conflict zone of Syria and Iraq, 4,500 of which come from western countries.
More on the report
The full 66-page report, which you can see below or by clicking here, includes 32 "key findings" from the investigation, including in-depth looks at how recruiters scour social media for potential recruits, then engage in ever-more-secretive conversations with them as things progress.
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The task force was put together in March of 2015 in response to what officials say is the growing threat of foreign fighters in the Middle East, and the investigation lasted six months.
Its findings are all based on "briefings, meetings, domestic and foreign site visits, and analysis of classified and unclassified documents."
The task force is a partnership between the House and Homeland Security Committee, and described as bipartisan; there are three Democrats and five Republicans on the task force.