What Countries Do Most Terrorists Come From?

By one standard, far more terrorists originate with countries not affected by the Trump administration's entry restriction order.

Published Feb 14, 2017

Image Via Shutterstock

In late January 2017, President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order restricting U.S. entry by foreign nationals from seven “countries of particular concern” for 90 days. Many critics of that executive order pointed out that no nationals from any of those seven countries (Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen) had been responsible for a lethal terrorist attack on American soil since 1975.

The Center for Immigration Studies then published an article proclaiming that "72 terrorists came from countries covered" by that executive order, based on a June 2016 report compiled by the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest:

A review of information compiled by a Senate committee in 2016 reveals that 72 individuals from the seven countries covered in President Trump's vetting executive order have been convicted in terror cases since the 9/11 attacks. These facts stand in stark contrast to the assertions by the Ninth Circuit judges who have blocked the president's order on the basis that there is no evidence showing a risk to the United States in allowing aliens from these seven terror-associated countries to come in.

In June 2016 the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, then chaired by new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, released a report on individuals convicted in terror cases since 9/11. Using open sources (because the Obama administration refused to provide government records), the report found that 380 out of 580 people convicted in terror cases since 9/11 were foreign-born. The report is no longer available on the Senate website, but a summary published by Fox News is available here.

The Center has obtained a copy of the information compiled by the subcommittee. The information compiled includes names of offenders, dates of conviction, terror group affiliation, federal criminal charges, sentence imposed, state of residence, and immigration history.

The Center has extracted information on 72 individuals named in the Senate report whose country of origin is one of the seven terror-associated countries included in the vetting executive order: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The Senate researchers were not able to obtain complete information on each convicted terrorist, so it is possible that more of the convicted terrorists are from these countries.

The United States has admitted terrorists from all of the seven dangerous countries:

  • Somalia: 20
  • Yemen: 19
  • Iraq: 19
  • Syria: 7
  • Iran: 4
  • Libya: 2
  • Sudan: 1
  • Total: 72

What that Senate report charted was incidents of "Terrorism and Terrorism-Related Convictions" occurring in the United States between 11 September 2001 and 31 December 2014. The convictions recorded by the report did not necessarily involve terrorist attacks or killings; the bulk of them were for indirect terrorism-related criminal offenses such as "providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations," "laundering of monetary instruments," "misuse of passport," "influencing or injuring officer or juror," and the like.

The most important aspect of this report, which was lacking from the article published by the CIS (and the numerous online outlets who aggregated it), was context.

The presented context was that — if we go back nearly sixteen years — we can find at least a few terrorism-related convictions involving persons from all seven of the countries covered by the proposed entry restriction ordered by President Trump. The omitted context was that persons from many countries that were not on the entry restriction list were involved in vastly more terrorism-related convictions than some of the countries that were on the list.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not) the country of origin for the highest number of persons tracked in the Senate terrorism report was the United States. According to that report, more native-born Americans were convicted of terrorism-related crimes (73) than persons from all seven of the “countries of particular concern” combined (72).

More terrorism-related convictions involved persons from Pakistan and Lebanon than from any of the “countries of particular concern," yet Pakistani and Lebanese nationals were not affected by the proposed entry restrictions. Colombians were involved in more terrorism-related convictions than all but one of the seven “countries of particular concern,” yet Colombian nationals were not affected by the proposed entry restrictions. Persons from Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and India (none of which were affected by the proposed entry restriction) were involved in more terrorism-related convictions than persons from Syria, Iran, Sudan, and Libya (all of which were affected).

In fact, more terrorism-related convictions involved persons from such "friendly" countries as Canada and the United Kingdom than persons from three of “countries of particular concern.”

We charted all the conviction entries in the Senate report, sorted them by country of origin of the persons involved, and came up with the following tally (with the names of the proposed entry-restricted countries rendered in bold):

  • United States 73
  • Pakistan 62
  • Lebanon 28
  • Somalia 21
  • Colombia 20
  • Yemen 20
  • Iraq 19
  • Egypt 17
  • Jordan 17
  • Afghanistan 10
  • Palestine 9
  • Saudi Arabia 9
  • India 9
  • Gaza 7
  • Syria 7
  • Morocco 6
  • Kuwait 6
  • Canada 6
  • West Bank 6
  • Indonesia 5
  • United Kingdom 5
  • El Salvador 4
  • Iran 4
  • Turkey 4
  • Guyana 3
  • Albania 3
  • Mali 3
  • Bangladesh 3
  • Tunisia 3
  • Sri Lanka 3
  • Sudan 2
  • Libya 2
  • Senegal 2
  • Venezuela 2
  • Tanzania 2
  • Singapore 2
  • Haiti 2
  • Bosnia 2
  • Eritrea 2
  • France 2
  • Nigeria 2
  • Kazakhstan 2
  • Ethiopia 2
  • Algeria 2
  • Kosovo 2
  • South Africa 2
  • Uzbekistan 1
  • Germany 1
  • Qatar 1
  • Greece 1
  • Mexico 1
  • Djibouti 1
  • Philippines 1
  • Sudan 1
  • Vietnam 1
  • Cambodia 1
  • Australia 1
  • Ivory Coast 1
  • Yugoslavia 1
  • Nicaragua 1
  • Russia 1
  • Trinidad and Tobago 1
  • Dominican Republic 1
  • South Korea 1
  • Brazil 1
  • Panama 1
  • Peru 1
  • Paraguay 1
  • Guatemala 1
  • Chile 1
  • Israel 1
  • Malaysia 1
  • Angola 1
  • Denmark 1

(NOTE: The report was 65 pages long and we only went through it once, so some of our totals might possibly be slightly off.)

This isn't to say that a single Senate report should be considered the primary source on which to base the United States' efforts for dealing with terrorism: that report is an incomplete estimate, much has changed in the world since 2001, and many different factors go into determining which countries pose particularly strong terrorism threats to the U.S.

But any responsible source offering this report as justification for U.S. policy should provide its full context, not just cherry-pick the small minority of entries that support a particular point of view. If this report is to be considered "evidence showing a risk to the United States in allowing aliens from these seven terror-associated countries to come in," then it would also have to be considered evidence showing that aliens from many other countries pose an equal or greater threat.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as back in 1994.

Article Tags