More Americans volunteering to help ISIS

How do we track potential terrorists?
Phillip Mudd Tracking Terror Cells orig_00011430


    How do we track potential terrorists?


How do we track potential terrorists? 01:56

Story highlights

  • Growing numbers of Americans are attracted to ISIS
  • More than 20,000 foreigners have gone to fight for ISIS, experts have told Congress

(CNN)One is a 21-year-old California man accused of trying to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Another, a 17-year-old Virginia student charged with helping recruit for the radical Islamist group.

Charges against both were released Wednesday, and they are just the latest in a growing number of similar cases from the United States.
    More than 20,000 foreigners have gone to fight for ISIS, the terror group that controls portions of Iraq and Syria, experts have told Congress.
    National Intelligence Director James Clapper said 180 Americans have tried to go to fight in Syria. It's unclear how many of those were attempting to join ISIS.
    Here are some of their stories:

    Michael Todd Wolfe

    Arrested at George H.W. Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport before a flight to Europe, Wolfe was charged in June "with attempting to provide material support to terrorists," authorities said. He "planned to travel to the Middle East to provide his services to radical groups engaged in armed conflict in Syria," according to a complaint.
    On February 2, 2014, an undercover agent met with Wolfe and his wife and they watched a YouTube video about foreign fighters in Syria, officials said. Wolfe allegedly discussed the activities of ISIS, they said.

    Abdullah Yusuf

    The 18-year-old from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, pleaded guilty at a Minneapolis federal court to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS
    Yusuf was stopped by the FBI from boarding a flight to Turkey from Minneapolis/Saint Paul Airport in May. Yusuf and another man, Abdi Nur, were charged in late November with conspiring to aid ISIS.

    Shannon Maureen Conley

    Conley's plan to join ISIS and serve as a nurse at a jihadist camp ended in September with a guilty plea on a terror charge in a Colorado federal court.
    Arrested in April, the 19-year-old was at Denver International Airport about to embark on a journey to Germany and eventually to an ISIS camp near the Turkish border. She told investigators she was going to Turkey to await word from her suitor, an ISIS member she met on the Internet, whom she planned to marry.

    Christopher Cornell

    The Cincinnati 20-year-old was on the FBI's radar for months as he posted about violent jihad on social media. The feds said they arrested him before he could hatch his alleged plot.
    Reminiscent of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, he planned to set off pipe bombs at the U.S. Capitol, and when employees and lawmakers fled the building, he and an accomplice would shoot them, according to a criminal complaint.
    Cornell allegedly told an informant he had been in contact with people overseas, and that he had aligned himself with ISIS. The attack, according to the complaint, would be a way of supporting the extremist group.

    Ahmad Abousamra

    The Stoughton, Massachusetts, man was first placed on the FBI terror list for 2009 crimes but since has been suspected of joining ISIS, officials said.
    He's fluent in both English and Arabic, and if his college degree in computers is any indication, he has a way with technology. Then there's his interest in radical Islam. Put it all together, and authorities said former Boston resident and U.S. citizen Ahmad Abousamra could be a good fit inside the ISIS social media machine that's become renowned in recent weeks for spewing brutal propaganda across social media.

    Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha

    The son of a Palestinian father and Italian-American mother, the 22-year-old from Vero Beach, Florida, is believed to be the first American suicide bomber to die in Syria.
    The former high school football playecr killed himself in May 2014 when he drove a truck full of explosives into a Syrian army position and detonated it, U.S. officials said.

    Three teen girls

    Three teenage girls who set out from a Denver suburb apparently bound for Syria to join extremists were sent home to their parents after they were stopped in Germany, U.S. officials said.
    The teens -- two sisters of Somali descent and a friend whose family is Sudanese, according to a Denver community leader -- were detained when their flight landed in Frankfurt on Friday after the FBI flagged their passports.

    Adam Dandach

    The 21-year-old California man was arrested last summer, but was indicted on Wednesday.
    The FBI said he attempted to offer himself and material support to work under the direction and control of ISIS.
    His arraignment is scheduled for later this month.

    Unidentified Virginia student

    The 17-year-old Virginia student has been charged with helping recruit for ISIS, federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
    The teen lives in a suburb of Washington and is accused of helping a slightly older adult travel to Syria. The adult is believed to have joined ISIS there.
    The student is also accused of distributing ISIS messages.

    Abror Habibov, Akhror Saidakhmetov and Abdurasul Juraboev

    Arrested last month in New York and Florida, they are accused by the federal government of attempting to join ISIS and of fostering plans to kill the President and shoot law enforcement officers.
    The three men face charges that include attempting and conspiring to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
    None were U.S. citizens, but Saidakhmetov, 19, and Juraboev, 24, had permanent resident status.
    Habibov, 30, was in the United States legally, but overstayed his visa, police said.

    Abdi Nur

    Nur "conspired to join ISIL and travel from Minnesota to the Middle East to engage in a campaign of terror," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin said in November, using another acronym for ISIS.

    Mohammed Hamzah Khan

    Kahn was arrested at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago in October.
    The 19-year-old is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
    In a letter to his parents, Kahn wrote that he was leaving the United States and on the way to join ISIS, court documents said.
    The charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    Douglas McCain

    This 33-year-old man from New Hope, Minnesota, died in late August while fighting for ISIS, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
    McCain's uncle said his nephew had gone to Syria to fight as a jihadi.

    Unidentified Minnesota woman

    The 19-year-old Somali-American woman slipped away from her parents in late August. She told them she was going to a bridal shower, but instead hopped a flight to Turkey and joined ISIS, Reuters reported.
    Another woman is suspected of helping her leave the country.

    Donald Ray Morgan

    U.S. authorities said he is an ISIS sympathizer. Morgan was arrested on August 2 on arrival at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport from Frankfurt, Germany.
    A federal grand jury in North Carolina charged him with illegal weapons possession.
    The court documents make no mention of the ISIS connection, but U.S. officials said his Twitter postings support the terrorist group.

    Mufid A. Elfgeeh

    Federal authorities accuse him of funding ISIS, trying to send jihadists to Syria to fight with the terrorist group and plotting to do some killing himself, by gunning down U.S. troops who had served in Iraq
    The 30-year-old faces three counts of trying "to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization" (namely, ISIS), one count of attempting to kill officers and employees of the United States, two counts of having an unregistered firearm silencer and one for possessing guns or silencers "in furtherance of a crime of violence," court documents say.
    The federal investigation into Elfgeeh began in early 2013, but he wasn't arrested until May 2014.

    The attraction

    Some 100 other Americans are believed to have either fought in Syria since 2011 or been arrested before they could get there, according to Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst.
    So far, no U.S. citizen involved in fighting or supporting ISIS or any other militant group has been charged with plotting to conduct an attack inside the United States, but that's the fear.
    Also, in none of the successful terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 -- such as the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 or Maj. Nidal Hasan's massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 -- did any of the convicted or alleged perpetrators receive training overseas.
    Why would U.S. teens try to join ISIS?
    Why would U.S. teens try to join ISIS?


      Why would U.S. teens try to join ISIS?


    Why would U.S. teens try to join ISIS? 05:14
    Former jihadist Mubin Shaikh said many of those who are attracted to ISIS or other militant causes are struggling to combine their Muslim and Western identities.
    "When you're dealing with first-, second-, even third-generation individuals from various ethnic backgrounds, there are still problems of acculturation and integration," he said. They ask: "Who am I supposed to be? "
    That's the challenge mosques and Western governments will have to deal with, Shaikh said.