The Travelers

American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq

The Report

Hundreds of Americans have been drawn to jihadist organizations fighting in Syria and Iraq. Many were arrested while attempting to make the journey. The 64 individuals identified in this study all reached their destinations. This study, released in February 2018, sheds light on the motivations, methods, and threats posed by these travelers.

"The Travelers: American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq" is the most comprehensive, publicly available assessment of this phenomenon that is currently available. It begins by identifying the trends and dynamics of jihadist travel from the United States to foreign conflicts during the past 30 years. It then provides a statistical breakdown of Americans who traveled to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, categorizes them into three distinct types of travelers (pioneers, networked travelers, and loners), providing case studies for each category to highlight its relevance. Finally, it analyzes the threat from American travelers, including those who have returned to the United States, and provides recommendations for how to address the challenges they pose.

The full study, alongside one-page graphics showcasing its findings and the individual sections of the report, are available below. In addition, the Program released a follow-up report, "The Other Travelers: American Jihadists Beyond Syria and Iraq," in August 2019 examining 36 known cases of Americans who traveled to conflict theaters beyond Syria and Iraq. 


Download the Full Report 

Executive Summary I. Introduction II. Methodology and Statistics

III. Pioneers IV. Networked Travelers V. Loners

VI. Returning American Travelers VII. Addressing the Threat  


The Travelers: A Statistical Profile

The Travelers


 The Program on Extremism has identified 79 Americans who traveled to Syria and/or Iraq since 2011 and affiliated with jihadist groups active in those countries. 

  • The average age at the time of travel was around 27 years of age.
  • 81% of the dataset are men.
  • At least 70% were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents prior to departure.
  • Travelers came from 20 different states; the states
    with the highest rates of travelers are Minnesota,
    Virginia, and Ohio.
  •  Upon arrival in Syria, 75% affiliated with the Islamic
    State (IS), while the remainder affiliated with
    other jihadist groups.
  • 24 travelers (31%) are believed to have died in Syria. 20 (25%) were apprehended in the U.S. or overseas, 5 (5%) returned to the U.S. without facing
  • 31 travelers (42%) are at large, or their
    status and whereabouts are publicly unavailable.
  • 18 travelers (19%) returned to the U.S. The majority
    (72%) of returned travelers were arrested and charged.
*1 traveler returned to the United States but did not face public charges, then went back to Syria and conducted a suicide bombing operation.

Categories of American Jihadist Travelers

3 Categories of American Travelers



Based on the underlying factors behind their travel, how they made their journeys, and which roles they took, Americans who traveled to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq can be classified into three analytical categories: pioneers, networked travelers, and loners.

Sections of the report highlight the relevance of each category for understanding American jihadist travel, using case studies of several travelers and groups of travelers. Also of note are travelers who have returned to the United States after joining jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. Each of these sections is available below.

Full Infographic


Networked Travelers


Returning Travelers