WASHINGTON (AFP) - Radical extremist ideology draws US recruits independent of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, according to a new report that suggests radicalisation could continue even if those groups were eliminated.
The report published on Tuesday (Dec 6) says the record of the 178 people charged in the United States with extremist-inspired terror offences between March 2011 and July 2016 shows evidence that it does not take an extremist group like ISIS to drive someone toward radicalisation.
Instead, the longstanding existence of the ideology underpinning their extremism - jihadist Salafism, a militant assertion of an arch-conservative branch of Sunni Islam - constitutes a powerful draw by itself, said the report by Sarah Gilkes of the George Washington University Program on Extremism.
"Many American recruits are driven by a broad counter-cultural idealism, and are less tangled up in the minutiae of the power plays that divide such groups abroad" like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab and others, Gilkes wrote.
"Group affiliation is perhaps less important than identification, albeit to varying degrees, with the central tenets of Salafi-jihadist ideology."
That, she says, points to the need to fight the ideology more generally and for the government not to target all of its efforts on ISIS recruitment.
Gilkes said data complied on the 178 showed nearly half were not drawn by ISIS, and that a significant number were not focused on any single group.
Indeed, she said, a number of the individuals expressed support at the same time for multiple rival groups, even those fighting each other. And the vast majority of the 178 did not have any formal link to designated foreign radical Islamist groups.
The data suggests that "the draw of the global jihadist movement is more about identification with the core tenets of Salafi-jihadism than group affiliation," the study concludes.
"The movement has successfully formulated a simplified and easily accessible version of this ideology, tailored specifically for a Western audience."
Since January 2016 the US State Department has been building an operation to counter extremist group propaganda in media and online, with a particular focus on ISIS.