Hughes: 'There is no typical profile' of an ISIS recruit

There's been a lot of attention in recent months on federal efforts to prevent the recruitment of Americans by groups like ISIS.

One of the counterterrorism programs — Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE — operates in Minnesota. The Justice Department launched CVE pilots in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Boston in 2014.

Some Minnesota Muslims have questioned the pilot's intent and raised concerns that it's simply a way to gather intelligence. Now, a New York-based advocacy group is suing two federal agencies over CVE, citing similar concerns.

The suit highlights how much is still unknown about how terrorism recruitment works and how it can be stopped.

Seamus Hughes, Deputy Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University's Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, joined MPR News host Tom Weber to talk about the knowns and unknowns of recruitment.

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On the typical profile of an ISIS recruit in the U.S.

"There is no typical profile. They're old, they're young, they're rich, they're poor," Hughes said. "They're college-educated in some cases, and they're high school kids." "There's been 81 arrests, as of yesterday. The average was 26, so they tended to be younger. The vast majority were male. The vast majority were U.S. citizens."

Most of those arrested, Hughes said, had plans to travel overseas to fight — not to carry out acts of domestic terrorism.

On the development of counterterrorism programs

"The issue becomes: What do you do in the middle area? If you have a loved one you're concerned about and he's radicalizing, and he's watching videos that are concerning, you can hope it's a phase and that they grow out of it, or you can call the FBI and potentially talk to your loved one through a prison cell for the next 20 years."

"We haven't, as public policy, figured out the middle way — that intervention program. I think that's where we should focus our resources: alternatives to prosecution, and diversion programs for individuals we know are radicalized."

For the complete conversation with Seamus Hughes about recruitment and counterterrorism efforts, use the audio player above.