The U.S. government has prosecuted 850 people for terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. Most of them never even got close to committing an act ofviolence.
Data last updated on April 30, 2018
The U.S. government segregates terrorism cases into two categories — domestic and international. This database contains cases classified as international terrorism, though many of the people charged never left the United States or communicated with anyone outside the country.
Since the 9/11 attacks, most of the 850 terrorism defendants prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice have been charged with material support for terrorism, criminal conspiracy, immigration violations, or making false statements — vague, nonviolent offenses that give prosecutors wide latitude for scoring quick convictions or plea bargains. 556 defendants have pleaded guilty to charges, while the courts found 183 guilty at trial. Just 3 have been acquitted and 3 have seen their charges dropped or dismissed, giving the Justice Department a near-perfect record of conviction in terrorism cases.
Today, 362 people charged with terrorism-related offenses are in custody in the United States, including 59 defendants who are awaiting trial and remain innocent until proven guilty.
Very few terrorism defendants had the means or opportunity to commit an act of violence. The majority had no direct connection to terrorist organizations. Many were caught up in FBI stings, in which an informant or undercover agent posed as a member of a terrorist organization. The U.S. government nevertheless defines such cases as international terrorism.
443 terrorism defendants have been released from custody, often with no provision for supervision or ongoing surveillance, suggesting that the government does not regard them as imminent threats to the homeland.
A large proportion of the defendants who did have direct connections to terrorist groups were recruited as informants or cooperating witnesses and served little or no time in prison. At present, there have been 33 such cooperators. By contrast, many of the 310 defendants caught up in FBI stings have received decades in prison because they had no information or testimony to trade. They simply didn’t know any terrorists.
Since 9/11, 50 percent of terrorism defendants prosecuted by the Justice Department have been charged with material support.
Most common charges in all cases
Making false statements
Use, threats, or attempts to use weapons of mass destruction
Conspiracy to murder, kidnap, or maim overseas
Murder, attempted murder, or related offenses
Importation, manufacture, distribution, or storage of explosive material
Obstruction of justice
Sale or receipt of stolen or counterfeit goods
Trafficking in contraband cigarettes
Air safety violations
Receiving terrorist training
Attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries
Bombing, attempted bombing, or conspiracy to bomb a place of public use
Starting in 2014, there was a dramatic rise in ISIS-related terrorism prosecutions.
Purported affiliation in all cases
36 percent of terrorism defendants were caught up in FBI stings.
Use of stings
Place of Prosecution
26 percent of defendants charged with terrorism-related offenses have been prosecuted in New York.
All prosecutions by state
Explore the complete database of terrorism prosecutions and review details about specific cases.
This database of terrorism prosecutions and sentencing information was created using public records including three lists of prosecutions from the U.S. Department of Justice (from 2010, 2014, and 2015), court files available through the federal judiciary’s case management system, DOJ press releases, and inmate data from the Bureau of Prisons. For each defendant in the database, U.S. criminal code data related to charges has been categorized according to this legend.
Trevor Aaronson created the first iteration of this database as part of a project funded by the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley. Mother Jones magazine published that data in 2011, along with accompanying articles, in a package that is still available online.
Beginning in 2016, Aaronson and Margot Williams collaborated to update and expand the database, with a new emphasis to include Bureau of Prisons data because so many post-9/11 terrorism defendants had been released. The cases include any prosecutions after September 11, 2001, that the U.S. government labeled as international terrorism-related. The Intercept first published this database on April 20, 2017, and it was last updated on April 30, 2018.
Database compiled by Trevor Aaronson and Margot Williams Data Visualization: Moiz Syed Developers: Akil Harris, Westley Hennigh-Palermo Editors: Sharon Weinberger, Andrea Jones, Roger Hodge, Eseosa Olumhense Additional Research: Alleen Brown, Malak Habbak, John Thomason Art Direction: Philipp Hubert, Soohee Cho Product Manager: LJ Ruell Research Director: Lynn Dombek Editor-in-Chief: Betsy Reed