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President Donald Trump asserted in his Tuesday night speech to Congress that the “vast majority” of individuals convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offences since 9/11 came from outside the US. Based on a review of data previously published by Mr Trump’s own attorney general, that claim is a vast overreach.
In his speech, Mr Trump said:
According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offences since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.
The data on “terrorism and terrorism-related offences” appears to be a reference to a report by Mr Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, published while he was serving as a Republican senator from Alabama and covering the period between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2014.
An exhaustive review of that incomplete list of 580 convictions by the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh found that 42 per cent were not for terrorism offences, but rather “terrorism related”. This vague category includes many cases only tenuously connected to terrorism, such as the convictions of three individuals for receiving two truckloads of stolen cereal.
Just 6.9 per cent of the convictions reviewed my Mr Nowrasteh – 40 in total – were for foreigners planning a terrorist attack on US soil. But 16 per cent of those convictions were for US born citizens – totalling 92, or more than double those from abroad.
Of the total 580 convictions, 180 (31 per cent) were for individuals for seeking to join a foreign terrorist group overseas, providing material support for a foreign terrorist or seeking to commit an act of terror in a foreign country, none of which actually targeted US soil.
Mr Nowrasteh also compiled a list of all foreign-born people who committed or were convicted of attempting to commit a terrorist act on US soil for the period from 1975 through 2015. He found that those from the seven majority-Muslim nations banned from entering the US by Mr Trump’s executive order had killed zero people and together accounted for only 10.4 per cent of convicted foreign terrorists.
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