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Trial and Terror

The U.S. government has prosecuted 802 people for terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. Most of them never even got close to committing an act of violence.

Data last updated on May 30, 2017

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 802 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. 523 defendants have pleaded guilty to charges, while the courts found 175 guilty at trial. Just 2 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, 350 people charged with terrorism-related offenses are in custody in the United States, including 61 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.

416 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 32 such cooperators. By contrast, many of the 296 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.

All Cases
  • All Cases
  • Stings
  • Cooperators
  • In custody
  • Released
  • Awaiting Trial
802 total
Charges section iconCharges section icon

Charges

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

  • 402
    Material support
  • 194
    Criminal conspiracy
  • 172
    Immigration violations
  • 132
    Making false statements
  • 120
    Firearms violations
  • 83
    Financial violations
  • 76
    Money laundering
  • 74
    Conspiracy to murder, kidnap, or maim overseas
  • 73
    Use, threats, or attempts to use weapons of mass destruction
  • 48
    Murder, attempted murder, or related offenses
  • 42
    Importation, manufacture, distribution, or storage of explosive material
  • 38
    Funding terrorists
  • 38
    Drug violations
  • 36
    Racketeering
  • 33
    Obstruction of justice
  • 30
    Sale or receipt of stolen or counterfeit goods
  • 21
    Seditious conspiracy
  • 16
    Tax violations
  • 13
    Trafficking in contraband cigarettes
  • 11
    Hostage taking
  • 11
    Air safety violations
  • 9
    Bankruptcy fraud
  • 8
    Receiving terrorist training
  • 8
    Plotting violence against a friendly nation
  • 7
    Terrorist attacks against mass transportation systems
Affiliation section iconAffiliation section icon

Terrorist Affiliation

Starting in 2014, there was a dramatic rise in ISIS-related terrorism prosecutions.

Purported affiliation in all cases

Sting section iconSting section icon

Undercover Investigations

37 percent of terrorism defendants were caught up in FBI stings.

Use of stings

Charges per state section iconCharges per state section icon

Place of Prosecution

25 percent of defendants charged with terrorism-related offenses have been prosecuted in New York.

All prosecutions by state

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Individual Profiles

Explore the complete database of terrorism prosecutions and review details about specific cases.