The link between crimes involving cruelty to animals and human violence has been well documented and long recognized by the nation’s top law enforcement groups, including the FBI and the National Sheriffs’ Association. Now, a new report warns that animal abuse crimes could signal warning behavior for acts of terrorism.

The Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team, a collaboration between the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI, issued the report this week, titled Animal Cruelty: A Possible Warning Behavior for Terrorism and Other Premeditated Violence against Humans Which Needs Reporting and Further Vetting. The report emphasizes that reporting, investigating and prosecuting acts of animal cruelty can help prevent acts of human violence, including terrorism. The report is a new addition to the Team’s First Responder's Toolbox series.

The document says that in 2017, there were two instances in which ISIS supporters in the United States abused animals prior to their arrest and were later found to have been plotting terrorist attacks. In one instance local law enforcement was notified by a family member about a relative who possessed a weapon and intended to kill the family dog. When local law enforcement officers responded, they discovered a large knife wound on the dog and took the person into custody. Upon further investigation, they found he planned to construct and use a pressure cooker bomb in New York City on behalf of the terrorist group ISIS, according to court documents.

Many studies in psychology, sociology and criminology in the past 25 years have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty, leading to the unequivocal conclusion that violence to animals is a predictor that the individual poses a threat to become violent toward people. We have also seen several instances of this play out in real life, including the recent high-profile case in Florida, where a shooter who killed several people at a high school had a history of animal abuse.

State legislatures have recognized the connection between animal cruelty and human violence. In 1986, only four states had felony provisions for animal cruelty. Since then, with the HSUS’s help, 44 states strengthened their animal cruelty laws, leaving just two states – Iowa and Mississippi – that fail to provide felony penalties for even the mutilation and torture of animals on first offense. We will continue our work until every state recognizes that animals deserve to be protected from violent abuse.

We are grateful for the support of the National Sheriffs’ Association, which has long recognized this link and has been a leader in helping to spread this important message in law enforcement. In 2014, the FBI made the decision to include animal cruelty in its Uniform Crime Report, which provides critical data on incidents of animal cruelty and gives local law enforcement incentive to pursue these crimes.

Law enforcement groups and their allies are leading the charge in the fight against animal cruelty and human violence and the HSUS is privileged to partner with these stakeholders on a wide array of investigations, trainings and legislation across the country, with the shared goal of ending animal cruelty and promoting community safety. This latest report illustrates how important it is to treat animal cruelty as the serious crime it is, and we are grateful to the Joint Counterterrorism Assessment team for making this important link.