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June 20, 2014

Texas Terror Arrests Highlight Ongoing Travel Threat

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Rahatul Ashikim Khan & Michael Todd Wolfe

The arrests of two 23-year-old U.S. citizens in Texas in separate incidents on Tuesday for allegedly planning to join terrorist groups overseas underscores the ongo­ing con­cerns over Amer­i­cans join­ing ter­ror­ist groups abroad and the con­tin­ued allure of Al Qaeda and its affil­i­ates.

Dozens of Americans and per­ma­nent res­i­dents have been charged in recent years in con­nec­tion with attempts to jointer­ror­ist groups abroad, includ­ing Al Shabaab in Soma­lia and Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula in Yemen, as well as terrorists groups in Syria.

Michael Todd Wolfe of Austin, Texas, is alleged to have attempted to travel to join a terrorist group fighting in Syria. The criminal complaint filed against him indicates that he was initially interested in joining Jabhat al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate, but later decided instead to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which broke with Al Qaeda earlier this year.

Wolfe, a convert to Islam who grew up in Texas, was arrested at George H.W. Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport just before he attempted to board a flight to Europe, en route to Syria.

Authorities say the second individual, Rahatul Ashikim Khan of Round Rock, Texas, conspired with others to recruit people who would “travel overseas to support terrorist activities including committing violent jihad,” in particular with Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia and Kenya. Khan is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Bangladesh, and is a college student at the University of Texas, Austin.

Demonstrating the central role the Internet plays in online radicalization and recruitment, both Wolfe and Khan had used the Internet to abet their activities. Wolfe allegedly watched videos online of terrorism in Syria. Khan called himself a “jihadi” and used an online chat room to identify potential terrorists between March 2011 and January 2012, according to court documents.

Khan allegedly spent time on a chat room dedicated to Abdullah al-Faisal, a Jamaica-born Muslim preacher who served four years in a British prison for urging his followers to kill non-Muslims, including Americans, Hindus and Jews. Al-Faisel was also the “imam and spiritual advisor” of Revolution Muslim (RM), a New York-based fringe anti-Semitic Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tion that jus­ti­fied ter­ror­ist attacks and other forms of vio­lence for many years.

Americans traveling abroad to join terrorist groups have been a consistent threat since 2001, with three distinct waves of travel apparent. Between 2001 and 2005, Americans travelled mostly to join Al Qaeda Central and the Taliban. Between 2007 and 2011, travel and support were especially directed at Al Shabaab. Travel to Syria – the greatest threat since 2011 – has been the third wave; since the start of the Syrian civil war, as many as 100 U.S. citizens are believed to have travelled to Syria to join the fighting.

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April 9, 2014

Terrorist Groups Continue To Flock To Twitter

The recent launch of Twitter accounts by the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a media organization affiliated with Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) underscores the continued ability of terrorist organizations to influence and potentially recruit followers worldwide.aqap-twitter

GIMF’s Twitter feed, which was re-launched in February 2014, is primarily in Arabic and includes a mix of official statements and links to propaganda materials. It has gained 1,533 followers. One of the recent tweets included a link to an English-language video series called “Mujahideen Moments” that promotes militant activity.

The AQAP Twitter feed was re-launched in late March 2014. The feed, which now has 3,406 followers, is in Arabic and includes pictures of militants and official statements from AQAP.

AQAP has been particularly adept at spreading its message online. Inspire magazine, its online English-language publication, has influenced many extremists and would-be extremists. Inspire came out with its twelfth issue in March 2014, which called for car bomb attacks on major U.S. cities.

The use of Twitter by Foreign Terrorist Organizations first made headlines in December 2011 when Al Shabaab, a terrorist organization in Somalia that formally merged with Al Qaeda in February 2012, began tweeting.

ADL recently released a new report, Home­grown Islamic Extrem­ism in 2013: The Per­ils of Online Recruit­ment &Self-Radicalization, ana­lyzing the rise of terrorist use of online platforms and the effects and impact that use has on domestic security.

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April 4, 2014

Online Terrorist Propaganda & The Boston Marathon Bombing Anniversary

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Com­mem­o­ra­tive graphic of Boston bomber Tamer­lan Tsar­naev in Inspire magazine

In the year since the Boston Marathon bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 260 injuries, terrorists groups that justify and sanction violence have intensified their efforts to reach, recruit and motivate homegrown extremists by adapting their messages to new technology.

Terrorist groups and their supporters are not only using social media and other Internet platforms to spread their messages more quickly and effectively than ever before, but also to recruit adherents who live in the communities they seek to target.

A new ADL report, Homegrown Islamic Extremism in 2013: The Perils of Online Recruitment & Self-Radicalization, explores the impact sophisticated terrorist propaganda has had on a new generation of homegrown extremists. Face-to-face interaction with terrorist operatives, the report concludes, is no longer a requirement for radicalization.

Inspire magazine, for example, which is designed to engage and recruit sympathizers in the U.S., has become a staple of domestic terrorism, providing ideological justifications encouraging attacks on U.S. soil as well as various suggested methods of attack. Inspire contained the very bomb-making instructions that were used by the alleged Boston Bombers to construct their bombs in an article called “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

The newest issue of Inspire, released last month, pro­vides detailed instruc­tions on how to build car bombs and includes sug­ges­ted loca­tions for where to plant them in various U.S. cities. The author notes, “The Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment was unable to pro­tect its cit­i­zens from pres­sure cooker bombs in back­packs, I won­der if they are ready to stop car bombs!”

The ADL report also explores the other American citizens and permanent residents implicated in the U.S. on terror-related charges in 2013 and over the past five years, noting how many were directly influenced by terrorist propaganda easily accessible online.

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