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February 24, 2015

Al Shabaab Video Threatens Jewish and Western Targets

The video calls for attacks on "Jewish-owned Westfield shopping centers"

The video calls for attacks on “Jewish-owned Westfield shopping centers” and other shopping centers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

A new video released by Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, that encourages attacks against “American and Jewish-owned shopping centers around the world,” highlights the role of anti-Semitism in terrorist narrative.

The video focused on Al Shabaab’s September 2013 siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which lasted for three days and resulted in at least 67 fatalities. At the time of the attack, Al Shabaab claimed to have targeted that mall because it had “Jewish and American owned” shops. The new video affirmed Al Shabaab’s interest in Jewish targets.

Its release comes as other terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al Qaeda, have issued calls for homegrown attacks in the West as they vie against each other for power and followers.

“Westgate shopping mall…is a four-story Israeli-owned complex,” the video’s narrator stated, and in response to the attack, “Israeli security specialists and FBI teams were…on the ground.” The video also put the nationality “Israeli” first in a list of nationalities of the deceased.

Showcasing the 2013 attack enables Al Shabaab to show off its accomplishments to potential new recruits, but the group also apparently hopes it may inspire copycat attacks. Addressing Western sympathizers, the narrator stated, “We call upon our Muslim brothers, particularly those in the West…. imagine what a dedicated mujahid (fighter) in the West could do to the American and Jewish-owned shopping centers across the world.”

It then went on to issue more specific threats: “What if such an attack was to call in the Mall of America in Minnesota, or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London’s Oxford Street, or any of the hundred or so Jewish-owned Westfield shopping centers dotted right across the Western world…”

Although Al Shabaab has not staged any significant attack outside Eastern Africa, it has posed a significant threat to U.S. security. At least 50 U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been charged with providing material support to the group or are believed to have joined it. Some of those citizens are now actively recruiting U.S. citizens to join ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

Another recent Al Shabaab video, released in May 2014, called for lone wolf attacks in the West.

Anti-Semitism is at the core of Islamic extremist ideology, and terrorist groups including Al Shabaab regularly use anti-Semitism to attract and radicalize potential recruits. In the past, Al Shabaab declared an “open bat­tle” against Israel, which it called the “oppress­ing Zion­ist entity,” and against Jew­ish inter­ests in Africa. In an English-language magazine released in 2012, the group called Jews, “the worst enemy of Islam.”

The new video also highlighted the importance of social media as a vehicle for disseminating terrorist propaganda, claiming that “HSM Press (the Al Shabaab Twitter feed) soon became the most credible source of information on the attack,” and noted that Al Shabaab had live-streamed the attack on Twitter. The video itself was circulated on YouTube and on links from Twitter to file-sharing sites.

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January 13, 2015

New ISIS Threat Campaign Capitalizes on Paris Attacks

Image from Twitter campaign

Image from Twitter campaign

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has launched a new campaign on Twitter calling for additional homegrown attacks in Western countries in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris last week that killed 17.

The campaign, advertised with the hashtag #FightforHim was especially prominent on Twitter on Sunday, when both official ISIS accounts and multiple supporter accounts Tweeted images featuring messages to Muslims “living in the West” and quotes by Anwar al-Awlaki advocating “the duty of killing those who insult our Prophet Muhammad.”

Awlaki was an American propagandist for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was killed in a drone strike in 2011 but his writings and sayings continue to be a motivational force for extremists, including the Kouachi brothers, who are believed to have been two of the three individuals who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices last week, and Amedy Coulibaly, believed to be one of the two individuals behind last week’s hostage incident in a kosher grocery store in Paris.

At the same time, ISIS supporters are also continuing a campaign of hacking Jewish institutional websites and, increasingly, sites that are affiliated with governments, military institutions, and other organizations, replacing the original text on the site with anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist messages. Monday afternoon, ISIS supporters claimed responsibility for hacking the social media accounts affiliated with U.S. Central Command.

One of the Tweets from the #FightforHim campaign features a red banner image with the quote, “You are a Muslim? Living in the West? Being a city wolf is your task! For you are the only ones to do so! You are already ’citizens’, and no doubt you are the suitable ones to be chosen for such a task. You are sharing the same land with them! The same busses and trains, the same neighborhoods!”

Several Tweets also featured what appeared to be pages ready for insertion into an English-language propaganda magazine that quoted Anwar al-Awlaki narrating a story about a “Jewish leader and…very eloquent poet” who wrote poems that spoke out against Muhammad, after which he was killed. In the story, Muhammad stated, “I am the Prophet of mercy and I am the prophet of war” and “he has harmed us and he has defamed us with his poetry, and none of you (Jews) would do this except we would deal with him with the sword!”

Image from Twitter campaign showing Anwar al-Awlaki

Image from Twitter campaign showing Anwar al-Awlaki

The three pages that make up this story are titled Charlie, referencing the magazine. In its subject matter, the story also can be read as supporting attacks on Jews more broadly.

These images and others were Tweeted directly from multiple individual Twitter accounts. This may indicate that they were part of a coordinated campaign run through the Dawn of Glad Tidings app, a Twitter application that allows ISIS to Tweet directly onto users’ pages, thus rapidly and widely disseminating propaganda and enabling effective hashtag campaigns. Some of the images were Tweeted from between 80 and 100 accounts in minutes.

The campaign was supplemented by an essay written by an ISIS supporter that urged attacks in Western countries and provided suggestions for carrying them out.

The essay cites Inspire magazine, Anwar al-Awlaki, Osama bin Laden and ISIS as sources for inspiration and lists multiple cities, states, and countries that can be attacked, including multiple locations in the U.S.

“Until life in Norway, Florida, Montreal, Finland, Lisbon, Luxembourg and Canberra becomes…a land that burns, a sky that rains rockets, and cities through which wolves walk, the lions of jihad, and where breaths are conceal (sic) until they taste our severity” it states. The essay later threatens additional attacks including San Francisco, Belgium, London, Madrid, Sydney, Russia, Boston, Dallas, Virginia and Amsterdam with explosive devices, booby traps and poison.

This essay was picked up and circulated by official ISIS media outlets following its posting on Justpate.it, an online publishing site regularly used by terrorist supporters to quickly and anonymously post text and images online.

Although the #fightforHim hashtag is new, calls by terrorist groups for homegrown attacks have a lengthy history. In the past year, ISIS, Al Qaeda, AQAP and Al Shabaab have all called for such attacks. In the wake of the attacks in France, additional groups including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Mourabitoun have also called for copycat attacks.

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January 7, 2015

Paris Shooting Amid Increased Calls For Homegrown Attacks

Screenshot of an ISIS video encouraging attacks in France

Screenshot of an ISIS video encouraging attacks in France

The attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left twelve people dead comes at a time when terrorist groups are increasingly encouraging their supporters in the West to carry out attacks in their home countries.

While no one has taken responsibility for the attack thus far and the perpetrators are still at large, online terror supporters have already claimed the attack as a victory for their cause.  Charlie Hebdo has been the focus of terror threats since 2006 for their satirical depictions of Muhammad and of Muslim countries.

While it is still not clear whether this attack was inspired by outside forces, it is notable that some terrorist groups have consistently encouraged followers to orchestrate attacks in their home countries rather than traveling abroad since at least 2010, perhaps most notably with the release of the first issue of Inspire, an English language magazine produced by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Similarly, a 2011 video released by Al Qaeda’s Central organization featured American Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn urging supporters in the U.S. to purchase guns and undertake shooting sprees.

In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al Shabaab (the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia), which had previously encouraged their adherents in the West to join them abroad, began advocating individual attacks in the West as equally valuable.

In addition, terrorist groups have been claiming credit for such “freelance terrorism,”  including lone wolf-style attacks. Both ISIS and AQAP, for example, wrote about and to some extent claimed credit for attacks in New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Canada and Australia.

The following is sampling of calls for homegrown attacks in 2014, including those in the U.S. and France:

December 2014: An ISIS video calling for French Muslims to either travel to Iraq and Syria or undertake attacks at home stated, “Operate within France. Terrorize them and do not allow them to sleep due to fear and horror. There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit. Even poison is available, so poison the water and food of at least one of the enemies of Allah. Kill them and spit in their faces and run over them with your cars.” This video has been recirculated by terror supporters on social media in the aftermath of the January 7 attack.

Image from Inspire 13

Image from Inspire 13

December 2014: The 6th issue of ISIS’s English-language magazine Dabiq praised individual attacks on various Western countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia and France, stating, “There will be others who follow the examples set by Man Haron Monis and Numan Haider in Australia, Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in Canada, Zale Thompson in America, and Bertrand Nzohabonayo in France, and all that the West will be able to do is to anxiously await the next round of slaughter.”

December 2014: The 13th issue of AQAP’s Inspire magazine called for attacks on American, French and British airlines and assassinations of prominent Western financial leaders.  Quotes included, “The Lions of Allah who are all over the globe – some call them lone wolves – should know that they are the West’s worst night­mare,” and, “It’s not nec­es­sary to do what Mohammed Atta (of the 9/11 attack) did, it’s enough to do what Nidal Hasan (the Ft. Hood shooter) did.”

December 2014: An ISIS video featured a Canadian recruit addressing people in Canada who threatened the Canadian people and called upon Canadian Muslims to carry out attacks, stating, “You either pack your bags or you prepare your explosive devices. You either purchase your airline ticket or you sharpen your knife.”

November 2014: An ISIS video titled “What are you waiting for,” released in French with English and Arabic subtitles, called for attacks on France and featured various French members of ISIS calling on their compatriots to attack France or travel to Syria. One specifically stated, “I send a message to my brothers and sisters that live in the land of Kufr (apostasy) – France. If you are unable to come to Sham (Syria) or Iraq… operate within France. Terrorize them and do not allow them to sleep due to fear and horror. There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit. Even poison is available….”

October 2014: The 4th issue of ISIS’s Dabiq magazine included the text of a speech released in September (see below) that called for attacks on the West. It also included an image of individuals in business suits walking on a sidewalk with the caption “Crusader ‘Civilians.’”

Image from Dabiq 4

Image from Dabiq 4

September 2014: ISIS released a text version of a speech by Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the group’s primary spokesman calling for attacks in theWest. Initially released in English, French and Hebrew, this was the first significant instance where ISIS incited home-grown attacks rather than encouraging travel to Iraq and Syria. Excerpts from the speech include: “If you can kill a dis­be­liev­ing Amer­i­can or Euro­pean – espe­cially the…French – or an Aus­tralian, or a Canadian…kill him in any man­ner or way how­ever it may be. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s ver­dict. Kill the dis­be­liever whether he is civil­ian or military….”

August 2014: A special edition AQAP English-language magazine titled “Pales­tine: Betrayal of the Guilty Con­science” attempted to harness anti-Israel sentiment to call for attacks against the U.S. and the U.K. The magazine reprinted instructions for building pressure-cooker bombs and car bombs from previous issues of Inspire. Quotes included, “We tell the Muslims in America and Europe: There is a better choice and easier one to give support to your ummah (the Muslim community). That is individual work inside the West such as the operations of Nidal Hassan (the Ft. Hood shooter) and Faisal Shazad (attempted Times Square bomber).”

May 2014: Al Shabaab released a video that called on Muslims living abroad to either join the group in Somalia or undertake “a lone wolf mission” in their home country.

March 2014: The 12th issue of AQAP’s Inspire magazine provided instructions for making car bombs along with a list of potential targets in the U.S., U.K. and France. Statements encouraging attacks on the West include, “Whether the brother has a channel to join the brothers [abroad] or not it is better for him to perform his duty of Jihad in the West. On the battlefield, you are just another soldier, but in the West you are an army on your own.”

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