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June 30, 2015

ISIS-Related Arrests in June Emphasize Ongoing Security Concerns

Fourteen U.S. residents from 7 states have been linked to terrorist activity inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) this month alone.

Nicholas Rovinski of Rhode Island was allegedly part of a Boston-area plot and hoped to travel to join ISIS.

Nicholas Rovinski of Rhode Island was allegedly part of a Boston-area plot and hoped to travel to join ISIS.

Of the 14, five primarily were arrested for attempting join ISIS (some of them also discussed possible attacks in the event that their travel plans failed), one for recruiting for ISIS and eight for their roles in domestic plots that included a plot to behead Boston area law enforcement officers, one to bomb New York City landmarks, the shooting in Garland and another to shoot people and detonate a bomb in North Carolina.

Three of the individuals allegedly used knives in confrontations with law enforcement officials who were monitoring or attempting to question them (Fareed Mumuni, Munther Omar Saleh, and Usaama Rahim; see below). A fourth individual, Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi, had also purchased a knife but did not use it.

ISIS has popularized the use of knives in its propaganda, both through its use of knives in beheading videos and through direct calls for supporters to arm themselves with knives or any other weapons available. A speech purportedly by ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad Al Adnani in September 2014, for example, told supporters, “If you are not able to find an IED or a bul­let, then sin­gle out the disbelieving Amer­i­can, French­man, or any of his allies.  Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car….” That same speech also directly encouraged targeting law enforcement officials, stating, “Strike their police, security and intelligence members….”

A January 2015 speech purportedly by Adnani called for attacks, “whether with an explosive device, a bullet, a knife, a car, a rock or even a boot or a fist,” and a video released in April 2015 stated, “Your neighbor is a kaf­fir (apos­tate)… take a big knife and give him what he rightly deserves.”

Munther Omar Saleh allegedly conspired to bomb a New York landmark.

Munther Omar Saleh allegedly conspired to bomb a New York landmark.

All 14 of the individuals linked to terror in June appear to be motivated by ISIS and nearly all appear to have been influenced by ISIS’s online propaganda and social media presence.

Since ISIS announced its independence from Al Qaeda in 2014, 86% of U.S. residents engaging in activity on behalf of foreign terrorist organizations since 2014 have been linked to ISIS.

A total of 54 U.S. residents have been linked to Islamic extremist activity in the first half of 2015 – more than double the number of individuals in 2014.

The FBI, which has indicated that it has ongoing ISIS-related investigations in all 50 states, has issued a warning regarding increased security concerns over the July 4th weekend.

The activities of the 14 U.S. residents arrested in June, as described in court documents, are detailed below.

  • Usaama Rahim, a 26-year-old U.S. citizen from Massachusetts, was killed on June 2, 2015, when he drew a knife after being approached by law enforcement officials. Rahim had allegedly conspired with David Wright, a 25-year-old U.S. citizen from Massachusetts arrested later that day on a charge of conspiracy to behead Pamela Geller, head of the anti-Muslim organization Stop Islamicization of America. The two later shifted their plans and discussed beheading police officers. Alleged co-conspirator Nicholas Rovinski, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen from Rhode Island, was arrested June 12. Rovinski had also allegedly hoped to travel to join ISIS.
  • Reza Niknejad, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen from Virginia, was charged in absentia on June 10, 2015 with providing material support for ISIS. Niknejad, who is presumed to have joined ISIS, had allegedly been encouraged to travel by Ali Shukri Amin, a 17-year-old U.S. citizen from Virginia who had been arrested in February.

    Decarus Thomas of Arizona allegedly aided the Garland shooters

    Decarus Thomas of Arizona allegedly aided the Garland shooters

  • Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem (Decarus Thomas), a 43-year-old U.S. citizen from Arizona and a convert to Islam, was arrested on June 10, 2015, for allegedly aiding Garland shooters Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi. Soofi and Simpson were killed when they shot at a Texas community center in May. Kareem is believed to have opened his home to Soofi and Simpson to discuss their plot and to have supplied the rifles they used in their shooting.
  • Akmal Zakirov, a 29-year-old U.S. resident from New York, was arrested on June 11, 2015, for funding travel plans for Abdurasul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhmetov, New York residents arrested in February for attempting to join ISIS. Juraboev and Saidkhmetov had also allegedly discussed the possibility of shooting police officers and shooting the FBI headquarters. Juraboev had also allegedly suggested that he would attempt to shoot President Obama on behalf of ISIS.
  • Munther Omar Saleh, a 20-year-old U.S. citizen from New York, was arrested on June 13, 2015, for allegedly conspiring to bomb an unspecified landmark in New York City. According to reports, Saleh had researched how to acquire materials for and build a pressure cooker bomb online. Saleh was arrested when he attempted to attack a law enforcement officer who had been monitoring him. Salah was arrested together with an unnamed 17-year-old co-conspirator. Saleh’s other alleged co-conspirator,  Fareed Mumuni, a 21-year-old U.S. citizen from New York, was arrested on June 17, 2015. Mumuni also attempted to attack a law enforcement officer who had come to his residence to question him.
  • Samuel Rahamin Topaz, a 20-year-old U.S. citizen from New Jersey and a convert to Islam, was arrested on June 18, 2015, for allegedly attempting to travel to join ISIS. Topaz had engaged in conversations with Saleh and Mumuni, who allegedly encouraged his plans. Topaz had also been in contact with Alaa Saadeh, a 23-year-old U.S. citizen from New Jersey arrested on June 29 and Saadeh’s brother, a U.S. citizen and former New Jersey resident who was arrested in June in Jordan, allegedly on his way to join ISIS. Topaz and Saadeh had both reportedly planned to meet Saadeh’s brother in ISIS controlled territory together with Munther Saleh

    Justin Sullivan of North Carolina allegedly planned a domestic attack.

    Justin Sullivan of North Carolina allegedly planned a domestic attack.

  • Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi (formerly Robert McCullum), a 38-year-old U.S. citizen and a convert to Islam from Ohio, was arrested on June 19, 2015, on charges of providing material support to ISIS, being a felon in possession of a weapon and distribution of marijuana. Al-Ghazi had attempted to recruit for ISIS by creating pro-ISIS propaganda videos. He had purchased the gun for which he was charged as well as a machete for his propaganda videos. Al-Ghazi had also expressed interest in undertaking a domestic attack involving the derailing of a train.
  • Justin Nojan Sullivan, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen and convert to Islam from North Carolina, was arrested on June 22, 2015, on charges of providing material support to ISIS. Sullivan allegedly planned to attack local establishments, allegedly for training, and follow them up with a bombing. Although the target for his bombing was unspecified, Sullivan expressed intent to kill 1,000 people.

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April 28, 2015

U.S. Islamic Extremism Arrests In 2015 Exceed 2014 Numbers

Christopher Lee Cornell, arrested in January 2015

Christopher Lee Cornell, arrested in January 2015

Thirty-one individuals living in the U.S. have been linked to terrorism motivated by Islamic extremist ideology in the first four months of 2015. This surpasses the total in each of the past two years: 26 individuals  living in the U.S. were linked to such terrorism in all of 2014 and 22 in 2013.

ADL has issued a new report that sheds light on the demographics of these individuals and may provide context for thinking about the approximately 180 unknown Americans believed to have traveled to join the conflict in Syria and Iraq, an unknown number of whom may have joined terrorist organizations.

The report details the affiliations, plans and aims of U.S. residents linked to terrorism motivated by the ideologies of Islamic extremism.

About 81% of the U.S. residents linked to terrorism motivated by Islamic extremist ideologies since 2014 have supported ISIS, influenced at least in part by the group’s sophisticated use of social media communication and recruitment, as well as by the high volume of coverage surrounding its activity and the ongoing presence of conflict in Syria and Iraq.

Tairod Pugh, arrested in March 2015

Tairod Pugh, arrested in March 2015

Of those individuals linked to terrorism in 2015, 16 individuals are believed to have traveled or planned to travel to join terror groups abroad, 3 are believed to have attempted to aid other Americans in joining ISIS, and 7 were attempting to fund ISIS.

Eleven of the individuals were also engaged in domestic plots. Five out of the 7 plots discussed were directed against military institutions or personnel – longstanding targets for such violence.

The report also examines demographic statistics of the individuals, including age, gender, ethnicity and geographic distribution.

The individuals arrested in 2015 range in age from 16 to 47.

At least seven of them, or just under one-quarter, were converts to Islam. That percentage is comparable to the percentage in 2014.

Nine of the 31 individuals had family members who have also been implicated in Islamic extremist activity.

Ramiz and Sedina Hodzic, arrested in February 2015

Ramiz and Sedina Hodzic, arrested in February 2015

Five of them were women, resulting in a total of 14 women linked to Islamic extremism since the start of 2014. Women engaging with terrorist groups is not a new phenomenon, but these numbers represent a significant increase, which may result in part from direct recruitment of women by ISIS.

Islamic extremism related arrests in 2015 have taken place in 11 states, including 6 individuals arrested in New York, 4 each in

Minnesota and Illinois, 3 in Missouri and 2 each in Ohio, California and Kansas One American was arrested in Pakistan but was originally from Texas.

The full report is available on the ADL website.

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April 14, 2015

New ISIS Videos Threaten U.S. Amid Increase In Domestic Plots

Image promoting new ISIS video

Image promoting new ISIS video

Two new videos released this week by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) demonstrate a ramping up of threats against the U.S. as terror groups increasingly call for homegrown attacks against Western countries – and as individuals increasingly appear to be heeding those calls.

Recent arrests of U.S. residents planning domestic attacks in ISIS’s name indicates that such calls for violence can have an impact on Americans motivated by Islamic extremism and the propaganda they find online distributed by ISIS and other terror groups.

There have been five alleged instances of domestic plots in the U.S. in 2015, ranging from conversations about the possibility of attack to actual attempted attacks. All were reportedly planned by individuals claiming allegiance to ISIS.

  • Christo­pher Lee Cor­nell of Ohio, arrested in January for his alleged plot to attack the U.S. Capi­tol after fail­ing to con­nect with ISIS mem­bers abroad.
  • Abdura­sul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhme­tov of New York, arrested in February and charged with material support for terror. Court documents state they were attempt­ing to join ISIS and dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of a domes­tic attack.
  • Hasan and Jonas Edmonds of Illinois, arrested in March and charged with attempt­ing to join ISIS and plot­ting an attack against a mil­i­tary base.
  • Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui of New York, arrested in April for allegedly purchasing bomb-making equipment with plans for an attack.
  • John T. Booker and Alexander Blair of Kansas, arrested in April for allegedly attempting to undertake a suicide attack at the Ft. Riley military base.

These are among the 23 U.S. residents arrested on terror charges thus far in 2015, all but two of whom claimed allegiance to ISIS.

Both of the videos released this week feature references to previous terror attacks in Western countries and footage of brutal executions of ISIS victims in Iraq and Syria, as well as encouragement of individually-directed domestic plots.

One of the videos, released on April 10, was titled “We Will Burn America.” It featured footage and praise of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center along with narration in Arabic with English subtitles stating, “September 11 will be repeated.”

The video also features images from the attack on the Paris kosher supermarket and shootings in Canada, both of which were undertaken by individuals acting in ISIS’s name, as well as images of beheadings by ISIS. Its style was reminiscent of ISIS’s feature-film-length propaganda video “Flames of War,” which was shot to resemble an action movie and highlights the group’s ideological claims of a battle between good and evil, Islam and the West.

“We Will Burn America” was released on Twitter with the hashtag #we_will_burn_america. ISIS regularly encourages its supporters to participate in hashtag campaigns designed to artificially create trending items and spread the group’s propaganda. Last summer, the group undertook two hashtag campaigns similarly threatening the U.S., with the hashtags #CalamityWillBefallUS and #AMessageFromISISToUS.

The second video, released April 14, takes the form of a music video encouraging lone-wolf attacks and threatening Western countries. The language is German, with English subtitles. ISIS has released multiple music videos to appeal to young audiences while conveying the group’s messages.

A screenshot from the new ISIS music video

A screenshot from the new ISIS music video

Addressed “to the enemies of Allah,” the video’s narration states that “this is a message and more are going to follow.” The video portrays a man reading the Qu’ran and watching ISIS propaganda on his computer, including graphic videos of beheadings, the burning of the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, mass killings, and wounded soldiers. “We want your blood,” it states, “it tastes so wonderful.”

It then shows individuals preparing for different types of domestic attacks, including a stabbing, car bomb, and a suicide bombing in Times Square, as well as learning about gun use and bomb-making online – seemingly examples for would-be domestic attackers and an acknowledgment of the importance of online terrorist propaganda. Images of previous attacks against the West, including the attack against the Paris kosher supermarket, are shown as well. “In France it has been proven by deeds. German sleeper cell are waiting,” it states. “Allah has called you! … Your neighbor is a kaffir (apostate)… take a big knife and give him what he rightly deserves.”

The release of the videos comes as ISIS is losing territory and recruits in the Middle East. Losses by terrorist groups have often corresponded with increased calls for attacks abroad, which do not require resource expenditure by the terror group itself and can then be claimed as victories for the group. Al Shabaab, for example, has similarly released calls for domestic attacks abroad in the past year as it undergoes losses of recruits, leadership, and territory in Somalia and its surrounding countries.

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