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June 23, 2016 0

13th U.S. Resident Linked to Islamic Extremism in 2016

Akram Musleh of Indiana, arrested for attempting to travel to join ISIS

Akram Musleh

Akram Musleh, an 18-year-old res­i­dent of Browns­burg, Indi­ana, was arrested on June 21 for attempt­ing to travel to join ISIS. Court doc­u­ments indi­cate that Musleh had been engag­ing with ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda since at least 2013, when Musleh was a 15-year-old high school student.

Accord­ing to author­i­ties, the FBI first came into con­tact with Musleh after it was dis­cov­ered that he posted three videos of Anwar al-Awlaki to YouTube in August 2013. Awlaki, an Amer­i­can cleric and English-language pro­pa­gan­dist for Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula, was killed in a drone strike in 2011, but his speeches and quotes remain pop­u­lar among extrem­ist indi­vid­u­als and those rad­i­cal­iz­ing today. Indeed, the major­ity of U.S. res­i­dents linked to ter­ror moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ism since 2011 have allegedly down­loaded mate­r­ial cre­ated by Awlaki or shared his speeches and state­ments on social media.

Upon find­ing the Awlaki speeches, court doc­u­ments indi­cate that the FBI met with offi­cials at Musleh’s high school, and coor­di­nated with them to dis­cour­age Musleh from radicalizing.

Follow-up took place at Musleh’s school. It is unclear whether any mea­sures could have been effec­tive in Musleh’s case; he had allegedly obtained infor­ma­tion on Awlaki from a fam­ily mem­ber, and so appar­ently had at least one close per­sonal con­tact encour­ag­ing his rad­i­cal­iza­tion. In any event, the mea­sures unfor­tu­nately failed.

In April 2014, court doc­u­ments indi­cate that Musleh asked minors at a park if they wanted to join ISIS. In 2015, Musleh allegedly made mul­ti­ple attempts to travel to Turkey or Iraq, areas adja­cent to ISIS-controlled ter­ri­tory that are often used ini­tially as des­ti­na­tions for indi­vid­u­als attempt­ing to join the group. In 2016, he allegedly researched attack tar­gets and explo­sive mate­ri­als, and then tried again to travel to join ISIS, this time in Libya, where the group has an active fac­tion. He was arrested en route from Indi­ana to New York, where he allegedly intended to catch a plane from John F. Kennedy Inter­na­tional Airport.

Musleh is not the only U.S. res­i­dent to rad­i­cal­ize while still in high school. In 2015, 4 minors in the U.S. were linked to activ­ity moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ist ide­ol­ogy. They are among a total of 25 U.S. res­i­dents aged 21 or younger linked to such activ­ity that year. Seven U.S. teenagers were linked to activ­ity moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ism in 2014.

In recog­ni­tion of this dis­turb­ing trend, ADL has released a series of resources for edu­ca­tors and school admin­is­tra­tors that pro­vide back­ground infor­ma­tion about extrem­ism and mass vio­lence among school-aged indi­vid­u­als and mate­ri­als for cre­at­ing resilience among their stu­dents. Among the mate­ri­als pro­vided is a back­ground report on mass vio­lence and extrem­ism geared specif­i­cally to edu­ca­tors and pro­duced in coop­er­a­tion with START, the National Con­sor­tium for the Study of Ter­ror­ism and Response to Ter­ror­ism, at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land. This back­grounder pro­vides infor­ma­tion about pre­cur­sors to vio­lent activ­ity and estab­lish­ing appro­pri­ate sup­port and refer­ral net­works. A sec­ond resource is a unique les­son plan focused on enabling stu­dents to rec­og­nize pro­pa­ganda if and when they encounter it and to become more dis­crim­i­nat­ing con­sumers of online mate­ri­als. Par­al­lel resources for par­ents are avail­able as well.

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June 16, 2016 1

Bigots Express Hateful Rhetoric After Orlando Attack

In the wake of the bru­tal ter­ror­ist attack by Omar Mateen that killed 49 mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­nity and wounded 53 oth­ers at a gay night­club in Orlando, com­mu­ni­ties held vig­ils across the coun­try to express sol­i­dar­ity with the vic­tims. In marked con­trast to the love and sup­port shown by peo­ple around the world, haters voiced anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT sen­ti­ment and pro­moted anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­ries in the after­math of the event.

Not sur­pris­ingly, big­ots and extrem­ists used the mas­sacre in Orlando to demo­nize Mus­lims and Jews and to assert that the LGBT com­mu­nity got what it deserved because of their lifestyle. The sen­ti­ments they expressed demon­strate that these haters will exploit any tragedy to pro­mote their ideology.

Anti-Muslim activism

Over the past year, anti-Muslim activism has been on the rise across the United States. The Orlando attack has pro­vided a boost to such hate­ful sen­ti­ment and big­oted rhetoric.

  • Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller com­mented on the Orlando attack on her blog on June 12: “The media is call­ing it a hate crime. So it’s safe to assume Islam is a hate ideology.”
  • Robert Spencer, direc­tor of the anti-Muslim web­site Jihad Watch, wrote an arti­cle on the site about the ter­ror­ist who car­ried out the Orlando attack: “He was a devout adher­ent of a reli­gion that man­dates death for homo­sex­u­als, and the son of a man who sup­ports a group that puts gays to death (even as homo­sex­ual behav­ior is ram­pant in Afghanistan).”
  • A self-claimed ex-terrorist who is now a Chris­t­ian con­vert and an extrem­ist anti-Muslim activist, Walid Shoe­bat, used the Orlando attack as an oppor­tu­nity to renew his sup­port for calls to ban Mus­lims from enter­ing the U.S.  He wrote on his offi­cial web­site on June 12, “First of all it is 100% impos­si­ble to screen Mus­lims to weed out the ter­ror­ists.… Any­one who thinks that the U.S. or Europe are prop­erly vet­ting or can vet these ter­ror­ists [is] dream­ing. They can­not even mon­i­tor a few ter­ror­ists.”  He con­cluded his state­ment: “What more can we do? In a nut­shell, all you west­ern­ers, unless you com­pletely ban Islam, your’e [sic] screwed.”
  • Over social media plat­forms, some have cheered what they con­sid­ered proof that pre­vi­ous calls to ban Mus­lim immi­gra­tion to the U.S. were wise and “spot-on,” attack­ing at the same time what they described as a pol­icy to “import more Mus­lims.” Other anti-Muslim state­ments over social media recy­cled old claims about the inher­ently vio­lent nature of Islam, and the threat of not using the words “rad­i­cal Islamic ter­ror­ism” in the con­text of describ­ing such ter­ror­ist attacks.

Anti-LGBTQ hatred

While the LGBT and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties banded together to pro­mote tol­er­ance over hatred, extrem­ists, includ­ing two pas­tors who are close asso­ciates, pro­moted a vir­u­lent strain of homo­pho­bia. Neo-Nazis also expressed con­tempt for the LGBT com­mu­nity, with some cel­e­brat­ing the ter­ror­ist attack.

Anti-LGBT and anti-Semitic tweet on Orlando attack

Anti-LGBT and anti-Semitic tweet about Orlando attack

  • Steven Ander­son, a pas­tor in Tempe, Ari­zona, who is known for his hatred of the LGBT com­mu­nity as well as Jews, gave a ser­mon cel­e­brat­ing the mur­der of gay peo­ple. He said: “The good news is that there’s 50 less pedophiles in this world, because, you know, these homo­sex­u­als are a bunch of dis­gust­ing per­verts and pedophiles.” He asserted that “they should have been killed through the proper chan­nels as in they should have been exe­cuted by a right­eous gov­ern­ment that would have tried them, con­victed them, and saw them executed.”
  • Roger Jimenez, a pas­tor of a church in Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia and an asso­ciate of Anderson’s, voiced sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments. He posed the rhetor­i­cal ques­tion, “Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today?” He answered, “Um, no. I think that’s great. I think that helps soci­ety.” He added that “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is—I’m kind of upset that he didn’t fin­ish the job.” He con­tin­ued, “I wish the gov­ern­ment would round them all up, put them against a fir­ing wall, put a fir­ing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.”
  • On his neo-Nazi web­site Infos­tormer, Lee Rogers wrote, “I find your dis­eased lifestyles dis­gust­ing and toxic to the body politic.” He added that if the LGBT com­mu­nity “choses to fol­low The Don [a ref­er­ence to Don­ald Trump]… we will not openly attack you or slaugh­ter you. Your rights to defile our mar­riage cer­e­monies and push your agenda will of course be rescinded, and there will no longer be pride parades fea­tur­ing mas­sive dil­dos on Amer­i­can streets.”
  • In an early response to the shoot­ing, a poster on the neo-Nazi forum Van­guard News Net­work said that Mateen “offed 20 of the most degen­er­ate pieces of excre­ment on the face of the earth, and if he gets vir­gins in par­adise, as far as I’m con­cerned, he earned them.”
  • Oth­ers on social media, in par­tic­u­lar Twit­ter, used the pejo­ra­tive term “homo­caust” to describe the mas­sacre in Orlando.

Anti-Semitic con­spir­acy theories

Fringe anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­rists rarely miss an oppor­tu­nity to exploit tragedies to pro­mote their hatred of Jews, as they did blam­ing Jews for events rang­ing from coor­di­nated ter­ror attacks across Paris in Novem­ber 2015 to the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School mas­sacre in Decem­ber 2012 to the 9/11 ter­ror­ist attacks.

Tweet promoting anti-Semitic conspiracies in response to Orlando attack

Tweet pro­mot­ing anti-Semitic con­spir­a­cies in response to Orlando attack

  • In this lat­est round of blam­ing Jews for all that is wrong with the world, David Duke, the for­mer Klan leader, posted a video on YouTube titled “The Orlando Ter­ror and the Dark Side of Diver­sity.” In this video, Duke invokes anti-Semitic the­o­ries about Jew­ish con­trol and sup­pos­edly evil Jew­ish inten­tions stat­ing, “…the pow­er­ful Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions have led the push for open bor­ders.” He added, “…the takeover of Amer­i­can elite media, pol­i­tics, and bank­ing has directly led to the poli­cies of eth­nic cleans­ing in the coun­try our fore­fa­thers cre­ated and they lit­er­ally brag about this.” Duke blames the Jews and oth­ers for what he describes as the “the eth­nic cleans­ing of Amer­ica, Europe, and every West­ern Nation” and calls on “every white nation” to “rise up and defend West­ern Chris­t­ian civilization.”
  •  Addi­tion­ally, Vet­er­ans Today, a U.S.-based web­site that presents anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­ries as news, pub­lished a num­ber of arti­cles blam­ing Israel or Jews for the Orlando shooting:

 –In an arti­cle titled “MK-Ultra Triple Play in Orlando,” Vet­er­ans Today colum­nist Pre­ston James tries to place the Orlando shoot­ing into a larger Jew­ish con­spir­acy. He wrote, “[I]t is rea­son­able to view this Orlando shoot­ing as a pos­si­ble joint Mossad/CIA Gladio-style, inside-job, false-flag “triple-play” op designed to help moti­vate the Amer­i­can masses to col­lect the guns, accept polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness and homo­sex­u­al­ity as the pre­ferred norm, and to fur­ther moti­vate Amer­i­cans to sup­port deploy­ing our war machine to fight more wars for Israel and the KM (Roth­schild Zion­ist Banksters).”

–In “Orlando Shoot­ing: Why Israel Availed the Vicious Cir­cle of Ter­ror­ism?” Saj­jad Shaukat claims that Israel is behind a num­ber of attacks in coop­er­a­tion with “the Zionist-Israeli-led Amer­ica” in order to stir up hatred against Mus­lims. Shaukat writes: “And most probably…Mossad might have arranged this mas­sive shooting…to divert the atten­tion of Amer­i­can pub­lic from inter­nal prob­lems, pro­longed war on ter­ror etc., and espe­cially to avoid the solu­tion of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.”

Kevin Bar­rett, an anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­rist and fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Iran’s Eng­lish lan­guage pro­pa­ganda news net­work, Press TV, wrote a Vet­er­ans Today arti­cle titled “Orlando Nigh­club Shoot­ing Another False Flag?” In this arti­cle, Bar­rett places Israel at the cen­ter of “the long list of false flags that cre­ated [the Orlando shoot­ing], claim­ing that “Zion­ists have been pan­ick­ing, fear­ing that Obama is going to…officially estab­lish the State of Palestine…The usual sus­pects may have responded with a mas­sive pub­lic­ity stu­dent in Orlando designed to make us for­get Muham­mad Ali [who Bar­rett describes as a pos­i­tive Mus­lim role model] and make it much harder, if not impos­si­ble, for Obama to force the Israelis to with­draw from the ter­ri­tory they stole in 1967.”

  • Some social media users responded by post­ing vehe­mently anti-Semitic mes­sages on Twit­ter, mak­ing accu­sa­tions sim­i­lar to those of Duke or Vet­er­ans Today, either blam­ing Jews them­selves for per­pe­trat­ing the attacks or Jew­ish con­trol of a num­ber of sec­tors in the U.S. for inspir­ing the attacks.

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June 15, 2016 1

The Orlando Shooter’s Many Paths to Violence

This weekend’s shoot­ing at the Pulse night­club in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 dead and 52 peo­ple injured, has rein­vig­o­rated debate sur­round­ing the nature of rad­i­cal­iza­tion and what it means when some­one claims to act on behalf of a for­eign ter­ror­ist organization.omar mateen

While details about the attack and the per­pe­tra­tor, Omar Mateen, con­tinue to emerge, there are indi­ca­tions that the assailant may have been moti­vated by more com­pli­cated fac­tors than a sim­ple alle­giance to any one, or com­bi­na­tion of, ter­ror­ist groups. Dur­ing his call to 911 at the time of the attack, Mateen pledged alle­giance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al Bagh­dadi, called the Boston marathon bombers his “home­boys” and men­tioned Moner Abusalha, a Florida res­i­dent who com­mit­ted a sui­cide attack on behalf of Jab­hat al Nusra, Al Qaeda in Syria, in 2014.

There are signs, how­ever, that extrem­ist ide­ol­ogy may have been only one of many ele­ments that led him to carry out the mas­sacre. Mateen report­edly exhib­ited vio­lent ten­den­cies prior to the attack; he was accused of domes­tic abuse by his ex-wife and report­edly threat­ened cowork­ers in the past. Domes­tic vio­lence has been linked to mass shoot­ings – extrem­ist or oth­er­wise. His ex-wife has also sug­gested he may have been gay. If true, that could point to a host of per­sonal, psy­cho­log­i­cal rea­sons for his deci­sion to attack Pulse, which was a gay nightclub.

Still, the fact that Mateen had claimed sup­port for Hezbol­lah and Al Qaeda in a con­ver­sa­tion with co-workers – which, along with his pos­si­ble con­nec­tions to Moner Abusalha, led to him being inves­ti­gated twice by the FBI– may indi­cate he had some pro­found attrac­tion to these groups.

Mateen is far from the only indi­vid­ual whose activ­ity appears to have been shaped by a com­plex web of fac­tors, of which extrem­ist ide­ol­ogy may be just one ele­ment. For example:

  • In August 2014, Ali Muham­mad Brown was allegedly engaged in a rob­bery when he shot a man in a car in New Jer­sey. Brown is also accused of killing three indi­vid­u­als out­side a gay night­club in Cal­i­for­nia that June; Brown had allegedly lured them to his car on Grindr, a gay  (dat­ing) app, and then mur­dered them. When appre­hended, Brown claimed that the mur­ders were revenge for U.S. actions in the Mid­dle East. Brown had also report­edlyali-muhammad-brown writ­ten in a jour­nal that he planned to fol­low ISIS and “learn the way of jihadis,” and had pre­vi­ously been linked to a con­spir­acy to send funds to Al Shabaab, al Qaeda in Soma­lia. The cir­cum­stances of this par­tic­u­lar mur­der, how­ever, indi­cated that he was hop­ing to get away with rob­bery, rather than under­tak­ing a polit­i­cally charged act.  Sim­i­larly, there were no clear indi­ca­tions that his mur­ders in Cal­i­for­nia were under­taken for polit­i­cal reasons.

At least two other indi­vid­u­als never claimed their attacks on behalf of spe­cific for­eign ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions, but were linked to those orga­ni­za­tions in their online activ­ity – and in both cases, ISIS even­tu­ally claimed credit for their vio­lent actions. ISIS has also claimed credit for the Orlando attack.

  • In Sep­tem­ber 2014, Okla­homa res­i­dent Alton Nolen was sus­pended from his work­place, a food pro­cess­ing plant. Nolen returned with “a large bladed knife,” with which he beheaded a for­mer col­league and attacked a sec­ond. Nolen’s social media feed indi­cated an inter­est in vio­lent extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda, and par­tic­u­larly vio­lent acts asso­ci­ated with ISIS, even as it became clear that he had no actual links to extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions or a com­pre­hen­sive adher­ence to extrem­ist ide­ol­ogy. Indeed, his online activ­ity may have influ­enced him to some extent — his inter­est in extrem­ist vio­lence may have informed his deci­sion to under­take a behead­ing rather than another form of vio­lence. Dabiq, ISIS’s Eng­lish lan­guage mag­a­zine, claimed credit for Nolen’s activ­ity and boasted that he had acted based on ISIS pro­pa­ganda. The cir­cum­stances of the activ­ity, though, seemed more directly related to work­place vio­lence than to Islamic extremism.
  • In Octo­ber 2014, Zale Thomp­son of New York attacked law enforce­ment offi­cers with a hatchet. Thompson’s online his­tory  indi­cated he had exper­i­mented with a vari­ety of extrem­ist ide­olo­gies, but had most recently engaged with Islamic extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda and ide­ol­ogy, includ­ing ISIS-specific pro­pa­ganda, prior to the attack – pre­sum­ably because it jus­ti­fied such an attack more than other groups he had asso­ci­ated with. He had also inde­pen­dently expressed anger against law enforce­ment. Thompson’s ulti­mate motives have not been made clear; the NYPD clas­si­fied his actions as a ter­ror­ist attack, but the FBI did not. Like Nolen, Thomp­son did not state that his action was under­taken on behalf of a for­eign ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion, but ISIS claimed that it was inspired by their pro­pa­ganda in Dabiq magazine.

The appar­ent com­plex­ity of the moti­va­tions in the Orlando Shoot­ing would indi­cate that this tragedy can fall under the rubric of many other mass casu­alty attacks – such as Sandy Hook and Charleston– as well as under the rubric of domes­tic ter­ror­ism moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ist ide­ol­ogy – such as the Boston Bomb­ing and the San Bernardino shooting.

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