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October 27, 2014 1

New Spate of Lone Wolf Attacks Highlights Terrorist Propaganda

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau

A recent series of attacks in the U.S. and Canada have renewed national con­ver­sa­tion about the dan­ger of lone wolf ter­ror­ism: Attacks under­taken by indi­vid­u­als act­ing entirely on their own, with­out belong­ing to an orga­nized extrem­ist group, ter­ror­ist group or cell.

When extrem­ists plan and exe­cute attacks alone, as indi­vid­u­als, there are far fewer oppor­tu­ni­ties for law enforce­ment to detect the attacks in advance and they are much more dif­fi­cult to pre­vent. Con­se­quently, “lone wolf” actions tend to be more deadly.

There is increas­ing spec­u­la­tion that the rise of online ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other for­eign ter­ror­ist groups – and its increas­ing sophis­ti­ca­tion – may con­tribute to such attacks.

ISIS, Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP), and other groups have called on Amer­i­cans, Cana­di­ans and other west­ern­ers to self-radicalize and com­mit lone wolf attacks against their home countries.

In Sep­tem­ber, a speech released by ISIS told sup­port­ers, “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…” One of the sug­gested meth­ods of attack was to “run him [the West­erner] over with your car.”

In August, AQAP issued an English-language mag­a­zine, which stated that the U.S. “needs sev­eral more attacks inside and out­side its ter­ri­to­ries. This could be done by a Mujahid group or a lone Mujahid,” and pro­vided updated instruc­tions for build­ing pres­sure cooker bombs and car bombs. Such sen­ti­ments have been a fea­ture of AQAP’s English-language pro­pa­ganda for years.

More­over, expo­sure to vio­lent images com­bined with the incite­ment of ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda may pro­vide the nec­es­sary ratio­nale to lead indi­vid­u­als with vio­lent ten­den­cies – and some­times unsta­ble behav­ior – over the tip­ping point towards vio­lence. And in pro­vid­ing that ratio­nale, ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda may also direct the vio­lence, lead­ing to a higher like­li­hood of attacks against law enforce­ment, author­ity fig­ures, or other sym­bolic targets.

Zale Thompson’s alleged attack against NY police offi­cers and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s alleged attack on the Cana­dian Par­lia­ment pro­vide exam­ples of this new type of lone wolf: Indi­vid­u­als with some degree of upset and insta­bil­ity who buy into the frame­work of ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda to the extent that they under­take acts of violence.

Thomp­son, for exam­ple, was rumored to be depressed and suf­fer­ing from drug abuse. He was angry about what he per­ceived as oppres­sion of blacks in the U.S. In his embrace of rad­i­cal Islam, he read and wrote about “holy war” and behead­ings, and googled the phrase “jihad against police,” accord­ing to law enforce­ment sources. He also looked up infor­ma­tion on the two Cana­dian attacks before allegedly attempt­ing to kill the police officers.

Less is known about Mar­tin Rouleau-Couture, the man who allegedly ran over two sol­diers in Canada last week, but he, too, appar­ently engaged with extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda online and praised ISIS on his Face­book page.

Lone wolves aren’t the only ones who respond to online incite­ment. A major­ity of the Amer­i­can cit­i­zens who attempt to join for­eign ter­ror­ist groups abroad or to work on their behalf at home have been influ­enced by it to some extent – appar­ently includ­ing the three teenage girls from Den­ver who allegedly attempted to join ISIS last week.

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September 22, 2014 0

ISIS-Related Arrest In Rochester Underscores Online Radicalization

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Mufid Elfgeeh

The online activ­ity of Mufid Elfgeeh, whose arrest for attempt­ing to pro­vide mate­r­ial sup­port for ter­ror, attempt­ing to kill U.S. sol­diers, and pos­ses­sion of firearms and silencers was made pub­lic this week by the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice, under­scores the cen­tral­ity of the Inter­net in the rad­i­cal­iza­tion and recruit­ment process.

Elfgeeh uti­lized mul­ti­ple online plat­forms includ­ing Twit­ter, Face­book, YouTube and the android appli­ca­tion What­sApp to try to raise money for for­eign ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions and to recruit three other indi­vid­u­als to join for­eign ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions. His online activ­ity also inspired him to devise a plot to kill Shi’a Mus­lims and for­mer Amer­i­can ser­vice­men at home.

Social media enabled Elfgeeh to not only learn about the activ­i­ties of for­eign ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions through videos, tweets and other online pro­pa­ganda, but to also con­nect with appar­ent sup­port­ers of those orga­ni­za­tions, in par­tic­u­lar the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Accord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Elfgeeh sought dona­tions for ter­ror­ists in Syria through Twit­ter. Among his alleged tweets were requests that peo­ple donate a third of their salary or at least “#Five_thousand_dollars_from_every_household” to sup­port mil­i­tants in Syria. He also tweeted and retweeted state­ments of sup­port for var­i­ous ter­ror groups includ­ing, “al-Qa’ida said it loud and clear: we are fight­ing the Amer­i­can inva­sion and their hege­mony over the earth and the people.”

On Face­book, Elfgeeh was a mem­ber of at least two Arabic-language Face­book groups in which group mem­bers reg­u­larly post and share al Qaeda and ISIS pro­pa­ganda. His own Face­book pho­tos included sev­eral images from Al Bat­tar media, an offi­cial ISIS pro­pa­ganda wing.

Elfgeeh also allegedly used Face­book to com­mu­ni­cate with indi­vid­u­als he believed were mem­bers of ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions and with the indi­vid­u­als he was recruit­ing about plans to travel abroad to join ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions.

In his recruit­ing, he ini­tially sug­gested Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP) and Al Shabaab as pos­si­ble des­ti­na­tions, and later focused on ISIS. Notably, AQAP, Al Shabaab and ISIS are all ter­ror­ist groups that have become highly adept at dis­trib­ut­ing exten­sive English-language pro­pa­ganda.

On April 22 2014, he allegedly posted a mes­sage on Face­book attempt­ing to gain con­nec­tions in ISIS, stat­ing, “Who­ever knows a brother from ISIS who is able to com­mu­ni­cate well in Eng­lish, can com­mu­ni­cate with me through the pri­vate, due to the impor­tance.” He also com­mu­ni­cated directly on Face­book with an indi­vid­ual he was recruit­ing to join ISIS (the indi­vid­ual was in fact an informant).

Elfgeeh was allegedly devel­op­ing a plot to com­mit mul­ti­ple mur­ders in the U.S. as well, appar­ently inspired by acts of ter­ror­ism around the world includ­ing Al Shabaab’s attack of the West­gate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya and, in par­tic­u­lar, by Mohammed Merah’s shoot­ings in France.

His inspi­ra­tion for this plot appar­ently came from watch­ing videos on YouTube. He allegedly explained that he had learned about Merah’s actions because, “[i]t’s in YouTube.” He also allegedly had watched a video that pro­vided jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and instruc­tions for his plot: The video, he stated, “tell[s] you what to do …it’s YouTube…they call them here…’individual wolf’ (an appar­ent ref­er­ence to lone wolf attacks).”

Elfgeeh is a 30-year-old nat­u­ral­ized Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. Orig­i­nally from Yemen, he resided in Rochester, NY prior to his arrest where he owned and oper­ated a store called Halal Mojo and Food­mart. He was arrested on May 31, 2014 and pleaded not guilty on Sep­tem­ber 18.

Elfgeeh is the sec­ond Amer­i­can arrested in 2014 for recruit­ing oth­ers to join for­eign ter­ror orga­ni­za­tions, fol­low­ing Rahatul Ashikim Khan of Round Rock, Texas, who was arrested in June.

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August 19, 2014 0

New AQAP Magazine Calls For Lone-Wolf Attacks Against U.S. And U.K.

aqap-aqsa-we-are-coming-inspire

Back cover of the AQAP pub­li­ca­tion, “Pales­tine: Betrayal of the Guilty Conscience”

Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP) issued a new English-language mag­a­zine on Twit­ter August 16. Titled “Pales­tine: Betrayal of the Guilty Con­science,” the pub­li­ca­tion uses the recent con­flict in Gaza as an excuse to renew the group’s call for lone-wolf attacks in the U.S. and the U.K.

AQAP has reg­u­larly issued such calls for lone-wolf attacks in the past, includ­ing just a few days ago when it urged fol­low­ers to attack the U.S. in retal­i­a­tion for mil­i­tary assis­tance in Iraq.

The mag­a­zine, which reuses con­tent from AQAP’s Inspire mag­a­zine, includes direc­tions for build­ing pres­sure cooker bombs and car bombs and sug­gests a new list of poten­tial tar­gets includ­ing Israeli, British and Amer­i­can owned com­pa­nies, tourist resorts fre­quented by Amer­i­can, British and Israeli cit­i­zens, Las Vegas casi­nos and night clubs, Geor­gia Mil­i­tary Col­lege, the US Air Force Acad­emy, Gen­eral Atom­ics head­quar­ters in San Diego, and Marks and Spencer stores in Britain.

For more infor­ma­tion about this pub­li­ca­tion, see the ADL analy­sis “AQAP Exploits Gaza Con­flict to Call for Lone-Wolf Attacks Against U.S.”

ADL has also writ­ten exten­sively about the  influ­ence posed by such online English-language pro­pa­ganda on would-be domes­tic extrem­ists and the ensu­ing threat it poses to domes­tic security.

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