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June 15, 2016

The Orlando Shooter’s Many Paths to Violence

Update – 9/27/16: Newly released information indicates that Mateen told a hostage negotiator during the standoff that his attack was inspired by the death of an ISIS commander. This indicates that Mateen’s support of ISIS may have been more influential in his decision than was previously known.

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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June 15, 2016

Anti-Gay Rhetoric in English-Language ISIS and Al Qaeda Magazines

The claim by Orlando shooter Omar Mateen that he acted on behalf of ISIS in perpetrating a shooting at a gay club draws attention to the role of anti-gay sentiment in Islamic extremist ideology and propaganda.

ADL analyzed past issues of Dabiq, ISIS’s English language magazine, and Inspire magazine, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s English-language magazine, to determine the scope of anti-gay rhetoric and threat in those publications. While these publications are only a limited sample of the overall field of online English-language propaganda distributed by foreign terrorist organizations, they serve to demonstrate the issues and language that these organizations use when targeting English-speaking audiences.

Our analysis indicates that anti-gay rhetoric played a smaller role than may have been expected. Neither group preached hatred of the LGBT population nearly as much as it railed against other groups, such as Jews and the U.S., for example. However,  both magazines did feature examples of anti-gay rhetoric and used homosexuality as a synonym for sin and immorality.

Cover of the first issue of Dabiq, ISIS's English language magazine

Cover of the first issue of Dabiq magazine

Dabiq (ISIS)

Dabiq, ISIS’s English-language magazine, was first released in July 2014. Since then, there have been 13 issues, with the most recent released in April 2016.

Dabiq included anti-gay rhetoric with much more frequency than Inspire. In addition to using homosexuality as an example of sin and immorality, Dabiq also had at least three quotes in which homosexuality was associated with the death penalty. The increased number of references and the violent nature of the references are consonant with ISIS’s broader propaganda, which has been more overt than Al Qaeda propaganda in highlighting violence against individuals and groups ISIS has targeted. This has included images of ISIS members murdering men accused of being gay by throwing them off of buildings.

Examples of statements in Dabiq that link homosexuality with a punishment of death include:

  • “These sons fell into fāhishah (sodomy), leading them into espionage (as happened before in Sudan with others). Their treachery led to tens of airstrikes killing many brothers.” (Issue 6)
  • Likewise during his khilāfah, Abū Bakr…gathered a number of his advisors from amongst the Sahābah and consulted them about the case of a man found guilty of committing sodomy. The one who had the most severe position was ‘Alī … who said, “This is a sin that no nation had committed before except for one nation, and you know how Allah dealt with them. I view that we should burn him alive.” (Issue 7)
  •  “Knowing this and that he [a man ISIS is advocating should be assassinated] admires the secularist US Constitution and does not oppose sodomite marriage, it should be easy to grasp that he is nothing but another murtadd imām of kufr (apostate and leader of infidels).” (Issue 11)

Examples that include homosexuality as a general example of sin or immorality include:

  • “So the fornicators, the sodomites, the abandoners of jihād, the people of bid’ah (heresy), and the drunkards, these people and the mingling with them is harmful for the religion of Islam.” (Issue 3)
  • “’Liberal’ concepts that the kuffār (apostates) apply across the board for achieving evil, such as political pluralism, freedom of religion, and acceptance of sodomites. (Issue 3)
  • “If one’s children and grandchildren don’t fall into kufr (apostacy), they are under the constant threat of fornication, sodomy, drugs, and alcohol.” (Issue 3)
  • “They used their entertainment industry to mock and belittle those against the sexually deviant fringe, used their shirk (falsehood)-based parliaments to legalize sodomite marriage, used their education system to corrupt their children right from the kindergarten level by introducing books into the curriculum to combat “homophobia,” and used their churches and clergy to bless these sins via ‘revisionism.’ (Issue 7)
  • …All sinful acts are openly committed among you and for most of you they have become part of your nature. This includes committing shirk with Allah, fornication, and sodomy (Issue 10)
  • “If the majority [in a democracy] decide sodomy is legal, it is legalized even though it contradicts Allah’s Sharī’ah.” (Issue 11)
  • “Part of the pagan democratic religion is what has been labeled (sic) in this era as “human rights,” including the “right” to commit apostasy, devil-worship, sodomy, and for­nication.” (Issue 11)
  • “[The Muslim] is a stranger amongst Christians and liberals. He is a stranger amongst fornicators and sodomites.” (Issue 12)
  • “So the fornicators, the sodomites, the abandoners of jihād, the people of bid’ah (heresy), and the drunkards, these people and the mingling with them is harmful for the religion of Islam.” (Issue 13)
Cover of the first issue of Inspire, AQAP's English-language magazine

Cover of the first issue of Inspire magazine

Inspire (AQAP)

Inspire magazine was first released in July 2010. Since then, there have been 15 issues, with the most recent released in May 2016.

We discovered at least three references to homosexuality in those 15 issues of Inspire.

In the third issue, released in November 2010, the magazine noted that a gay and lesbian synagogue had been among the locations targeted in AQAP’s 2010 cargo plane bomb plot, in which the group attempted to detonate explosives in packages with Chicago addresses in a cargo plane. Although the threat appeared to be directed against Jews more than against the LGBT community, it can be seen as a threat specifically to LGBT Jews as well.

  • “We in al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula will never forget Palestine,” it said, “…So we listed the address of the ‘Congregation Or Chadash,’ a Gay and Lesbian Syngaogue on one of our packages. The second package was sent to ‘Congregation B’nai Zion.’

In the magazine’s 8th and 10th issues, homosexuality is listed as an example of immorality.

  • A quote in the 8th issue stated, “Immorality and corruption have seeped deep into the roots of the Pakistani Army and it is not uncommon to find alcoholics, gamblers, adulterers, homosexuals and drug traffickers amongst its lower and higher ranks.”
  • A quote in the 10th issue contrasted “The freedom of living in peace with adequate resources” to “the freedom of adultery, homosexuality, interest and other impurities.”

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May 19, 2016

Latest Issue of Inspire Magazine Encourages Small Scale Attacks

Inspire 15 cover image

Inspire 15

The 15th issue of InspireAl Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP)’s Eng­lish lan­guage mag­a­zine, released on May 14, provides readers with instructions for murdering “the intelligentsia, economic and influential personalities of America.” Such attacks, claims the magazine, are “easy options that do not require huge efforts or man power, but the result is parallel to the big operations or even more.”

This incitement to kill individuals is the same attack strategy that was provided in the 14th issue of Inspire magazine (released in September 2015), but the 15th issue provides additional suggestions for making bombs to conduct the assassinations, including package bombs, small bombs under cars, and bombs that can be attached to a doorframe.

As in pre­vi­ous issues of Inspire, the mag­a­zine uses anti-Semitism and resentment of Israel to mobi­lize the anger and sup­port needed to encour­age indi­vid­u­als to sus­tain AQAP and per­pe­trate attacks. ADL pub­lished an updated report on anti-Semitism in Islamic extrem­ist propaganda in 2015.

This exploitation of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment was particularly evident in the article, “O Knife Revolution, Head Toward America.” In it, AQAP strives to export the current mode of Palestinian terror attacks in Israel to the U.S. by asking, “Where are the zealous Muslims in America, who clearly see their Muslim brothers in Palestine being tortured? It is because of this painful torture, that the blessed Knife Uprising has surfaced. Then way is it that you just sit and wait, with your hands tied up?”

That article further utilizes anti-Semitism to encourage attacks against the U.S. “It is no secret that the first guardian, supporter, and greatest inciter to the Jews are the Americans,” it states. It goes on to directly threaten Jews, asking “How many Jews are there in America, Europe and other kufr (apostate) countries? So take matters in hand and follow the advice of your Prophet, if any of you gets hold of a Jew anywhere, let him finish him off.”

An article in Inspire 15 Encourages Domestic Attacks

An article in Inspire 15 encourages knife attacks in the U.S. modeled after attacks undertaken by Palestinians in Israel.

Similarly, the article, “Let us Unite for Palestine,” clearly attempts to transfer anger against Israel to attacks against the U.S. by asserting “The liberation of Jerusalem…requires…two things: Firstly: Striking the West…. Secondly: Establishing a Muslim state in Egypt and the Levant.” AQAP is more interested in attacking the West and securing a foothold in Egypt and Syria than in attacking Israel, so the magazine tries to convince its supporters that these goals are inherently a part of destroying the State of Israel.

Yet another article, “Inside Obama’s Rationality,” suggests a conspiracy theory of Jewish influence in American politics: “everyone competes in pleasing the Jews, even the so-called rational Presidents compete with each other in proving who is the most biased, irrational, partisan president when it comes to supporting the Jews.”

Other articles directly promote any sort of lone wolf attacks against the U.S., while striving to ensure that Al Qaeda can receive credit for individual actions. The article “Jihad Upon Clear Insight” states “one can benefit from the publication of As-Sahab foundation (an Al Qaeda media foundation)…It explains the importance of lone jihad and its impact upon the enemy…. And he can also benefit from Inspire Magazine. A Lone Mujahid and others should know that this knowledge is not less important than the science of weaponry and how to use them, how to make explosives and charges.”

As noted, the cover article, “Professional Assassinations,” provides instructions for surveilling influential individuals and then building bombs to murder them.

Inspire is per­haps the most noto­ri­ous Al Qaeda pro­pa­ganda vehi­cle. It has played a role in the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of mul­ti­ple domes­tic extrem­ists, includ­ing the Tsar­naev broth­ers of the Boston Marathon bomb­ing), Jose Pimentel, who attempted a bomb­ing in New York, and Abdel Daoud, who attempted a bomb­ing in Chicago.


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