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September 21, 2016

Practical Weaponry Inspired by Foreign Terrorist Organizations

Bombs in New York and New Jersey on September 17th and 18th and an unrelated stabbing attack on September 17th in Minnesota serve as reminders of the domestic threat posed by individuals motivated by Islamic extremism. These attacks come amid propaganda from groups including ISIS and Al Qaeda increasingly encouraging Westerners to commit attacks with any means at their disposal.

A pressure cooker bomb found in New York City on September 17

A pressure cooker bomb found in New York City on September 17

The bombs placed in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood were made with pressure cookers, similar to those used in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Since 2002, there have been at least nine alleged plots in the United States involving pressure cooker bombs, including this weekend’s. Only one other plot, the Boston Marathon bombing, resulted in an explosion. Some plans only involved sending or requesting direction for making the bombs, but did not lead to any actual construction.

The majority of these cases took place in 2015 and 2016, and three of the nine plots were in New York City.

  • September 2016: Two pressure cooker bombs were left in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, allegedly by New Jersey resident Ahmad Khan Rahami. One exploded, injuring 29; the second was tampered with and rendered inert.
  • July 2016: Arizona resident Mahin Khan allegedly plotted to attack an air force recruitment center in support of ISIS. Court documents indicate that he asked a member of a foreign terrorist organization for rifles and instructions for building pressure cooker bombs.
  • September 2015: Florida resident Joshua Ryne Goldberg allegedly sent instructions for building pressure cooker bombs to an individual who Goldberg believed would attempt to bomb a 9/11 memorial ceremony in Kansas City.
  • July 2015: Massachusetts resident Alexander Ciccolo allegedly plotted to plant pressure cooker bombs at a local university in support of ISIS.
  • June 2015: New York residents Munther Omar Saleh and Fareed Mumuni allegedly plotted to detonate pressure cooker bombs in New York City in support of ISIS.
  • April 2015: New York residents Asia Siddiqui and Noelle Velentzas were arrested for allegedly plotting an attack in New York. Although no targets were specified, the pair had allegedly acquired materials and instructions for building pressure cooker bombs. They had reportedly claimed allegiance to ISIS and had been in touch with known Al Qaeda members.
  • June 2013: Massachusetts residents Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing 3 individuals and injuring about 264.
  • July 2011: Texas resident Naser Jason Abdo was arrested for plotting to use a pressure cooker bomb to attack a local restaurant popular with soldiers and their families in support of Al Qaeda.
  • May 2002: Florida resident Imran Mandhai plotted to use pressure cooker bombs to bomb several possible targets in South Florida, including Jewish-owned businesses, the Israeli Consulate in Miami, Jewish community centers, electrical power stations and the National Guard Armory. Mandhai pled guilty to conspiring to carry out a terrorist plot in 2006.
Ahmad Khan Rahami, suspect behind the New York and New Jersey

Ahmad Khan Rahami, suspect behind the New York and New Jersey bombs

The bomb that exploded before a marine charity run in Seaside Park, New Jersey, as well as bombs found in Elizabeth, New Jersey on September 17 and 18 were all pipe bombs allegedly left by Ahmad Khan Rahami.

Since 2002, there have been at least 5 domestic plots motivated by Islamic extremism involving consideration or building of pipe bombs, including the September 17 attacks:

  • September 2016: A pipe bomb allegedly left by New Jersey resident Ahmad Khan Rahami exploded at the location of a marine charity run in Seaside Park, New Jersey. There were no casualties. A bag of unexploded pipe bombs, also allegedly belonging to Rahami, was found in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
  • January 2015: Ohio resident Christopher Lee Cornell allegedly plotted to use a pipe bomb to bomb the U.S. Capitol building. He then allegedly planned to shoot government officials in support of ISIS.
  • November 2011: Jose Pimentel allegedly plotted to use pipe bombs to bomb various targets around the U.S. in support of Al Qaeda. He pled guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree as a crime of terrorism in 2014.
  • August 2004: New York residents Shahwar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay plotted to use pipe bombs to bomb a New York City subway in support of Al Qaeda.

Direction for building both pressure cooker bombs and pipe bombs are in the first issue of Inspire, the English-language propaganda magazine released by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That issue was released in the summer of 2010; subsequent issues have referenced and occasionally repeated the directions, as well as provided directions for other types of bombs.

Although their choice of weapon was unspecified, Florida residents Raees and Sheheryzar Alam Qazi, arrested in 2012 for plotting an attack against U.S. gas stations, had allegedly plotted to build a bomb based on the directions in the first issue of Inspire.

In total, there have been at least 71 domestic Islamic extremist plots involving bombs or grenades since 2002, including 37 since 2010. In many cases, the type of bomb is not specified.

There have been at least 52 domestic Islamic extremist plots involving guns since 2002, including 27 since 2010. ISIS and Al Qaeda have both suggested that it is easy to acquire guns in the U.S. and have encouraged their followers to do so. There is some overlap between the gun and bomb plot numbers, as some plots involved both types of weapons.

Dahir Ahmed Adan, perpetrator of the stabbings in Minnesota

Dahir Ahmed Adan, perpetrator of the stabbings in Minnesota

The stabbings in Minnesota this weekend point to another, newer form of domestic Islamic extremist plot involving knives. Although there are no clear plots involving knife or stabbing attacks prior to 2015, there were two such plots in 2015 and 2 in 2016:

  • September 2016: Minnesota resident Dahir Ahmed Adan allegedly stabbed 10 people in a Minnesota mall. Although investigations into his motivation are ongoing, Adan allegedly asked at least one person if he was Muslim during the attack and ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • August 2016: Michigan resident Sebastian Gregorson was arrested for illegally acquiring an arsenal of weapons that included knives, guns and grenades. Court documents indicate that Gregorson plotted to carry out an attack on a building in support of ISIS.
  • December 2015: New York resident Emmanuel Lutchman allegedly plotted to stab patrons at a Rochester, New York bar with a machete or dagger in support of ISIS.
  • June 2015: Usaama Rahim and David Wright of Massachusetts allegedly plotted to behead Boston area police officers in support of ISIS.

Knives were also a common accessory among individuals who supported ISIS in 2015, even if their plans did not involve knife attacks. Fareed Mumuni and Munther Omar Saleh of New York, who allegedly plotted to bomb New York landmarks, and Usaama Rahim of Massachusetts all allegedly used knives in con­fronta­tions with law enforce­ment offi­cials who were mon­i­tor­ing or attempt­ing to ques­tion them. Amir Said Abdul Rah­man Al-Ghazi, an Ohio resident arrested in June 2015, had also allegedly pur­chased a knife but did not use it. Court documents suggest that he bought it for use in propaganda videos that he wanted to film. And court documents indicate that Jabil Ibn Ameer Aziz, a Pennsylvania resident arrested in December 2015 who reportedly hoped to travel to join ISIS and recruited others to do so, was allegedly in possession of a “Go-Bag” packed with a modified kitchen knife, in addition to M4-style high-capacity magazines loaded with ammunition, as well as many  other items.

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July 13, 2015

Online Activity Provides Insight Into MA Man Arrested For ISIS Plot

Alexander Ciccolo's Facebook profile picture

Alexander Ciccolo’s Facebook profile picture

Alexander Ciccolo, a 23-year-old U.S. citizen from Boston, Massachusetts, is the 55th U.S. resident linked to terrorist plots and other activity in 2015. A closer look at one of Ciccolo’s Facebook profiles, which ADL began monitoring in 2014, sheds light on his views in support of terrorism, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) specifically.

Ciccolo was arrested on July 4, 2015, and charged as a felon in possession of a weapon. According to court documents, he had allegedly planned an attack against a popular bar frequented by university students and a college cafeteria, possibly with the use of pressure cooker bombs modeled after those used in the Boston Marathon bombing. He allegedly planned to broadcast the attack live on the Internet, a testament to the centrality of the Internet in terrorist activity.

According to court documents, Ciccolo had initially considered an attack on civilians, military and law enforcement, for which he also allegedly considered using pressure cooker bombs. As many as 5 other domestic plots in 2015 targeted the military, and as many as 3 other plots targeted law enforcement. At least 2 other domestic plots in 2015 involved attempts at replicating the pressure cooker bombs used in the Boston Marathon bombing.

A series of Facebook posts analyzed by ADL in December 2014 in which Ciccolo posted using the name Ali NoSisters Al Amriki (previously Ali Al Amriki, with the middle name added to indicate that he did not want women to add him as a friend, a further demonstration of his religious extremism) reveal Ciccolo’s apparent embrace of terrorist ideology.

Ciccolo Facebook post ISIS Syria father dream

One of Ciccolo’s Facebook posts

In a post dated December 1, 2014, he described a dream in which he was “running to Sham (Syria), climbing over walls, over fences, through train stations and across the country. It seemed like everyone was trying to stop me from getting to Sham. I eventually stopped running and turned around. There was a man pointing a pistol at me and my father was with him. I kept telling them to let me go, I was trying to reason with them. They wouldn’t listen and continued trying to harm me. I then had to kill this man and my father.” In the same post, he also described a second dream in which he “needed weapons desperately, so I came up with a plan and stole the rifles an (AR15, and a shotgun) out of the trunk of a police car.”

Two days later, Ciccolo posted a paragraph about ISIS capturing weapons supplied by the U.S. and Israel (which he calls the “kuffar alliance,” or apostate alliance) resulting in both countries

Cicollo posted support for ISIS on Facebook

Cicollo posted support for ISIS on Facebook

“working against [themselves]” and “rot[ting] themselves from the inside out. They will suffer severe Hellfire and they will find themselves tortured souls.” One of Ciccolo’s Facebook friends commented on this post saying, “may almighty Allah help isis and in shaa allah rab (God willing) we shall become victorious above the shayatin (devils).”

Other statements further indicated his extremist and conspiratorial beliefs.

  •  “I only hope that I can serve Him the best I can and die a good death” (possibly referring to dying as a terrorist; posted December 1, 2014)
  • “If one does not learn to subjugate the other, one quickly finds the boot of the latter on his throat,” (December 16, 2014)
  •  “It is totally impossible to free associate with kuffar (apostates) if you are a practicing Muslim.” (December 23, 2014)
  • “The kuffar (apostates) contaminated all the food. Can someone please send me a complete halal food list for the United States?” (December 26, 2014)

According to court documents, Ciccolo also praised the June 2015 attack on a beach and hotel in Tunisia, calling it “awesome” and “a huge accomplishment.” Court documents also indicate that, earlier in the year, he posted a statement on Facebook that read, “Thank you Islamic State! Now we won’t have to deal with these kafir back in America” (with an image of a dead U.S. soldier; posted October 17, 2014)

Cicollo posted on Facebook about seeing Adolf Hitler

Cicollo posted on Facebook about seeing Adolf Hitler

Some of Ciccolo’s ideas may have also been fueled by anti-Semitic sentiments.On December 22, Ciccolo described a dream he claimed to have had in which he was “dressed in an SS uniform” inspecting children in a school and then he “saw Hitler and his face was so bright and beautiful.”

Ciccolo is one of at least 15 converts to Islam linked to terrorism in the U.S. this year. And he is far from having grown up with extremist ideologies: His father is a captain in the Boston police and reportedly informed counter-terrorism investigators of his son’s increasing radicalization.

He is the fourth man linked to terror plots in New England in 2015. Ciccolo’s alleged plot makes the 13th known domestic plot apparently inspired by Islamic extremist ideology this year.

News reports indicate that Ciccolo may suffer from mental illness.

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April 2, 2015

NY Arrests Put Spotlight on Female Islamic Extremists

Update — 4/6/15: Another woman, Keonna Thomas of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was charged on April 3, 2015 with providing material support to a terrorist organization by allegedly attempting to join ISIS.

Two Brooklyn women arrested today on charges of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction are the 11th and 12th U.S. women linked to terrorism motivated by Islamic extremism since 2014. Women engag­ing with ter­ror­ist groups is not a new phe­nom­e­non, but their numbers have dramatically increased since 2014: ADL has documented 12 female U.S. residents linked to terrorism in the last 15 months – the same as the total number of women in the 11 years between 2002 and 2013.

A poem by Asia Siddiqui published in the extremist magazine Jihad Recollections

A poem by Asia Siddiqui in the extremist magazine Jihad Recollections

Noelle Velentzas, a 28-year-old U.S. citizen from Brooklyn, New York and Asia Siddiqui, a 31-year-old U.S. citizen from Brooklyn, New York and Velentzas’s former roommate, allegedly researched how to make explosive devices and purchased the materials necessary to do so. Although court documents do not indicate that they had chosen a target, they expressed a preference for attacking law enforcement and U.S. government and military facilities.

The two made clear that they were motivated by Islamic extremism. According to court documents, Velentzas praised the 9/11 attacks and repeatedly stated that her heroes are Osama bin Laden and his mentor, Abdullah Azzam.

Moreover, Velentzas and Siddiqui have an extensive history of engaging with radical extremism online. In 2006, according to court documents, Siddiqui “became close with Samir Khan,” who went on to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and, together with AQAP propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, founded Inspire magazine, the group’s primary English-language magazine. In 2009, Siddiqui wrote a poem that was published in Jihad Recollections, an earlier magazine that Khan produced.

Extremist magazines including Jihad Recollections and Inspire have actively encouraged submissions from readers in the hope that having their work published will lead the readers to become further entrenched in the extremist organization. Siddiqui herself allegedly expressed support for Mohamed Osman Mohamud, another American who was published in Jihad Recollections and who went on to attempt a domestic attack – in his case, the attempted bombing of the Portland, OR Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2010.

Other Americans that have written for Jihad Recollections include Younes Abdullah Muhammad (aka Jesse Curtis Morton), a co-founder of now-defunct extremist group Revolution Muslim. Muhammad is currently in prison, having pleaded guilty to threatening the creators of South Park.

Siddiqui and Velentzas also appeared to have been inspired by other domestic attacks, including the Boston Marathon bombing.

Court documents indicate that Siddiqui told an undercover informant “Velentzas has been obsessed with pressure cookers since the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013 and often makes comments about pressure cookers,” and Velentzas told the informant that “she had recently received a pressure cooker as a present, and joked about cooking something in the pressure cooker, then laughed and added, ‘food,’ – a reference to explosive materials.”

Image from an article on making car bombs in the  Spring 2014 issue of Inspire

Image from an article on making car bombs in the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire

Like the Tsarnaev brothers, who are accused of having perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing, Siddiqui and Velentzas attempted to learn how to make bombs from Inspire magazine. Referring to the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire that provided instructions for the construction and placement of car bombs, Velentzas allegedly stated that “Inspire magazine was useful…to learn how to ‘valet’ his/her car and how to cook ‘food.’” She regularly used the word “food” as a euphemism for explosives.

The two also allegedly watched ISIS propaganda videos online, including beheading and recruitment videos, and expressed affinity for ISIS. According to court documents, Velentzas stated that she wanted them to be referred to as “citizens of the Islamic State,” and “that attacks on ISIS were tantamount to attacks on her own state.”

Velentzas was also reportedly friends on Facebook with Tairod Pugh, a New Jersey man arrested in March for attempting to join ISIS.

Seventeen U.S. residents in total have been arrested on Islamic extremism motivated terror charges in 2015, 6 of whom were from New York State. If arrests continue at the current rate, it will reflect a marked increase of arrests over the last three years, corresponding to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its aggressive recruitment and propaganda campaigns.

Twenty-five U.S. residents in total were linked to Islamic extremism in 2014, and 14 in 2013, although significant numbers of individuals not identified are believed to have traveled abroad to join terrorist groups.

This morning’s arrest also marked the fourth instance of a domestic attack plot in 2015. In Jan­u­ary, Ohio res­i­dent Christo­pher Lee Cor­nell was arrested for his plot to attack the U.S. Capi­tol after fail­ing to con­nect with ISIS mem­bers abroad and in Feb­ru­ary, New York City res­i­dents Abdura­sul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhme­tov were arrested for attempt­ing to join ISIS and dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of a domes­tic attack if they were unable to do so, and in March, Hasan and Jonas Edmonds were arrested for allegedly attempting to join ISIS and plotting an attack against a military base.

Notably, there were no known domestic plots in 2014; the current increase may be related to an increase in ISIS propaganda encouraging such attacks.

Thirty-five U.S. residents have been publicly linked to or cited inspiration from ISIS since 2014.

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