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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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June 27, 2016

New AQAP Publication Encourages Additional Attacks Following Orlando

AQAP Inspire pamphlet encourages attacks following Orlando

Cover of the AQAP pamphlet, featuring an image of Omar Mateen

Al Malahem media, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s propaganda wing, released a pamphlet on June 23 that praised the Orlando shooting and provided suggestions for copying it and making additional attacks both more lethal and better suited to AQAP’s propaganda aims.

The four-page PDF pamphlet, which was released on Telegram, was titled “Inspire Guide: Orlando Operation,” and included multiple references to Inspire magazine, AQAP’s English-language propaganda magazine.

The pamphlet indicated that its goal was to “[provide] guidance to the Lone Mujahid (fighter)” and to “follow-up, guide, put right and correct Lone Jihad operations in order to realize the best military and political results that serve the general policy of the Mujahidin (fighters) in our war with America.”

This follows in the path of recent issues of Inspire magazine, which have focused on small scale attacks that can be conducted by individual supporters of AQAP.

The pamphlet praised the fact that the shooting was against a large public gathering in an enclosed area, and that the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, owned his gun and had prior firearms training. It suggested as well that Mateen was able to cause more destruction because, it claimed, “those present in the nightclub were drunk.”

However, the pamphlet suggested that it would be best for future perpetrators not to target specific groups in society, such as Latinos or the LGBT community, because the focus of news coverage would then be on the group targeted, rather than on the overall terrorist element of the attack.

Despite its suggestion to target more heterogeneous groups for strategic purposes, the pamphlet did not shy away from anti-LGBT incitement. Rather, its critique was couched by the statement that “the killing of such people is the most binding duty and closer to human nature, but better than this is to avoid targeting areas where minorities are found.” ADL recently published an analysis of anti-gay rhetoric in Inspire and in ISIS’s English-language magazine, Dabiq.

Interestingly, the pamphlet nods to the fact that Mateen indicated support for ISIS, not Al Qaeda, while conducting the attack, stating, “Lone Jihad is not monopolized by al-Qaida (sic) or any other group, therefore we call upon all active Jihadi groups, to adopt and build upon the idea of Lone Jihad and call towards it.” However, it encourages would-be future perpetrators to refer to bomb-making instructions in past issues of Inspire magazine to make their attacks more deadly. An attack with weapons clearly taken from Inspire magazine’s suggestions would enable AQAP to claim some degree of credit.

To date, the Boston Marathon bombing is the only domestic attack that was fully carried out that utilized directions from Inspire magazine. However, the magazine 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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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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