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August 12, 2015 0

From Charleston to Chattanooga: The Face of Terror in America

By Oren Segal and Mark Pit­cav­age
Direc­tors of the Anti-Defamation League’s Cen­ter on Extremism

Ter­ror­ism is some­times referred to as the “face­less enemy,” but it has hardly been face­less in the United States this sum­mer.  Too many peo­ple have emerged from the shad­ows to inflict death and suffering.

The parade of vio­lence has seemed unend­ing, from Elton Simp­son and Nadir Soofi, who attacked police offi­cers pro­vid­ing secu­rity for the so-called “Muham­mad Art Exhibit” in Texas in May, to John Houser, the Hitler-admiring man obsessed with the moral decay of Amer­ica who recently opened fire at a Louisiana movie the­ater show­ing the movie Train­wreck.

Of the var­i­ous killers and would-be killers this sum­mer, two stand out.  The first is Dylann Storm Roof, the white suprema­cist who allegedly con­fessed to the June mas­sacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Car­olina, that left nine African-Americans dead.dylann-storm-roof-gun-confederate-flag-600

The sec­ond is Muham­mad Youssef Abdu­lazeez, who in July engaged in a shoot­ing spree tar­get­ing a Chat­tanooga mil­i­tary recruit­ing cen­ter and a nearby naval reserve cen­ter.  Abdu­lazeez, who may have been inspired by rad­i­cal Mus­lim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed five people—all mil­i­tary personnel—before being killed by police.

In many ways, Roof and Abdu­lazeez per­son­ify America’s ter­ror­ist threat; they are the faces of the “face­less enemy.”  Most obvi­ously, each rep­re­sents a major source of ter­ror­ism.  Roof was a white suprema­cist who allegedly hoped to start a “race war” in which whites would pre­vail.  White suprema­cists have for decades been the most pro­lific source of domes­tic extremist-related lethal vio­lence.  Along with the other main seg­ment of the extreme right, anti-government mili­tia groups and sov­er­eign cit­i­zens, they are respon­si­ble for the great major­ity of extremist-related deaths in the U.S.

Abdu­lazeez, on whom there is less infor­ma­tion regard­ing moti­va­tion, may well have latched onto the ideas of al-Awlaki—including his encour­age­ment of attacks on mil­i­tary targets—as a way to atone for some of his per­sonal demons, includ­ing drugs and alco­hol.  Domes­tic Islamic extrem­ists have in recent years attempted or con­ducted a large num­ber of ter­ror­ist plots, con­spir­a­cies and acts, despite being fewer in num­ber than right-wing extremists.

Both men also chose tar­gets typ­i­cal of their move­ments.  For Abdu­lazeez, it was the mil­i­tary; here he fol­lowed in the foot­steps of Abdul­hakim Mujahid Muham­mad, who killed a sol­dier at a recruit­ing cen­ter in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas, in 2009, and Nidal Malik Has­san, who killed 13 peo­ple at Fort Hood, Texas, that same year.  Other Islamic extrem­ists have also recently plot­ted attacks against mil­i­tary tar­gets in the U.S., though with­out success.mohammad-youssef-abdulazeez

Roof went on a shoot­ing ram­page against African-Americans.  Sprees of vio­lence against racial, eth­nic, or reli­gious minori­ties are a com­mon type of white suprema­cist ter­ror­ism.  In recent years, there have been a num­ber of such episodes, includ­ing Fra­zier Glenn Miller’s attacks on Jew­ish insti­tu­tions in Over­land Park, Kansas, in 2014; Wade Michael Page’s ram­page at a Sikh tem­ple in Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin, in 2012, and Keith Luke’s attacks on African immi­grants in Brock­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts, in 2009.

Both Roof and Abdu­lazeez used firearms for their attacks, which is also typ­i­cal of Amer­i­can ter­ror­ism.  Although the pub­lic usu­ally thinks of ter­ror­ism in terms of bombs, ter­ror­ists like Ted Kaczyn­ski and the Boston Marathon bombers are rare in Amer­ica.  The vast major­ity of extremist-related mur­ders involve guns—easy to acquire, sim­ple to use, and deadly.  This is why Charleston and Chat­tanooga num­ber among the 10 dead­liest extremist-related attacks of the past 50 years.  Indeed, with the excep­tion of the Okla­homa City bomb­ing, the “top 10” attacks all involved firearms.

Abdu­lazeez and Roof were both young men, dis­af­fected, fac­ing per­sonal stresses of dif­fer­ent kinds (Abdu­lazeez also suf­fered from men­tal ill­ness).  Although ter­ror­ism knows no age limits—Nidal Hasan was 39 at the time of his Fort Hood ram­page, while white suprema­cist James Von Brunn, who attacked the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­ial Museum in 2009, was in his late 80s—many of the attacks and plots in recent years by both Islamic and right-wing extrem­ists have been com­mit­ted by men in their mid-20s or younger.

Like Abdu­lazeez and Roof, a num­ber of these extrem­ists com­mit­ted their attacks as lone wolves, unat­tached to any par­tic­u­lar group.  Over­all, the num­ber of lethal lone wolf attacks in the past two decades has been fairly low, num­ber­ing only a few dozen, but in recent years, lone wolves seem to have been emerg­ing at a faster rate.  One rea­son may be the increas­ing role played by the Inter­net in facil­i­tat­ing self-radicalization.  It was through the Inter­net that Roof edu­cated him­self in white supremacy; it was via the Inter­net that Abdu­lazeez down­loaded record­ings of al-Awlaki.

Here one can see a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence between right-wing extrem­ists and domes­tic Islamic rad­i­cals.  While they can both eas­ily immerse them­selves in a sea of on-line pro­pa­ganda designed to instill and rein­force extreme views, right-wing extrem­ist Inter­net sources are pri­mar­ily based in the United States and, there­fore, must watch what they say.  White suprema­cists who openly use the Inter­net to encour­age vio­lence and ter­ror­ism open them­selves up to crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion and, if vio­lence occurs, pos­si­ble civil lia­bil­ity; as a result, their encour­age­ment of vio­lence is often more implicit than explicit.

Domes­tic Islamic extrem­ists, in con­trast, receive most of their rad­i­cal­iz­ing mes­sages from abroad, from ter­ror­ist groups and like-minded sup­port­ers who are freer to use the Inter­net to call for vio­lence and ter­ror­ism within the U.S.  Pro­pa­ganda from Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula, for exam­ple, was an inspi­ra­tion for the Boston Marathon bomb­ing.  In the past two years, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken such tac­tics to a new level alto­gether, employ­ing a vir­tual army of on-line recruiters who use social media plat­forms to reach and rad­i­cal­ize sus­cep­ti­ble indi­vid­u­als across the globe.  Seek­ing to instill a deep sense of com­mu­nity and pur­pose, ISIS sup­port­ers encour­age Amer­i­cans to come to the Mid­dle East to help it fight its wars—many of the 80+ U.S. res­i­dents linked to Islamic extrem­ist activ­ity since 2014 have made such attempts. But ISIS also urges peo­ple to launch attacks in the U.S.

Roof and Abdu­lazeez were both cold-blooded killers.  Their attacks deeply affected the cit­i­zens of Charleston and Chat­tanooga and, indeed, the whole coun­try, though not always in the same ways.  In par­tic­u­lar, the Chat­tanooga shoot­ings, like some sim­i­lar attacks before them, stirred anti-Muslim sen­ti­ments directed at America’s entire Mus­lim com­mu­nity, a dis­turb­ing phe­nom­e­non for which there is no par­al­lel with regard to white suprema­cist attacks.

But their attacks were sim­i­lar in that they were both essen­tially futile, able to achieve lit­tle but death and mis­ery.  Indeed, the reac­tions to the attacks illus­trate just how inef­fec­tive they actu­ally were.  The Chat­tanooga attack, for exam­ple, inspired an out­pour­ing of sup­port for the U.S. mil­i­tary. The Charleston response was even more pow­er­ful.  Far from start­ing a “race war,” Roof’s slaugh­ter not only brought Charlesto­ni­ans of all races together but also resulted in a bipar­ti­san effort to remove the Con­fed­er­ate flag from the South Car­olina capitol.

Amer­i­can extrem­ists, of what­ever stripe, can hurt and even kill, but the one thing they can’t do is win.

Mr. Segal is an author­ity on Islamic extrem­ism and ter­ror­ism in the United States; Dr. Pit­cav­age is an expert on right-wing extrem­ism and ter­ror­ism in the United States.

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July 23, 2015 5

Help Take ISIS Videos Off WordPress

Ansar Khilafah promotes terrorist propaganda on WordPress

Screen­shot from the site

The Anti-Defamation League con­tacted Word­Press about a web­site it hosts that fea­tures hun­dreds of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) pro­pa­ganda videos, state­ments and publications.

This par­tic­u­lar web­site includes pro­pa­ganda released by ISIS and other ter­ror groups in Eng­lish, French, Turk­ish, Dutch, Ara­bic and other lan­guages. Among the hun­dreds of items on the site are behead­ing and exe­cu­tion videos, as well as videos and arti­cles encour­ag­ing West­ern­ers to travel to join ISIS or to com­mit attacks on its behalf in their home countries.

Help us urge Word­Press to remove this web­site from its plat­form. Copy this URL https://ansarkhilafah.wordpress.com and paste it into the Word­Press com­plaint form. Mark it as “abu­sive” and tell Word­Press that it’s NOT OK to sup­port ter­ror­ist content.

The pro­pa­ganda made avail­able by this web­site comes from var­i­ous ISIS media out­lets, includ­ing Al Hayat Media, Al Furqan Media, Al-I’tisam Media and Ajnad Media. The site also has a sec­tion for ISIS’ English-language mag­a­zine Dabiq.

Ansar Khilafah blog on WordPress features ISIS propaganda

Screen­shot from the site

Online repos­i­to­ries of ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda are not new. In Feb­ru­ary 2015, an ISIS sup­porter cre­ated a web­site called IS-Tube. Sim­i­lar to the Word­Press site, IS-Tube pro­vided access to an archive of search­able ISIS pro­pa­ganda videos. IS-Tube was hosted on a Google-owned IP bloc, and Google quickly removed the site after ADL noti­fied the com­pany of its pres­ence. Both IS-Tube and the Word­Press site appear to have orig­i­nated in the Netherlands.

In July 2014, ISIS attempted to move its online pres­ence away from Twit­ter – where its accounts were reg­u­larly shut down – to alter­nate social media plat­forms Frien­dica and Quit­ter. ADL pub­li­cized the move and Frien­dica and Quit­ter quickly removed all ISIS pres­ence from their platforms.

If you come across such con­tent on other plat­forms, the ADL’s Cyber-Safety Action Guide pro­vides resources on flag­ging con­tent directly with host companies.

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July 13, 2015 0

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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