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June 23, 2016 0

13th U.S. Resident Linked to Islamic Extremism in 2016

Akram Musleh of Indiana, arrested for attempting to travel to join ISIS

Akram Musleh

Akram Musleh, an 18-year-old res­i­dent of Browns­burg, Indi­ana, was arrested on June 21 for attempt­ing to travel to join ISIS. Court doc­u­ments indi­cate that Musleh had been engag­ing with ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda since at least 2013, when Musleh was a 15-year-old high school student.

Accord­ing to author­i­ties, the FBI first came into con­tact with Musleh after it was dis­cov­ered that he posted three videos of Anwar al-Awlaki to YouTube in August 2013. Awlaki, an Amer­i­can cleric and English-language pro­pa­gan­dist for Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula, was killed in a drone strike in 2011, but his speeches and quotes remain pop­u­lar among extrem­ist indi­vid­u­als and those rad­i­cal­iz­ing today. Indeed, the major­ity of U.S. res­i­dents linked to ter­ror moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ism since 2011 have allegedly down­loaded mate­r­ial cre­ated by Awlaki or shared his speeches and state­ments on social media.

Upon find­ing the Awlaki speeches, court doc­u­ments indi­cate that the FBI met with offi­cials at Musleh’s high school, and coor­di­nated with them to dis­cour­age Musleh from radicalizing.

Follow-up took place at Musleh’s school. It is unclear whether any mea­sures could have been effec­tive in Musleh’s case; he had allegedly obtained infor­ma­tion on Awlaki from a fam­ily mem­ber, and so appar­ently had at least one close per­sonal con­tact encour­ag­ing his rad­i­cal­iza­tion. In any event, the mea­sures unfor­tu­nately failed.

In April 2014, court doc­u­ments indi­cate that Musleh asked minors at a park if they wanted to join ISIS. In 2015, Musleh allegedly made mul­ti­ple attempts to travel to Turkey or Iraq, areas adja­cent to ISIS-controlled ter­ri­tory that are often used ini­tially as des­ti­na­tions for indi­vid­u­als attempt­ing to join the group. In 2016, he allegedly researched attack tar­gets and explo­sive mate­ri­als, and then tried again to travel to join ISIS, this time in Libya, where the group has an active fac­tion. He was arrested en route from Indi­ana to New York, where he allegedly intended to catch a plane from John F. Kennedy Inter­na­tional Airport.

Musleh is not the only U.S. res­i­dent to rad­i­cal­ize while still in high school. In 2015, 4 minors in the U.S. were linked to activ­ity moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ist ide­ol­ogy. They are among a total of 25 U.S. res­i­dents aged 21 or younger linked to such activ­ity that year. Seven U.S. teenagers were linked to activ­ity moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ism in 2014.

In recog­ni­tion of this dis­turb­ing trend, ADL has released a series of resources for edu­ca­tors and school admin­is­tra­tors that pro­vide back­ground infor­ma­tion about extrem­ism and mass vio­lence among school-aged indi­vid­u­als and mate­ri­als for cre­at­ing resilience among their stu­dents. Among the mate­ri­als pro­vided is a back­ground report on mass vio­lence and extrem­ism geared specif­i­cally to edu­ca­tors and pro­duced in coop­er­a­tion with START, the National Con­sor­tium for the Study of Ter­ror­ism and Response to Ter­ror­ism, at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land. This back­grounder pro­vides infor­ma­tion about pre­cur­sors to vio­lent activ­ity and estab­lish­ing appro­pri­ate sup­port and refer­ral net­works. A sec­ond resource is a unique les­son plan focused on enabling stu­dents to rec­og­nize pro­pa­ganda if and when they encounter it and to become more dis­crim­i­nat­ing con­sumers of online mate­ri­als. Par­al­lel resources for par­ents are avail­able as well.

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June 15, 2016 1

The Orlando Shooter’s Many Paths to Violence

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 0

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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