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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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April 14, 2015 3

New ISIS Videos Threaten U.S. Amid Increase In Domestic Plots

Image promoting new ISIS video

Image pro­mot­ing new ISIS video

Two new videos released this week by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) demon­strate a ramp­ing up of threats against the U.S. as ter­ror groups increas­ingly call for home­grown attacks against West­ern coun­tries – and as indi­vid­u­als increas­ingly appear to be heed­ing those calls.

Recent arrests of U.S. res­i­dents plan­ning domes­tic attacks in ISIS’s name indi­cates that such calls for vio­lence can have an impact on Amer­i­cans moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ism and the pro­pa­ganda they find online dis­trib­uted by ISIS and other ter­ror groups.

There have been five alleged instances of domes­tic plots in the U.S. in 2015, rang­ing from con­ver­sa­tions about the pos­si­bil­ity of attack to actual attempted attacks. All were report­edly planned by indi­vid­u­als claim­ing alle­giance to ISIS.

  • Christo­pher Lee Cor­nell of Ohio, arrested in Jan­u­ary for his alleged plot to attack the U.S. Capi­tol after fail­ing to con­nect with ISIS mem­bers abroad.
  • Abdura­sul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhme­tov of New York, arrested in Feb­ru­ary and charged with mate­r­ial sup­port for ter­ror. Court doc­u­ments state they were attempt­ing to join ISIS and dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of a domes­tic attack.
  • Hasan and Jonas Edmonds of Illi­nois, arrested in March and charged with attempt­ing to join ISIS and plot­ting an attack against a mil­i­tary base.
  • Noelle Velentzas and Asia Sid­diqui of New York, arrested in April for allegedly pur­chas­ing bomb-making equip­ment with plans for an attack.
  • John T. Booker and Alexan­der Blair of Kansas, arrested in April for allegedly attempt­ing to under­take a sui­cide attack at the Ft. Riley mil­i­tary base.

These are among the 23 U.S. res­i­dents arrested on ter­ror charges thus far in 2015, all but two of whom claimed alle­giance to ISIS.

Both of the videos released this week fea­ture ref­er­ences to pre­vi­ous ter­ror attacks in West­ern coun­tries and footage of bru­tal exe­cu­tions of ISIS vic­tims in Iraq and Syria, as well as encour­age­ment of individually-directed domes­tic plots.

One of the videos, released on April 10, was titled “We Will Burn Amer­ica.” It fea­tured footage and praise of the Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Cen­ter along with nar­ra­tion in Ara­bic with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles stat­ing, “Sep­tem­ber 11 will be repeated.”

The video also fea­tures images from the attack on the Paris kosher super­mar­ket and shoot­ings in Canada, both of which were under­taken by indi­vid­u­als act­ing in ISIS’s name, as well as images of behead­ings by ISIS. Its style was rem­i­nis­cent of ISIS’s feature-film-length pro­pa­ganda video “Flames of War,” which was shot to resem­ble an action movie and high­lights the group’s ide­o­log­i­cal claims of a bat­tle between good and evil, Islam and the West.

“We Will Burn Amer­ica” was released on Twit­ter with the hash­tag #we_will_burn_america. ISIS reg­u­larly encour­ages its sup­port­ers to par­tic­i­pate in hash­tag cam­paigns designed to arti­fi­cially cre­ate trend­ing items and spread the group’s pro­pa­ganda. Last sum­mer, the group under­took two hash­tag cam­paigns sim­i­larly threat­en­ing the U.S., with the hash­tags #Calami­ty­Will­Be­fal­lUS and #AMes­sage­FromI­SIS­ToUS.

The sec­ond video, released April 14, takes the form of a music video encour­ag­ing lone-wolf attacks and threat­en­ing West­ern coun­tries. The lan­guage is Ger­man, with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. ISIS has released mul­ti­ple music videos to appeal to young audi­ences while con­vey­ing the group’s messages.

A screenshot from the new ISIS music video

A screen­shot from the new ISIS music video

Addressed “to the ene­mies of Allah,” the video’s nar­ra­tion states that “this is a mes­sage and more are going to fol­low.” The video por­trays a man read­ing the Qu’ran and watch­ing ISIS pro­pa­ganda on his com­puter, includ­ing graphic videos of behead­ings, the burn­ing of the Jor­dan­ian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, mass killings, and wounded sol­diers. “We want your blood,” it states, “it tastes so wonderful.”

It then shows indi­vid­u­als prepar­ing for dif­fer­ent types of domes­tic attacks, includ­ing a stab­bing, car bomb, and a sui­cide bomb­ing in Times Square, as well as learn­ing about gun use and bomb-making online – seem­ingly exam­ples for would-be domes­tic attack­ers and an acknowl­edg­ment of the impor­tance of online ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda. Images of pre­vi­ous attacks against the West, includ­ing the attack against the Paris kosher super­mar­ket, are shown as well. “In France it has been proven by deeds. Ger­man sleeper cell are wait­ing,” it states. “Allah has called you! … Your neigh­bor is a kaf­fir (apos­tate)… take a big knife and give him what he rightly deserves.”

The release of the videos comes as ISIS is los­ing ter­ri­tory and recruits in the Mid­dle East. Losses by ter­ror­ist groups have often cor­re­sponded with increased calls for attacks abroad, which do not require resource expen­di­ture by the ter­ror group itself and can then be claimed as vic­to­ries for the group. Al Shabaab, for exam­ple, has sim­i­larly released calls for domes­tic attacks abroad in the past year as it under­goes losses of recruits, lead­er­ship, and ter­ri­tory in Soma­lia and its sur­round­ing countries.

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February 17, 2015 1

New ADL Report: Homegrown Islamic Extremism In 2014

homegrown-terrorism-isis-imageThe rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its increas­ingly sophis­ti­cated social media com­mu­ni­ca­tion and recruit­ment strate­gies influ­enced a diverse group of peo­ple from around the world, includ­ing from the United States, through­out 2014.

The ADL’s new report, Home­grown Islamic Extrem­ism in 2014: The Rise of ISIS and Sus­tained Online Rad­i­cal­iza­tion, presents key find­ings and trends that result from ISIS’s increas­ing reach, and its ram­i­fi­ca­tions on domes­tic security.

The report describes how at least 17 Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents moti­vated by the ide­ol­ogy prop­a­gated by ISIS and other Islamic ter­ror­ist groups over­seas were charged in 2014 with terror-related offenses.

Three oth­ers were iden­ti­fied as hav­ing died while fight­ing with ter­ror­ist groups abroad and an addi­tional five minors are believed to have attempted to join such groups but were not charged. Of these 25, nearly all engaged to some degree with online ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda and 19 are believed to have attempted to join or aid ISIS.

These indi­vid­u­als range in age from 15 to 44, with 11 in their twen­ties and 7 in their teens. At least one quar­ter were con­verts to Islam. 32% were women.

The report also draws on find­ings from pre­vi­ous years, not­ing for exam­ple that res­i­dents from 20 states have been charged in con­nec­tion with Islamic extrem­ism since 2012.

In addi­tion, the report describes the new phe­nom­e­non of crim­i­nal acts that have not been defined by author­i­ties as ter­ror­ism but that have been influ­enced by ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda – includ­ing mur­ders in New Jer­sey and Okla­homa and an attempted mur­der in New York in 2014.

Finally, it ana­lyzes cur­rent ter­ror­ist nar­ra­tives and recruit­ing tech­niques, includ­ing their use of social media to attract increas­ing num­bers of fol­low­ers and the way anti-Semitism is used to moti­vate recruits.

The full report is avail­able on the ADL web­site.

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