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January 16, 2015

Ohio Arrest Is First Islamic Extremism Related Plot Since 2013

Christopher Lee Cornell

Christopher Lee Cornell

Wednesday’s arrest of Christopher Lee Cornell, a 20-year-old U.S. citizen from Ohio, marked the first Islamic extremism-related arrest of 2015 and the first incident of an attempted domestic terror attack motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam since 2013.

Cornell is accused of attempting to attack the U.S. Capitol building by planting and detonating pipe bombs at and near the building and then using a semi-automatic rifle to increase casualty counts. The plot was the first since December 2013, when Kansas resident Terry Lee Loewen allegedly attempted to bomb the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

Cornell’s alleged plot comes at a time of increasing calls for violence and homegrown extremism by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria(ISIS), as well as the continued influence of Al Qaeda propagandists including Anwar al-Awlaki and the power of social media in the modern radicalization process.  Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011, was an English-language spokesman for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Cornell was reportedly hoping to undertake his attack as a way to support ISIS. This fits with current trends in extremism: The vast majority of the identified Americans known to have engaged with extremism in 2014 sought to join or aid ISIS.

Cornell, who used the alias Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, Tweeted ISIS propaganda and Awlaki quotes and apparently found justification for his alleged plot in the propaganda materials he accessed from ISIS and Anwar al-Awlaki.

Although ISIS leadership is currently at odds with Al Qaeda leadership, the group still cites Awlaki as an ideological leader. It is not uncommon for apparent terrorist supports online to share materials from both including ISIS and AQAP despite fighting between the groups’ leadership.

According to court documents, Cornell claimed to have contacted members of ISIS in hopes that they would assist him in his efforts to attack the U.S. He also watched extremist videos and used his computer to research bomb making instructions and information about how to purchase firearms, and he communicated with an undercover informant he believed to be a co-conspirator using instant messaging services. He told the informant “I believe that we should just wage jihad under our own orders and plan attacks,” according to court documents.

Some of his apparent Tweets indicated support for lone wolf attacks, including one that praised attacks in Canada by Martin Rouleau Couture and Michael Zehaf Bibeau stating, “May Allah reward the brothers who fought and received Shahada (martyrdom) in Canada! May these recent attacks send terror into the hearts of the kufr (disbelievers)!

According to family members, Cornell had converted to Islam less than a year prior to his arrest.

According to FBI Director James Comey, the FBI is currently tracking nearly 150 Americans who traveled to Syria, “a significant number” of whom went there to fight. Other reports have indicated that close to 90 additional Americans are believed to have died fighting or attempted to travel abroad to join extremist groups but failed.

17 of the 22 individuals who have been publicly identified as engaging in terrorism in 2014 sought to join or aid ISIS.

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August 28, 2014

Ferguson = Gaza: Manufacturing A False Comparison


Protesters on the Manhattan Bridge

See also: Ferguson = Gaza: The Continued Invocation Of A False Comparison

As events in Gaza and high profile police brutality cases have continued to dominate recent headlines, a number of groups and individuals have tried to find a connection between these unrelated events in an attempt to bring attention to their activism.

Several anti-Israel groups have couched their hostility towards Israel in social justice terms by linking the conflict in Gaza to the events in Ferguson in an attempt to appeal to a broader base of support. For example:

  • Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine advertised a September 2 event on Facebook: “From Ferguson to Palestine, racism, injustice and human rights violations are being committed against people of color.”
  • The Ohio Palestine Solidarity Group sponsored an August 25 demonstration at Ohio State University’s African American and African Studies Community Extension Center, “to show our love and support for members of our Columbus community who have lost innocent loved ones in Gaza in recent Israeli attacks, to stand in solidarity with Michael Brown, John Crawford, and victims of racism and police brutality all over the US…”
  • At protests in Oakland on August 23, anti-Israel protesters reportedly shouted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” co-opting the chant used at Ferguson protests
  • An advertisement for an August 22 Indiana Palestine Solidarity event on Facebook read: “The disregard and disrespect for black bodies and black life is endemic to the white supremacist system that rules the land. Your struggles through the ages have been an inspiration to us as we fight daily for the most basic human dignities in our own homeland against the racist Zionist regime that considers us less human.”
  • On August 20, the Palestinian BDS National Committee issued a statement saying, “We recognize those tactics being used in Ferguson and the mentality behind them…the methods of unbri dled violence and control being used by security forces are all too familiar to Palestinians living under Israel’s decade-old occupation.”
  • On August 20, protesters on the Manhattan Bridge chanted, “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation has got to go.” At least one protester held a sign that read “We are FERGUSON We are GAZA, because We are Human.”
  • In an August 20 press release, Jewish Voice for Peace stated, “We recognize that the devaluing of African-American lives built into the fabric of US government and society is mirrored in Israel’s unequal treatment of Palestinians…It’s also not surprising to see the similarity in the tactics and technologies of repression against those who are rising up nonviolently in both places.”

Protest in Staten Island

While some are simply trying to rouse support for an anti-Israel agenda by attracting like-minded activists, others have gone so far as to imply that Israel is to blame for the violence in Ferguson.

This allegation surfaced in a tweet by Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). On August 14, Parsi tweeted, “Wondering why the excessive police violence? Here’s a guess: #Ferguson police chief got training in Israel…#Gaza.” An August 15 article from San Francisco Bay View titled “Israel-trained police ‘occupy’ Missouri after killing of Black youth” echoed this sentiment.

Similar comparisons have appeared at protests regarding other high profile police brutality cases, such as at an August 23 rally calling for justice in the death of Eric Garner, who was unarmed when killed by an NYPD officer earlier this summer. Among the posters seen at the protest were “Google It!!! Israel trains the NYPD.”

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March 7, 2014

ADL-Led Coalition Defends The Hate Crimes Prevention Act

The Anti-Defamation League has filed an amicus brief in a case pending before the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a broad coalition of civil rights, religious, educational, and law enforcement organizations in support of the constitutionality of the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA).  This is the first coalition brief defending the Act, and it attracted some of the most prominent and important civil rights, religious, law enforcement, LGBT, educational, and professional organizations in the country. HCPA-brief

The cases involve Samuel Mullet Sr., the self-appointed Bishop of an Old Order Amish sect in central eastern Ohio, who ordered more than a dozen of his followers to engage in violent beard-and hair-cutting attacks against church members who had rebelled against his domineering control.

The victims of these religiously-motivated crimes were being punished: they had not obeyed Mullet’s edicts and “strayed from the true path.”  Married men in this Amish community typically grow long beards and the women grow their hair long and keep it covered under a prayer bonnet.  Beards and hair are sacred symbols of their religious identity.

The assailants invaded the victims’ homes or lured them into the open before attacking them. They forcibly cut their hair and beards using a variety of implements, including horse shears and electric beard trimmers. The attackers took pictures of their assaults to compound and memorialize the victims’ shame, and then buried the camera.

The attacks inspired fear throughout the Amish communities in the region. In September 2012, Mullet and his followers were tried and convicted of federal conspiracy, kidnapping, and violating the HCPA. U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster eloquently described the defendants’ actions during sentencing: “you did more than just terrorize, traumatize, disfigure your victims, you trampled on the Constitution, and particularly the First Amendment which guarantees each and every American religious freedom.”

The defendants, Mullet and his followers, are now appealing the case, challenging their convictions and sentences on the grounds that the HCPA is unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment, and that the HCPA cannot apply to a case in which the perpetrators and victims are of the same religion.

The ADL coalition brief counters each of these arguments.

First, the brief argues the fact that the perpetrators identify as the same religion as the victims does not shield them from culpability under the HCPA: “To exempt intra-faith crimes from the HCPA would ignore many acts of bias-motivated violence that that devastating effects on communities.”

Second, the brief clearly demonstrates that the HCPA does not infringe on the defendants’  religious freedom rights:  “Appellants are, and always have been, free to speak their minds and free to worship in any way they wish.  They simply are not free to target victims for violent crimes because of religion.”

The list of organizations joining ADL and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on this brief includes American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Association of University Women, American Federation of Teachers, American Jewish Committee, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, B’nai B’rith International, GLSEN, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hindu American Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights First, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Japanese American Citizens League, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Women International, Muslim Advocates, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Council of Jewish Women, National Disability Rights Network, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Organization for Women Foundation, National Urban League, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, People For the American Way Foundation, PFLAG National, Police Executive Research Forum, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sikh Coalition, Society for Humanistic Judaism, South Asian Americans Leading Together, Southern Poverty Law Center, Union of Reform Judaism, UNITED SIKHS, Women of Reform Judaism, and Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

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