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November 17, 2015 3

The Terror Threat to the US in the Wake of the Paris Attacks

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, believed to have been the mastermind of the Paris attacks

Abdel­hamid Abaaoud, a Bel­gian man believed to have been the ring­leader in the Paris attacks

Fol­low­ing the Novem­ber 13 ter­ror attacks in Paris, cities around the world have ramped up secu­rity. While the type of coor­di­nated attacks that have been car­ried out in France can occur in the U.S., an analy­sis of domes­tic Islamic extrem­ist activ­ity and plots in 2015 indi­cates that the U.S. faces a dif­fer­ent threat land­scape than many Euro­pean countries.

Inves­ti­ga­tors still do not have pro­files of all of the indi­vid­u­als alleged to have taken part in the attacks on Paris. How­ever, cer­tain fea­tures of the attack are already apparent.

1. Exter­nal coor­di­na­tion by for­eign ter­ror­ist organizations

The Paris attack is the sec­ond attack in France this year that appears to have been planned, at least in part, by for­eign ter­ror­ist organizations.

By con­trast, only one of the 15 domes­tic attack plots in the U.S. moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ist ide­ol­ogy this year appeared to have had pos­si­ble exter­nal coor­di­na­tion: Abdi­rah­man Sheikh Mohamud, arrested in Feb­ru­ary, had allegedly been plot­ting an attack with some direc­tion from ter­ror­ists in Syria, although the extent of that direc­tion was unclear.

A sec­ond plot, the shoot­ing of a Draw Mohammed con­test at a Gar­land, Texas com­mu­nity cen­ter, was influ­enced by con­ver­sa­tion with ISIS sup­port­ers online, includ­ing some who are believed to be fight­ing abroad. How­ever, it seems that those online sup­port­ers incited activ­ity against the con­test but did not coor­di­nate the plot with the alleged shooters.

2.  For­eign fighter threat

The attack in Paris was allegedly planned in large part by a Bel­gian cit­i­zen who had spent time fight­ing with ISIS in Syria before return­ing to Europe.

Only one indi­vid­ual in the U.S., Abdi­rah­man Sheikh Mohamud, attempted to plot an attack after allegedly fight­ing with extrem­ists in Syria this year. Inter­est­ingly, Mohamud had allegedly fought with Jab­hat al Nusra, Al Qaeda in Syria, and not with ISIS; how­ever, court doc­u­ments indi­cate that he was also sym­pa­thetic to ISIS.

The U.S. also has far fewer indi­vid­u­als who have trav­eled abroad to join ISIS than France or Bel­gium. At least 100 Amer­i­cans are believed to have joined ISIS – approx­i­mately 1 per­son per mil­lion in the U.S. – com­pared with between 1,000 and 1,200, or 18 peo­ple per mil­lion in France and approx­i­mately 440 indi­vid­u­als, or 40 peo­ple per mil­lion, in Bel­gium. As such, the risk of return­ing for­eign fight­ers attempt­ing to per­pe­trate attacks in the U.S. is sta­tis­ti­cally lower than in France or Belgium.

At least 4 indi­vid­u­als believed to have been plan­ning domes­tic plots in 2015 allegedly con­ceived of their plots after find­ing them­selves unable to travel to join ISIS. At least 3 indi­vid­u­als allegedly planned to travel to join ISIS after per­pe­trat­ing an attack.

In total, 29 U.S. res­i­dents arrested in 2015 allegedly attempted to join ISIS.

3. Plot size

At least ten indi­vid­u­als are believed to have taken part in the attacks in Paris.

By con­trast, the major­ity of attack plots in the U.S. this year have been in small groups. Eight plots were allegedly planned by indi­vid­u­als (but not lone wolves, as they were often coor­di­nat­ing with infor­mants or con­tacts on the inter­net); five were planned by two peo­ple work­ing together; two were planned by groups of three. One plot involved a ring of five ISIS sup­port­ers, but only two of the five appear to have been actively engaged in the plot, while the oth­ers were pri­mar­ily plan­ning to travel abroad to join the ter­ror­ist organization.

Again, none of this data should be inter­preted to mean that a large-scale, exter­nally directed plot in the U.S. can­not occur; the 9/11 attacks proved that the U.S. is vul­ner­a­ble to such attacks. How­ever, it does indi­cate that the threat fac­ing the U.S. remains dif­fer­ent than the threat fac­ing Euro­pean countries.

The fol­low­ing is a list of domes­tic attack plots against the U.S. in 2015:

  • Joshua Ryne Gold­berg of Florida was arrested in Sep­tem­ber for allegedly send­ing bomb-making instruc­tions to and devel­op­ing a plot with an under­cover source. The plot involved build­ing a pres­sure cooker bomb and det­o­nat­ing it at a 9/11 memo­r­ial in Kansas City, MO. Fol­low­ing his arrest, Gold­berg claimed he had planned to alert law enforce­ment prior to the bomb’s detonation.
  • Harlem Suarez of Florida was arrested in July for allegedly plot­ting to det­o­nate a bomb at a Florida beach. He also dis­cussed attack­ing law enforce­ment officers.
  • Moham­mad Yousef Abdu­lazeez of Ten­nessee was killed after he opened fire at two mil­i­tary facil­i­ties in Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee in July. The attack resulted in five deaths, in addi­tion to Abdulazeez’s death. Abdu­lazeez was report­edly inspired by Al Qaeda propaganda.
  • Alexan­der Cic­colo of Mass­a­chu­setts was arrested in July as a felon in pos­ses­sion of a weapon. Cic­colo allegedly planned to attack a state university.
  • Justin Nojan Sul­li­van of North Car­olina was arrested in June for allegedly plot­ting an attack that included shoot­ings in pub­lic venues and a bomb plot that involved bio­log­i­cal weapons.
  • Munther Omar Saleh and Fareed Mumuni of New York were arrested in June after each attempted to attack law enforce­ment offi­cials in sep­a­rate instances. The two had allegedly planned to under­take an attack on a New York City land­mark. Saleh and Mumuni were part of a con­spir­acy that also involved at least three other peo­ple, Samuel Rahamin Topaz, Alaa Saadeh and Saadeh’s brother, but these three were appar­ently more focused on trav­el­ing to join ISIS and the degree of their involve­ment in the plot is unclear.
  • Usaama Rahim of Mass­a­chu­setts was killed when he drew a knife after being approached for ques­tion­ing by law enforce­ment offi­cers. He had allegedly plot­ted with David Wright of Mass­a­chu­setts and Nicholas Rovin­ski of Rhode Island to behead Pamela Geller (head of the anti-Muslim orga­ni­za­tion Stop Islam­i­ciza­tion of Amer­ica) on behalf of ISIS; the plot later shifted to attempt­ing to behead a police officer.
  • Elton Simp­son and Nadir Soofi of Ari­zona were shot and killed when they attempted to under­take a shoot­ing at a Gar­land, Texas com­mu­nity cen­ter. They were allegedly assisted by co-conspirator Decarus Thomas of Ari­zona, who was arrested in June.
  • Miguel Moran Diaz of Florida was arrested in April on charges that he was a felon in pos­ses­sion of a firearm. Reports indi­cated that he planned to tar­get Miami residents.
  • John T. Booker and Alexan­der Blair of Kansas were arrested in April for allegedly attempt­ing to under­take a sui­cide attack at the Ft. Riley mil­i­tary base.
  • Noelle Velentzas and Asia Sid­diqui of New York were arrested in April for allegedly pur­chas­ing bomb-making equip­ment with plans for an attack.
  • Hasan and Jonas Edmonds of Illi­nois were arrested in March and charged with attempt­ing to join ISIS and plot­ting an attack against a mil­i­tary base.
  • An unnamed minor from South Car­olina was arrested in Feb­ru­ary and accused of for­mu­lat­ing a plot to attack a North Car­olina mil­i­tary base and then travel abroad to join ISIS.
  • Abdura­sul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhme­tov of New York were 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.
  • Abdi­rah­man Sheikh Mohamud of Ohio was arrested in Feb­ru­ary and charged in April with join­ing Jab­hat al Nusra. He allegedly returned to the U.S. with the inten­tion of per­pe­trat­ing an attack against a mil­i­tary base in Texas. Court doc­u­ments indi­cate that Mohamud sup­ported both ISIS and Jab­hat al Nusra, although he had fought with Jab­hat al Nusra.
  • Christo­pher Lee Cor­nell of Ohio was arrested in Jan­u­ary for his alleged plot to attack the U.S. Capi­tol after fail­ing to con­nect with ISIS mem­bers abroad.

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November 4, 2015 0

Terrorist Videos Threatening Israel And US Continue Unabated

The new Al Qaeda message threatening Israel with Ayman al-Zawahiri

Image from the new Al Qaeda message

As vio­lence has con­tin­ued in Israel, pro­pa­ganda released by for­eign ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions threat­en­ing and incit­ing vio­lence against Jews and Israelis has con­tin­ued unabated. A new video released this week by Al Qaeda fea­tur­ing audio by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the group’s leader, praises ter­ror­ism in Israel and also calls for attacks against the U.S.

The video began by focus­ing on Israel, with Zawahiri say­ing, “I ask Allah to bless…those who pro­ceeded for­ward to stab the Jews.” He quickly piv­oted to call­ing for attacks on the U.S. how­ever, stat­ing that in order to “lib­er­ate al-Quds (Jerusalem) and al-Aqsa mosque,” it is nec­es­sary to “strik[e] the West and specif­i­cally Amer­ica in its own home.” Zawahiri then praised spe­cific ter­ror­ists and attacks, includ­ing the 9/11 attacks, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, and the Tsar­naev broth­ers who com­mit­ted the Boston Marathon bombing.

Al Qaeda pro­pa­ganda has attempted to har­ness pop­u­lar anger about events in Israel in order to call for attacks against the U.S. in the past. Last year, the group released a mag­a­zine titled “Resur­gence,” which had a cover story about Pales­tini­ans but focused pri­mar­ily on harm­ing Amer­i­can inter­ests.  Al Qaeda affil­i­ate Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP) issued a mag­a­zine called “Pales­tine: Betrayal of the Guilty Con­science” that called for attacks on the U.S. and pro­vided instruc­tions for the con­struc­tion of pres­sure cooker bombs and car bombs.

ADL’s recent report, “Anti-Semitism: A Pil­lar of Islamic Extrem­ist Ide­ol­ogy” con­tains mul­ti­ple addi­tional exam­ples of ter­ror­ist exploita­tion of sen­ti­ments about Israel and of anti-Semitism for the pur­pose of gain­ing sup­port­ers and ral­ly­ing recruits.

The new Al Qaeda video also calls for unity between ter­ror­ist organizations.

Screenshot of the Hebrew speaker from the newest ISIS video threatening Israel

Screen­shot from the newest ISIS video threat­en­ing Israel

Like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also released a new video threat­en­ing Israel this week. The video is the sec­ond ISIS video to include a Hebrew speaker, although ISIS has trans­lated offi­cial pro­pa­ganda mate­ri­als into Hebrew in the past.

Address­ing “all the Jews, grand­sons of apes and pigs,” the Hebrew speaker threat­ens that, “we are com­ing for you from all over the world to kill you.” In a ref­er­ence to a hadith in which trees and stones tell Mus­lims where Jews are hid­ing so the Jews can be killed he goes on to state that there will be, “a big war, the war of the stones and of the trees, and this is near, it is not far.”

ISIS has released at least 17 videos threat­en­ing Jews and Israel since the mid­dle of Octo­ber, as well as mul­ti­ple other pro­pa­ganda mate­ri­als includ­ing audio mes­sages and graphics.

In addi­tion, Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions, indi­vid­u­als cel­e­brat­ing and pro­mot­ing ter­ror­ism, and even main­stream Arabic-language news out­lets have also added to the online invec­tive encour­ag­ing ongo­ing violence.

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November 3, 2015 1

“Telegram” is Latest Platform for Terror Propaganda

ISIS propaganda on the Telegram app

ISIS pro­pa­ganda on the Telegram app

Update — 11/19/2015: Telegram updated its terms of ser­vice to include a means for remov­ing ille­gal pub­lic con­tent on Novem­ber 18, 2015 and has since removed mul­ti­ple ISIS chan­nels from its platform.

As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other ter­ror groups con­tinue to seek out new plat­forms to broad­cast their pro­pa­ganda and con­nect with sup­port­ers, they have migrated to using Telegram, a chat and group appli­ca­tion avail­able for smart­phones and desk­top, as their pri­mary medium for offi­cial propaganda.

Ter­ror sup­port­ers con­tinue to share and dis­sem­i­nate pro­pa­ganda on Twit­ter, Face­book and other tra­di­tional social media plat­forms. How­ever, the terms of ser­vice on those plat­forms reject users who actively encour­age vio­lent extrem­ism and the plat­forms have been very active in remov­ing con­tent and users flagged for vio­la­tions of those terms of ser­vice. Offi­cial ter­ror­ist accounts have there­fore found them fully inhos­pitable, and even the accounts of ter­ror­ist sup­port­ers are reg­u­larly removed.

Accord­ing to Telegram’s terms of ser­vice, how­ever, “All Telegram chats and group chats are pri­vate ter­ri­tory of their respec­tive par­tic­i­pants and we do not process any requests related to them.” As such, the plat­form does not have effec­tive poli­cies pro­hibit­ing extrem­ist speech.  That envi­ron­ment has enabled offi­cial ter­ror­ist chan­nels to use Telegram as the first point of dis­sem­i­na­tion for offi­cial ISIS pro­pa­ganda and for Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), an Al Qaeda affil­i­ated media organization.

Users can join groups on Telegram that func­tion sim­i­larly to Twit­ter feeds, releas­ing a steady stream of con­tent orig­i­nated by the group’s owner. Among the groups cur­rently oper­at­ing on Telegram are more than 13 offi­cial ISIS accounts in mul­ti­ple lan­guages includ­ing Ara­bic, Eng­lish, French and Ger­man, an offi­cial English-language account for the GIMF, and sev­eral unof­fi­cial pro-ISIS pro­pa­ganda groups.

The English-language accounts cre­ated on Telegram include Khi­lafah News, a pro-ISIS account that boasts 2023 mem­bers; Nashir Eng­lish, an offi­cial ISIS account, with 1352 mem­bers; and an offi­cial GIMF account with 1129 members.

Among the mate­ri­als that have been released on Telegram are the sec­ond issue of a new English-language Al Qaeda mag­a­zine, Al Risalah, which calls on West­ern­ers to join and fight on behalf of Al Qaeda.

The ISIS English-language Telegram account Nashir Eng­lish also directs read­ers to find and down­load pro­pa­ganda on a site on Word­Press. Like Telegram, WordPress’s terms of ser­vice do not explic­itly pro­hibit extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda, and so ISIS and other ter­ror­ist  groups can exploit the web­site with­out fear of being taken down. The new Word­Press site linked from the Telegram account fea­tures all of ISIS’s most recent pro­pa­ganda releases as well as ‘major releases,’ ‘Top 10 Videos,’ and past issues of ISIS’s English-language mag­a­zine, Dabiq. The Eng­lish site also links to equiv­a­lent Word­Press sites in Ger­man, Bosn­ian and Ara­bic. Addi­tional links from the Eng­lish site to equiv­a­lent sites in other lan­guages on Blogspot, which is hosted by Google, were removed after ADL noti­fied Google of their presence.

The Word­Press site empha­sizes ISIS’s ongo­ing pres­ence on Twit­ter and lists Twit­ter hash­tags that cor­re­spond with offi­cial ISIS pro­pa­ganda material.

In addi­tion to main­tain­ing groups on Telegram, ter­ror orga­ni­za­tions are also able to engage in chats with sup­port­ers and poten­tial recruits. The encour­age­ment of active par­tic­i­pa­tion by sup­port­ers engages the sup­port­ers in dia­logue with hard­ened extrem­ists, fur­ther­ing the sup­port­ers’ rad­i­cal­iza­tion processes.

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