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December 3, 2015 0

Searching for Motives in the San Bernardino Shooting

Investigators at the scene of the shooting in San Bernardino

Inves­ti­ga­tors at the scene of the shoot­ing in San Bernardino

The motive for yesterday’s shoot­ing in San Bernardino, CA remains unknown. In the spec­u­la­tion for causes, though, sev­eral details stand out.

That one of the alleged shoot­ers, Syed Rizwan Farooq, appar­ently tar­geted his pro­fes­sional col­leagues, might indi­cate an instance of work­place vio­lence, as does the rel­a­tively non­de­script, apo­lit­i­cal and pri­vate nature of the loca­tion tar­geted. How­ever, the degree of prepa­ra­tion that went into the shoot­ing appears more in line with polit­i­cally or ide­o­log­i­cally moti­vated vio­lence. More­over, inci­dents of work­place shoot­ings rarely ever involve mul­ti­ple per­pe­tra­tors but there were appar­ently two shoot­ers in San Bernardino.

Future evi­dence will be nec­es­sary to under­stand whether or not extrem­ism, or extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda may have played any role in the San Bernardino shoot­ings; at this time, it is entirely pos­si­ble that there is no link at all, although inves­ti­ga­tors are indi­cat­ing that Farooq had links to sus­pected extrem­ists abroad.

A com­bi­na­tion of work­place vio­lence and extremist-inspired vio­lence has played out in the U.S. in the past.

In Sep­tem­ber 2014, Okla­homa res­i­dent Alton Nolen was sus­pended from his work­place, a food pro­cess­ing plant. Nolen, who had a prior crim­i­nal record that included vio­lent inci­dents, went home and then returned to the food pro­cess­ing plant 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 the vio­lence asso­ci­ated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), even as it became clear that he had no actual links to extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions or com­pre­hen­sive adher­ence to extrem­ist ideology.

His online activ­ity sug­gested that his inter­est in extrem­ist vio­lence may have informed his deci­sion to under­take a behead­ing, rather than another form of vio­lence, and spoke to a sec­ondary effect of vio­lent extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda. His activ­ity did not appear to be polit­i­cally moti­vated and he was not respond­ing to ter­ror­ist calls for vio­lence, but he was nonethe­less influ­enced by vio­lent extrem­ist con­tent that he found online.

A sim­i­lar case indi­cat­ing sec­ondary effects of ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda took place in New Jer­sey in August 2014. The accused per­pe­tra­tor in that case, Ali Muhammed Brown, had a pre­vi­ous crim­i­nal record and is also accused of killing three indi­vid­u­als in Cal­i­for­nia in June. In August, he was allegedly engaged in a rob­bery when he shot a man in a car. When appre­hended, Brown claimed that the mur­der was revenge for U.S. actions in the Mid­dle East.

Pres­i­dent Obama has sug­gested that there may be a com­bi­na­tion of motives in yesterday’s shoot­ing although, again, more evi­dence needs to be found to uncover the per­pe­tra­tors’ actual rationales.

But the Nolen case teaches that vio­lence and ratio­nale are not singularly-faceted issues, and that vio­lent pro­pa­ganda online has the poten­tial to influ­ence peo­ple who may not them­selves be extremists.

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November 17, 2015 6

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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