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June 27, 2016

New AQAP Publication Encourages Additional Attacks Following Orlando

AQAP Inspire pamphlet encourages attacks following Orlando

Cover of the AQAP pamphlet, featuring an image of Omar Mateen

Al Malahem media, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s propaganda wing, released a pamphlet on June 23 that praised the Orlando shooting and provided suggestions for copying it and making additional attacks both more lethal and better suited to AQAP’s propaganda aims.

The four-page PDF pamphlet, which was released on Telegram, was titled “Inspire Guide: Orlando Operation,” and included multiple references to Inspire magazine, AQAP’s English-language propaganda magazine.

The pamphlet indicated that its goal was to “[provide] guidance to the Lone Mujahid (fighter)” and to “follow-up, guide, put right and correct Lone Jihad operations in order to realize the best military and political results that serve the general policy of the Mujahidin (fighters) in our war with America.”

This follows in the path of recent issues of Inspire magazine, which have focused on small scale attacks that can be conducted by individual supporters of AQAP.

The pamphlet praised the fact that the shooting was against a large public gathering in an enclosed area, and that the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, owned his gun and had prior firearms training. It suggested as well that Mateen was able to cause more destruction because, it claimed, “those present in the nightclub were drunk.”

However, the pamphlet suggested that it would be best for future perpetrators not to target specific groups in society, such as Latinos or the LGBT community, because the focus of news coverage would then be on the group targeted, rather than on the overall terrorist element of the attack.

Despite its suggestion to target more heterogeneous groups for strategic purposes, the pamphlet did not shy away from anti-LGBT incitement. Rather, its critique was couched by the statement that “the killing of such people is the most binding duty and closer to human nature, but better than this is to avoid targeting areas where minorities are found.” ADL recently published an analysis of anti-gay rhetoric in Inspire and in ISIS’s English-language magazine, Dabiq.

Interestingly, the pamphlet nods to the fact that Mateen indicated support for ISIS, not Al Qaeda, while conducting the attack, stating, “Lone Jihad is not monopolized by al-Qaida (sic) or any other group, therefore we call upon all active Jihadi groups, to adopt and build upon the idea of Lone Jihad and call towards it.” However, it encourages would-be future perpetrators to refer to bomb-making instructions in past issues of Inspire magazine to make their attacks more deadly. An attack with weapons clearly taken from Inspire magazine’s suggestions would enable AQAP to claim some degree of credit.

To date, the Boston Marathon bombing is the only domestic attack that was fully carried out that utilized directions from Inspire magazine. However, the magazine has played a role in the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of mul­ti­ple domes­tic extrem­ists, includ­ing the Tsar­naev broth­ers of the Boston Marathon bombing, Jose Pimentel, who attempted a bomb­ing in New York, and Abdel Daoud, who attempted a bomb­ing in Chicago.

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June 23, 2016

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

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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