The San Bernardino massacre was the worst terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. As the investigation continues to grow from California to Pakistan, it is clear that ISIS is a domestic threat on the homeland. Less than a month after ISIS terrorized Paris, the trans-national Islamist organization has proven to be a fully-fledged insurgency that spans the West, Middle East into Asia. Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has “nearly 1,000 active probes” and this past May ISIS threatened more attacks, claiming to have “71 trained soldiers in 15 different states ready at our word to attack any target we desire.”
The American public should be vigilant and keep its eyes open for possible recruits who will carry out more attacks. Two reports are excellent resources to learn of the domestic ISIS threat and the Islamist terrorist organizations recruiting methods.
Immediately after ISIS’s attack in Paris, the Threat Knowledge Group released “ISIS: The Threat to the United States” (Special Report) authored by its Chairman Dr. Sebastian Gorka and President Katherine C. Gorka. The Special Report is the strongest and most concise primer available on the domestic ISIS threat. In the Executive Summary, Dr. and Ms. Gorka shows “key evidence” that ISIS has recruits with the “intent on executing domestic attacks here in America” including the following:
82 individuals in the United States affiliating with ISIS have been interdicted by law enforcement since March 2014 (including 7 unnamed minors and 4 killed in the course of attacks).
Ali Shukri Amin, a 17 year-old Islamic State (IS) supporter from Manassas, Virginia, recently sentenced to 11 years in prison for conspiring to provide support to ISIS, had nearly 4,000 Twitter followers, under the alias, ‘Amreeki Witness.’
Ahmad Musa Jibril, an Arab-American Islamist preacher living in Dearborn, Michigan, had 38,000 Twitter followers before his site went silent. A report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) found that 60% of surveyed foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria followed Jibril on Twitter.
The Special Report contrasts Al Qaeda and ISIS, explaining that the evolution of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was led by Abu Masib al-Zarqawi, into ISIS. The Special Report illustrates that when on July 5, 2014 Abu Bakr al Baghdadi announced the creation of the Caliphate “he did so not from a cave and not in the dress of a military commander” making al Baghdadi “a religious leader, not just a military commander.” The Special Report, using a word cloud of Baghdadi’s speech, demonstrates that ISIS’s priorities are “Allah, the caliphate, and the ummah – the global community of Muslim believers.”
The Special Report shows ISIS’s recruiting of Americans and westerners is more successful than Al Qaeda because Syria is easily accessible as opposed to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also, ISIS casts a “much wider net” with its “slick, multi-million dollar media campaign.” Another key component to ISIS is its focus on youth which it has described as “Lions of Tomorrow” and “have set up special schools to teach the youth about Islam and military skills.” Of the 82 Americans which law enforcement has arrested, “52 (or 63%) are between the ages of 15 and 25 years old; the remaining 30 are between the ages of 26 and 47 years old.”
ISIS mostly uses peer-to-peer recruiting with 64% of the US ISIS recruits acting in 15 clusters, the largest being a group of 11 men and women from Minneapolis “who were in contact with Abdi Nur, a fellow Minnesotan who has joined ISIS in Syria.” While social media is key to recruitment ISIS has also evaded attention by using encryption devices and/or directing communications through wives “as a way to avoid detection by the U.S. intelligence.”
The Special Report gives a list of indicators of radicalization from a federal criminal complaint of an American ISS recruit that included:
Posting Facebook images of ISIL’s flag and the flag of the ISLAMIC caliphate.
Growing out one’s bear and dying it red which mimics Mohammed.
Praying five times a day.
Wearing traditional Muslim attire in place of Western clothing.
However, these changes also are difficult to use as evidence because these “are signs of increased religiosity and do not necessarily indicate radicalization.” Families are essential to deciphering whether these changes are real signs of an ISIS recruit.
Dr. and Ms. Gorka conclude their Special Report with the following common-sense steps to the “heightened threat environment”:
Stop downplaying the seriousness of the threat so that individuals and law enforcement can be properly prepared.
Recognize that ISIS is targeting youth, and do more to protect youth from radicalization. Educate those who work with youth about the indicators of radicalization. Hold parents criminally liable for not preventing their children from supporting ISIS where it can be established that they were aware of it.
Target the ideologues. Recognize the link between rhetoric that calls for death of the infidel and acts of terrorism and interrupt the flow of such communication.
Better utilize open-source intelligence.
Screen refugees because “ISIS and other terrorist groups may use the refugee track as a way to gain access to the United States with the purpose of carrying out an attack.
George Washington University’s Program on Extremism has also released a report titled “ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa” (GW Report) authored by Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes. The GW Report’s Executive Summary explains that “American ISIS sympathizers are particularly active on Twitter, where they spasmodically create accounts that often get suspended in a never-ending cat-and-mouse game.” However, ISIS recruitment is not exclusively based on social media as “U.S.-based individuals initially cultivated and later strengthened their interest in ISIS’s narrative through face-to-face relationships.”
The GW report provides an in-depth analysis of the 82 law enforcement arrests. It also explains that “authorities estimate that several thousand Americans consume ISIS propaganda online creating what has been described as a ‘radicalization echo chamber,’” while showing examples of social media postings. In an ominous warning to possible future attacks, the GW Report further explains that “while American ISIS supporters tend to be male, nearly one third of the accounts examined are purportedly operated by women. Additionally, supporters broadly divided into two sets: those who locate themselves in Syria and Iraq and those still in America but aspiring to assist ISIS in a number of ways.”
The GW Report’s conclusion calls for “robust funding” to “counter violent extremism.” The GW Report next drifts into a softened approach compared to the Special Report in stopping American recruiting such as message “intervention” of ISIS recruits and allowing US citizens who have fought for ISIS abroad to return home in order to “dissuade would-be recruits.” While the GW Reports falls into the P.C clap trap, it is an excellent resource for legal records related to ISIS radicalization and recruitment in the United States.
It is clear that we are under a wide domestic threat by ISIS, a group which seeks to cause mayhem as opposed to Al-Qaeda like spectacular attacks. These reports provide Americans two easily accessible opportunities to educate themselves on this asymmetric threat.