It’s not the best time for the United States to be facing a terror threat from within.
Intelligence services have been overwhelmed with not just covert communications but a massive web of open-source outreach including tweets, chats, books, videos, new slick radio, memos, photo essays and magazines by terror organizations, members and sympathizers. Even when a suspect is known to authorities, such as Garland, Texas, shooter Elton Simpson, they’re flying under the radar.
It’s a time when ISIS is emboldened from the seizures of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria, expanding their territory as their opponents squabble over who gave up the Iraqi city 80 miles west of Baghdad. As ISIS contractors around the globe are written off as “lone wolves,” the terror group is letting its followers know that they needn’t come to the caliphate to train but can prep for and execute a lethal attack at home. And if someone does choose to get on a plane, they need only get their confidence boosted by today’s report that Transportation Security Administration screeners caught just 3 out of 70 attempts to sneak banned items, including dummy bombs, through checkpoints by red-teamers for the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.
Jihadists didn’t attack a heavily armed “draw Muhammad” event last Friday outside the Phoenix mosque attended by Simpson and fellow attacker Nadir Soofi, though the organizer has gone into hiding after threats. Online jihadists were relatively subdued about the event, though al-Qaeda did release guidelines last week detailing which blasphemers would be on their hit list.
So what is ISIS waiting for? Their anniversary, perhaps.
British jihadi Siddhartha Dhar, who now goes by Abu Rumaysah al-Britani after slipping off to the Islamic State when UK authorities arrested him but failed to take his passport when he was released on bail, recently penned what he passed off as a rather innocuous guide pitching the homey comforts of the caliphate from lattes to pickles. Yet he stressed in “A Brief Guide to the Islamic State ” the importance of an upcoming date: He called the founding of the Islamic State on June 29, 2014, a “date right up there with 11th September 2001.”
“In fact, in many ways it surpasses it purely for what it symbolizes,” he added.
Rumaysah ended the 47-page guide on a decidedly dark note: “As the Islamic State army edges closer and closer to Damascus and Baghdad, as a lion stalks its prey, watch closely at how defeat eats away at the loser, because these two cities are just appetisers. When we descend on the streets of London, Paris and Washington the taste will be far bitterer, because not only will we spill your blood, but we will also demolish your statues, erase your history and, most painfully, convert your children who will then go on to champion our name and curse their forefathers.”
June 29, a Monday, is one day before the P5+1 deadline for a final nuclear deal with Iran. Congress is in recess that week for the Fourth of July holiday. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins June 17.
Charlie Winter, a researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, told The Independent that he believes ISIS will be “more active than ever” as their anniversary approaches.
“There is a concerted effort to appear as relevant as ever, stronger than ever and more defiant than ever in the face of international opposition,” he added, predicting the group would be planning “more violence, more advances, more attacks.”
They may not be specifically aiming for a U.S. attack; the Islamic State hacking division just days ago published the names and addresses of Italian military commanders online as targets, the faces of the women cut out.
Maurizio Gasparri, a senator with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, last month accused the government of “bringing in Islamist fundamentalists and using Italian ships as taxis for potential jihadists” with migrants trying to get from Libya to Italy.
Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni warned that they “don’t have months and months” to address the migrant crisis with humanitarian and national security implications. “The double risk of an advance of the Islamic State group in Libya and the waves of migrants means we are in a race against the clock,” he told Corriere della Sera.
ISIS’ desire to sack Rome warranted an entire e-book, predicting “recruits” from among “left-wing activists” in Europe sympathetic to their cause “will give intelligence, share weapons and do undercover work for the Muslims to pave the way for the conquest of Rome.” They also predicted, though, that the Mafia will put up a fight.
Here in the United States, nearly a month ago the Pentagon raised the security level at military bases to the highest level since the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
FBI Director James Comey warned around the same time that “the haystack is the entire country” when it comes to finding ISIS.
“We are looking for the needles, but increasingly the needles are unavailable to us. … This is the ‘going dark’ problem in living color,” Comey said. “There are Elton Simpsons out there that I have not found and I cannot see.”
As far as specific threats for America, a message to “brothers and sisters fighting for the Sake of Allah” was posted on an online file-sharing site days after the Garland attack by a user claiming to be an ISIS-affiliated American.
“We have been watching closely who was present at this event and the shooter of our brothers. We knew that the target was protected. Our intention was to show how easy we give our lives for the Sake of Allah,” said the message, which was tweeted by a user who described him or herself as “stuck in the lands of the kufr [nonbelievers],” with a photo of an ISIS flag and a residential suburban neighborhood in the background.
The message said ISIS has stationed “71 trained soldiers in 15 different states ready at our word to attack any target we desire.”
“Out of the 71 trained soldiers 23 have signed up for missions like Sunday, We are increasing in number bithnillah. Of the 15 states, 5 we will name… Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, California, and Michigan,” the posting continued. “The disbelievers who shot our brothers think that you killed someone untrained, nay, they gave you their bodies in plain view because we were watching.”
“The next six months will be interesting.”