Homeland Security

ISIS Focuses on U.S. Embassy Attacks, Kidnappings of Westerners

Police block off the area around the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro's capital Podgorica on Feb. 22, 2018, after an attacker threw a grenade them blew himself up. (AP Photo/Risto Bozovic)

The weekly Islamic State newsletter that usually focuses on internal headlines within remaining caliphate territory devoted a section to discussing attacks on U.S. embassies and kidnappings of westerners in locales not usually touched by the terror group.

ISIS has previously used the briefs section in al-Naba to discuss the Las Vegas shooting, which they’ve claimed as their own while authorities said no extremist links have been found, and the California wildfires, in which they’ve highlighted the tactic of arson without claiming responsibility.

In the latest issue of the 12-page newsletter distributed online, ISIS begins with a foiled plot in Jordan in which the terror group targeted Israeli businessmen making regular visits to a clothing factory and the U.S. Embassy in Amman. Jordan’s Al-Rai newspaper reported Tuesday that the plot was uncovered by Jordanian security forces in November, resulting in 17 arrests. Other targets included a nightclub, a church, the French Institute of Jordan, Phosphate Company tunnels, and the Ro’ya TV network.

Jordanian authorities said the ISIS cell was divided into three teams: a team to scope out the targets, a minor-attack and technical support team, and the major-attack team.

In their newsletter, ISIS noted the plans against “Jewish businessmen,” the U.S. Embassy, the church and the French center, and noted that “on the other hand” Jordan sentenced a group of “young people” to 3 to 7 years behind bars on charges of promoting ISIS. They lauded one of the terror recruits for calling Jordanian authorities “oppressor apostates” in court and saying his jihadist brothers were real Muslims.

“These reports are published as messages to the Crusader intelligence… as well as messages for young people to intimidate them and intimidate them from planning jihad,” ISIS wrote, adding such efforts “were blown away by operations… in the heart of European capitals against the world’s most powerful intelligence services.”

The next news brief focuses on last week’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica. At around midnight, an attacker threw a hand grenade at the U.S. facility and then blew himself up. He caused no injuries. Montenegro courts last month handed down their first sentence against one of its citizens for joining ISIS.

The ISIS report cited the U.S. Embassy’s security warning during the ongoing situation and how the attacker tossed the explosive device “then blew his explosive belt.”

ISIS then shifted to this week’s news that Bernard Raymond Augustine, 20, of Keyes, Calif., had been arrested in Tunisia trying to cross over to Libya to join ISIS cells there.

The terror group said Augustine was now being tried by the “American Crusader prosecution” for attempting “to join the soldiers of the Islamic State of Libya.” Augustine, who was charged with providing material support to a terrorist group, reportedly had an ISIS nasheed, or song, on his computer and had sent messages praising the terror group. The ISIS al-Naba brief said that “during the period prior to his departure” Augustine “published pro-Islamic expressions in Arabic on the Internet.”

The next ISIS brief noted that Rome and Moscow reportedly have been working together “to prevent infiltration” of Islamic State “troops to Europe” through migration from Libya. “Both Italy and Russia are ready to cooperate in Libya to stop the infiltration of the Mujahideen of the Islamic State and may turn their property in the Libyan desert into bases” in an effort to prevent “terrorist attacks against Italy” as well as jihadists who slip through the country en route to “other places of Europe,” the terror group said. ISIS said in the early days of the caliphate that they wanted to sack Rome by 2020.

Finally, the ISIS briefs highlighted the UK warning to travelers in South Africa last week after an elderly couple were abducted by kidnappers loyal to ISIS there. According to The Times of South Africa, the Britons lived in Cape Town for many years and were seized near Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal, a rural area near the Swaziland border. Several days later South African counterterrorism operatives arrested Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, Fatima Patel and Themba Xulu for kidnapping and terrorism, reportedly including hoisting an ISIS flag at Ndlovini Reserve.

The couple, botanists Rod and Rachel Saunders, remain missing. Money was drained from their bank accounts and their Toyota Land Cruiser was found abandoned and stained with blood. Their cell phones were found with Xulu.

The State Department did not issue a safety advisory after the incident. The British government cited the kidnapping and warned travelers that “terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in South Africa — attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners such as shopping areas in major cities.”

“News reports suggest that a number of South African nationals have traveled to Syria, Iraq and Libya. They are likely to pose a security threat on their return. There’s also a threat from individuals who may have been inspired by terrorist groups, including Daesh, to carry out so called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public places including where foreigners may gather,” continued the British warning. “South African authorities have successfully disrupted several planned attacks and made a number of arrests related to terrorism offences including alleged plots to attack Jewish targets and western diplomatic missions. South African authorities have also been effective against right-wing extremists.”

“There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.”

ISIS cited the case in al-Naba and said “Crusader Britain was in danger” after “attacks targeting its nationals in South Africa.”