An ISIS-supporting media group that just days ago issued a threat bearing symbols of a biological attack quickly seized on the Strasbourg, France, Christmas market attack to warn of more holiday assaults.
Suspected gunman Chérif Chekatt, 29, who was born in Strasbourg, was still on the run from police — yet wounded in a firefight with cops, according to a taxi driver ordered to help him flee from the shopping area — after at least two people were killed, one has been declared brain-dead, and 13 more were wounded. One of the dead is a tourist who was visiting from Thailand.
France has increased its terror alert level and upped security at Christmas markets. Chekatt had a lengthy rap sheet of 27 total convictions, including serving time in Germany for burglary of a dentist and a pharmacy and serving time in Switzerland for robbery. Police had attempted to arrest Chekatt hours before the market attack on charges of attempted robbery and attempted murder; he reportedly escaped and officials found explosives at his home.
He was on a national security watch list and reportedly flagged as potentially being radicalized in prison, though German officials said they had no information about Chekatt having “an Islamist background.” The Paris prosecutor said in a morning press conference that he cried “Allahu Akbar” at the scene of the attack and was armed with a handgun and a knife.
Chekatt’s mother, father and two brothers were taken into custody for questioning.
Two weeks ago, the al-Taqwa Media Foundation issued a threat poster online showing a sweatshirt-hooded jihadist holding a bloody cleaver looking down a Champs-Élysées clogged with emergency personnel and smoke rising from near the Arc de Triomphe.
“Wait what’s coming o enemies of Allah in France,” said the text on the image.
Days after that, the ISIS-supporting media group distributed an image depicting a capitol building — not the U.S. Capitol — in flames with a calamitous street scene including abandoned military vehicles and civilian cars, as the ISIS flag is raised and a quintet of armed, camouflage-clad jihadists stand before the building. In the image are four biohazard warning symbols: one on a nearby building, and three on concrete barricades separating the jihadists from their target.
“O Crusaders, you have realized the danger of the Islamic State. But you did not know the treatment, and you will not know the treatment, because there is no treatment!” reads the text. “By fighting it, it gets stronger, and by leaving it, it blooms and stretches more.”
“While Trump promised defeat of the Islamic State, Obama has lied before and our Lord — the Almighty — promised victory, and here we are,” the group continued. “… This campaign is your last campaign, and it will fail by the permission of Allah. As all your campaigns have been broken before and failed, but this time we are going to invade you, and you will never invade us ever.”
After the Strasbourg attack, al-Taqwa issued a stylized image (ISIS graphic artists frequently poach from video games and movies for imagery) of a suit-and-tie-clad gunmen firing a handgun in each hand, a black beanie on his head and a black mask over his nose and mouth marked with the ISIS flag. Lights on a building behind him spell out “Magic Season.”
The poster includes the hashtags in English and Arabic for “Soon in your holidays.”
“The era of surprises has begun,” reads the text.
France has recently been the target of threat campaigns from the network of loyal online media groups that aren’t official Islamic State media but do recruitment, craft propaganda and incite attacks on behalf of ISIS. The country is frequently a focal point of propaganda as the November 2015 Paris attackers are lionized as poster boys for launching an assault on one’s home turf.
At the end of last month, an onslaught of graphic posters and online threats from ISIS supporters urged jihadists to target the large “Gilets jaunes” protests in France that broke out Nov. 17 over frustration with rising gas prices and taxes. One image showed crosshairs superimposed on yellow-vested protesters on the Champs-Elysées: “O supporter of the caliphate in Europe and more particularly in France: Attack.”
Earlier in November, lone jihadists were encouraged to pick “deadly and easier ways” of attacks in new tips circulated online among ISIS supporters, with an image depicting a woman walking on the Palais de Chaillot framed in crosshairs.
The crudely photoshopped image, with the Eiffel Tower in the background, also depicted three victims on the ground at the popular tourist spot as a terrorist sporting a black T-shirt and face mask wields a bloody knife.
The Ash-Shaff Media Foundation recently circulated online a poster depicting a knife blade inserted into a loaf of French bread, adding to the “kuffar,” or disbelievers, that “we will slaughter you and we will terrorize you in a way that you did not expect!” On the edge of the poster were icons of twin rifles, saws, axes and knives.