Domestic Islamist Extremism 2019

  • May 18, 2020
nypd counter terrorism

Key Highlights:

  • While there were no attacks or murders linked to domestic Islamist extremism in 2019, there were 30 arrests, nine of which were for terror plots, indicating that Islamist extremism continues to pose a threat to the United States.
  • In 2019, there was a 50 percent increase in arrests and plots linked to domestic Islamist extremism.
  • The 2019 terror plot targets highlight extremists’ sustained focus on targeting religious institutions, and antisemitism remains a key staple of the violent ideology.
  • Of the nine individuals arrested for plotting terror attacks linked to domestic Islamist extremism, seven (78 percent) were U.S. citizens—a statistic that emphasizes the homegrown nature of the Islamist extremist threat in the U.S.
  • While ISIS has been effectively disbanded and no longer holds territory in Iraq and Syria, its violent rhetoric and propaganda continue to inspire the majority of terror plots and criminal activity linked to domestic Islamist extremism.

Summary:

islamist plots chart

* Note: The “arrests” do not include individuals who were a) deceased or b) detained overseas


A ten-year appraisal of the domestic Islamist extremist landscape in the U.S. shows the consistency of the threat. With the exception of the activity between 2014-2016, most of which can be attributed to the profound influence of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) propaganda on U.S. citizens, the number of Islamist extremist arrests and plots/attacks has remained relatively consistent over the past decade. Although both arrests and plots/attacks have decreased significantly since 2015, the recent uptick in activity between 2018-2019 indicates that domestic Islamist extremism remains a serious threat. While there were no Islamist extremist attacks in 2019, the number of arrests and plots/attacks increased by over 50 percent since the end of 2018.

The data for Islamist extremist criminal activity in 2019 indicate that modest attack trends do not mean the threat can be discounted. While no physical attacks materialized in 2019, there were nine plots and 30 individuals arrested for engaging in Islamist extremist-inspired criminal activity.  Moreover, a member of the Saudi Arabian military attacked the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, killing three people and injuring eight others. Law enforcement later found that the attacker, who was part of a Saudi military delegation invited to take part in a US Naval flight training session, was motivated by an Islamist extremist ideology, and he is believed to have been linked to the foreign terror organization al-Qaeda. (ADL does not count this attack by a foreign national visiting the U.S. as a “domestic” Islamist extremist incident and therefore does not include it in the 2019 domestic attack data).

2019:

In 2019, ADL documented 30 arrests related to domestic Islamist extremist criminal activity. Nine of these 30 arrests were linked to terror plots targeting pedestrian walkways on the Maryland National Harbor, a white supremacist rally in California, the Israeli consulate in New York City, other tourist attractions in the broader New York area, a Pittsburgh church, and college campuses in Florida. The remaining 21 arrests were primarily linked to charges of providing material support to foreign terror organizations, in addition to a few outlying charges such as knowingly providing false information to law enforcement and illegally receiving firearms with obliterated serial numbers.

For an in depth and continuously updated list of domestic Islamist extremist terror plots and attacks, see ADL’s H.E.A.T map.

Plots:

In 2019, there were no attacks or murders linked to domestic Islamist extremism. However, nine individuals were arrested for planning attacks. Law enforcement foiled all nine plots.

  • In January 2019, 23-year-old Hasher Jallal Taheb (U.S. citizen) was arrested for planning attacks on the White House and Statue of Liberty by fire or explosive as part of what he claimed “was his obligation to engage in jihad.” Taheb later broadened his potential targets to include the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and an unspecified synagogue. He did not cite his inspiration to any one foreign terror organization, but he had sent his two presumed collaborators a link connected to Anwar al-Awlaki, the former al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader.
  • In April 2019, 28-year-old Rondell Henry (U.S. citizen) was arrested for stealing a U-Haul van with the intention to use it as a weapon against pedestrians on the sidewalks of the National Harbor in Maryland. Henry acted in support of the Islamic State (ISIS).
  • In April 2019, 21-year-old Fabjan Alameti (U.S. citizen) was arrested for falsely claiming he never intended to “hurt any Americans or anyone in the military” when he had, over Facebook, claimed he wanted to “die a martyr” and target people at gay nightclubs, a federal building, and an Army recruiting center “to avenge the blood.” Alameti claimed he was going to Montana to “buy a gun since all they need is a background check and ID.” Alameti acted in support of ISIS.
  • In April 2019, 26-year-old Mark Steven Domingo (U.S. citizen) was arrested after receiving what he believed to be a workable explosive device, which he planned to detonate at a white supremacist rally, after considering other targets including “Jews, churches, and police.” Domingo posted multiple pre-attack videos, claiming “there mustbe[sic] retribution” for the New Zealand mosque attack in March 2019. He claimed if ISIS came to the U.S., he would swear allegiance to them.
  • In May 2019, 20-year-old Jonathan Xie (U.S. citizen) was arrested for attempting to provide material support to Hamas and attack a “pro-Israel march and…shoot everybody,” claiming “you can get a gun and shoot your way through…all you need is a gun or a vehicle to go on a rampage.” Xie also discussed the possibility of bombing the Israeli consulate and Trump Tower in New York City.
  • In June 2019, 22-year-old Ashiqul Alam (lawful permanent resident) was arrested for knowingly receiving two firearms with obliterated serial numbers as  part of his plan to use them to kill law enforcement officers and civilians in a terrorist attack on Times Square in New York City. Alam expressed admiration for various foreign terror organizations, including ISIS. He also spoke approvingly of past terrorist attacks, including the September 11th attack.
  • In June 2019, 21-year-old Mustafa Mousab Alowemer (Syrian refugee) was arrested for plotting to bomb a church on the North Side of Pittsburgh using a weapon of mass destruction in support of ISIS. He claimed the attack on the church would avenge his “[ISIS] brothers in Nigeria” and he distributed multiple instructional documents, which explained how to make explosives and improvised explosive devices.
  • In August 2019, 19-year-old Awais Chudhary (U.S. citizen) was arrested for planning to conduct a stabbing or bombing in New York on ISIS’s behalf. Chudhary claimed he wanted to record his attack to inspire others and identified pedestrian bridges over the Grand Central Parkway to the Flushing Bay Promenade and the World’s Fair Marina as attack targets.
  • In November 2019, 23-year-old Salman Rashid (U.S. citizen) was arrested for soliciting the help of alleged ISIS members to carry out an attack on his behalf against a nightclub or religious building. Rashid ultimately targeted two employees from the colleges that had previously suspended/expelled him, asking that explosive devices be used to make the attack as big as possible. 

Extremists have increasingly targeted religious institutions. "In the last several years, America has experienced an increase in targeted violence against our faith-based communities and organizations," DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said in December 2019, summarizing a recent DHS report. While there has been a significant uptick in white supremacist attacks targeting places of worship, including the Charleston church shooting, Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, and the Poway synagogue shooting, Islamist extremists have also targeted religious institutions. ISIS has shown a particular affinity for this type of attack, and in their most recent large-scale attack, they targeted multiple churches across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in April 2019, killing more than 250 people and injuring 500 more. Mousab Alowemer’s June 2019 plot to bomb the Pittsburgh church is reminiscent of this tactic. ISIS’s brutal sectarian violence has targeted religious institutions of many faiths; however, antisemitism has long since been at the core of Islamist extremist ideology.

The 2019 plots demonstrate that extremists continue to prioritize Jews in their attacks. Both Taheb and Domingo explicitly referenced wanting to target Jews and a synagogue in their attacks. Additionally, Jonathan Xie referenced antisemitic tropes while expressing his violent aspirations, claiming he was applying to join the army “not to fight foe[sic] Jewish internets[sic] [likely a typo for interests]…But to learn how to kill.”  These plots serve as a vital reminder of the many threats confronting the Jewish community, and they underscore that foreign terror organizations’ hateful ideologies can move Americans sympathetic to their cause to violence.

In addition to the continued threat that domestic Islamist extremists pose to religious communities, the 2019 data reaffirm that U.S. citizens continue to account for the majority of individuals planning attacks inspired by domestic Islamist extremism—seven of the nine arrested individuals were U.S. citizens (approximately 78%). The remaining two were a lawful permanent resident and a refugee. Like past years, the most significant threat of 2019 appeared to come from individuals residing within United States borders, not from outside them. 

Arrests/Criminal Activity:

In addition to the nine individuals arrested for plotting attacks, 21 others were arrested for engaging in domestic criminal activity motivated by Islamist extremism in 2019. Of those 21 individuals, a large majority faced charges for attempting to provide material support (e.g. by attempting to travel abroad to join a foreign terror group, attempting to provide weaponry to the group, and sharing instructions for attack-planning) to a foreign terror organization, namely ISIS. However, a small number named Lashkar e-Tayyiba, the Taliban, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Hezbollah as their sources of inspiration.

It is notable that approximately 70 percent of domestic Islamist extremist criminal activity in 2019 was inspired by ISIS, which has reportedly lost all of its territory in Iraq and Syria.

The group’s ability to continue inspiring a large percentage of violent activity after it was effectively disbanded demonstrates the lasting influence ISIS’s ideology and propaganda have on Islamist extremist activity in the United States. Moreover, other foreign terror organizations’ influence on Islamist extremist criminal activity indicates that one group’s demise does not denote the decline of the broader ideology. Instead, the threat of Islamist extremism remains high, and so long as the ideology persists, made increasingly widespread through online propaganda, extremists will continue to source their inspiration from violent rhetoric and instruction.