Two new videos released this week by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) demonstrate a ramping up of threats against the U.S. as terror groups increasingly call for homegrown attacks against Western countries – and as individuals increasingly appear to be heeding those calls.
Recent arrests of U.S. residents planning domestic attacks in ISIS’s name indicates that such calls for violence can have an impact on Americans motivated by Islamic extremism and the propaganda they find online distributed by ISIS and other terror groups.
There have been five alleged instances of domestic plots in the U.S. in 2015, ranging from conversations about the possibility of attack to actual attempted attacks. All were reportedly planned by individuals claiming allegiance to ISIS.
- Christopher Lee Cornell of Ohio, arrested in January for his alleged plot to attack the U.S. Capitol after failing to connect with ISIS members abroad.
- Abdurasul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhmetov of New York, arrested in February and charged with material support for terror. Court documents state they were attempting to join ISIS and discussing the possibility of a domestic attack.
- Hasan and Jonas Edmonds of Illinois, arrested in March and charged with attempting to join ISIS and plotting an attack against a military base.
- Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui of New York, arrested in April for allegedly purchasing bomb-making equipment with plans for an attack.
- John T. Booker and Alexander Blair of Kansas, arrested in April for allegedly attempting to undertake a suicide attack at the Ft. Riley military base.
These are among the 23 U.S. residents arrested on terror charges thus far in 2015, all but two of whom claimed allegiance to ISIS.
Both of the videos released this week feature references to previous terror attacks in Western countries and footage of brutal executions of ISIS victims in Iraq and Syria, as well as encouragement of individually-directed domestic plots.
One of the videos, released on April 10, was titled "We Will Burn America." It featured footage and praise of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center along with narration in Arabic with English subtitles stating, “September 11 will be repeated.”
The video also features images from the attack on the Paris kosher supermarket and shootings in Canada, both of which were undertaken by individuals acting in ISIS’s name, as well as images of beheadings by ISIS. Its style was reminiscent of ISIS’s feature-film-length propaganda video “Flames of War,” which was shot to resemble an action movie and highlights the group’s ideological claims of a battle between good and evil, Islam and the West.
"We Will Burn America" was released on Twitter with the hashtag #we_will_burn_america. ISIS regularly encourages its supporters to participate in hashtag campaigns designed to artificially create trending items and spread the group’s propaganda. Last summer, the group undertook two hashtag campaigns similarly threatening the U.S., with the hashtags #CalamityWillBefallUS and #AMessageFromISISToUS.
The second video, released April 14, takes the form of a music video encouraging lone-wolf attacks and threatening Western countries. The language is German, with English subtitles. ISIS has released multiple music videos to appeal to young audiences while conveying the group’s messages.
Addressed “to the enemies of Allah,” the video’s narration states that “this is a message and more are going to follow.” The video portrays a man reading the Qu’ran and watching ISIS propaganda on his computer, including graphic videos of beheadings, the burning of the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, mass killings, and wounded soldiers. “We want your blood,” it states, “it tastes so wonderful.”
It then shows individuals preparing for different types of domestic attacks, including a stabbing, car bomb, and a suicide bombing in Times Square, as well as learning about gun use and bomb-making online – seemingly examples for would-be domestic attackers and an acknowledgment of the importance of online terrorist propaganda. Images of previous attacks against the West, including the attack against the Paris kosher supermarket, are shown as well. “In France it has been proven by deeds. German sleeper cell are waiting,” it states. “Allah has called you! … Your neighbor is a kaffir (apostate)… take a big knife and give him what he rightly deserves.”
The release of the videos comes as ISIS is losing territory and recruits in the Middle East. Losses by terrorist groups have often corresponded with increased calls for attacks abroad, which do not require resource expenditure by the terror group itself and can then be claimed as victories for the group. Al Shabaab, for example, has similarly released calls for domestic attacks abroad in the past year as it undergoes losses of recruits, leadership, and territory in Somalia and its surrounding countries.