June 16, 2016 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 92

Prior To Orlando Attack, ISIS Had Warned, On Social Media, Of Upcoming Attacks In U.S., And Emphasized: If You Stop Attacking Us, We'll Stop Attacking You

June 16, 2016 | By Steven Stalinsky*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 92

"Our brother Omar Mateen, may Allah accept him, has massacred the enemies of Allah - how many broken hearts of the bereft, the widows, and the orphans has Allah healed with this operation! ... He waged jihad in his place [of residence, in the U.S.] and lifted the distress from his soul...The commander of the faithful, Al-Baghdadi, and the brave and noble Sheikh Al-'Adnani - may Allah protect them - have called the youth to jihad, and the hero Omar has responded [to the call], listening and obeying." - Al-Wafa' Foundation media company, June 15, 2016[1]

Every day, the MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor team is working 24/7 monitoring all online jihadi activity, including dozens of important Islamic State (ISIS) communications - among them, as of this writing, celebrations of and claims of responsibility for the June 13 Orlando nightclub massacre take place on online forums and social media platforms. Some of these Twitter, YouTube, Internet Archive, Instagram, and, now, Telegram accounts belong to ISIS members and sympathizers here in the U.S., such as 22-year old Bronx, NY resident Sajmir Alimehmeti, who this month was charged with "providing support" to ISIS. Many videos produced by the group were found on his phone. 

Since the March 22 Brussels attacks, ISIS has issued a steady stream of videos and news reports, in English, Arabic, and French, celebrating the attacks, giving the reasons for them, and divulging its plans for the future. These plans include more hits in France, Germany, Belgium, Russia, the U.K., Portugal, The Netherlands, Hungary, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere, including the U.S. This was confirmed by National Intelligence director James Clapper, who, in a May 4 interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, said of the possibility of a Europe-style ISIS attack in the U.S., "That's something we worry about a lot in the United States, that they could conjure up a raid like they did in Paris or Brussels."

On June 16, CIA director John Brennan testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the Orlando attack, adding a warning: "We judge that ISIL was training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks. ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West, and the group is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the West... Further, as we have seen in Orlando, San Bernardino, and elsewhere, ISIL is attempting to inspire attacks by sympathizers who have no direct links to the group. Last month, for example, a senior ISIL figure [spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani] publicly urged the group's followers to conduct attacks in their home countries if they were unable to travel to Syria and Iraq."

ISIS leaders are in tune with and paying close attention to such statements, and, more specifically, to Western security efforts and discussions - because its main targets remain major cities in the West, among them Washington D.C. On March 25, the White House was mentioned as a target in a video by ISIS's Al-Kheir Province, that featured the group's fighters distributing sweets to celebrate the Brussels attacks and promising more of them, including "turn[ing] the White House into a black one." The video goes on to detail Belgium's role in the founding of NATO and its participation in the second Gulf War, the post-9/11 war on terror, and the war against ISIS. Addressing the U.S., one of the fighters in the video promised continued attacks, saying: "You will see more from us... because your blood is delicious... Allah willing, we will drink from all of your blood ..."[2]

It has now been almost two years since ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani warned the West, in a September 2014 address, of coming ISIS attacks and why they would be happening: "The Islamic State did not launch a war against you, as your lying governments and your media claim. You are the ones who initiated hostilities against us... You will pay dearly when your sons are sent to fight us and return crippled and damaged, in coffins or as lunatics. You will pay when each of you feels afraid to travel abroad. You will pay when you walk the streets in trepidation, for fear of the Muslims. You will not be safe in your own beds."[3]

Al-Adnani's statements were recycled for a March 28 video released by ISIS's Al-Furat Province in Iraq, titled "An Eye for an Eye" and showing staged scenes of ISIS fighters choosing their target on a map and donning suicide belts in preparation. An ISIS fighter, speaking French, states: "This is a message to the Crusader peoples, the Europeans, Americans, and Russians. We [Muslims] are a fifth of the world population, we are everywhere, and we can strike wherever we want, whenever we want, and whoever we want."[4]

These statements have deeply impacted ISIS followers, as was made clear following the June 14 Paris stabbing attack in which a police officer and his partner were killed. A video of the attacker, Larossi Aballah, before he set out on his mission featured him urging "the Muslims of France": "Oh you who have everything to gain, go forth and answer the call of your emir, Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani... Those who are in contact with brothers of ISIS and who are safe, tell them we have heeded [the call of] Sheikh Al-'Adnani." Addressing the "infidel French authorities," he added: "This is the consequence of your actions. You have closed the doors of hijra  [emigration to ISIS-controlled areas] to us, you have closed the doors of the Caliphate, so we have opened the door of jihad on your land."[5]

It is important to note that before ISIS, including its lone-wolf supporters, began carrying out attacks in the West, the group's No. 1 objective was to build its caliphate; attacking the West was secondary. Hijra - immigration to the Islamic State, growing its population, and bringing in the manpower needed to support it - was always first priority. Another priority was attacking the nearby enemy - the Saudi royal family, Shi'ites, Jabhat Al-Nusra, and the Assad regime in Syria. This is in contrast to Al-Qaeda, which has always prioritized attacking the distant enemy - the West and the U.S.

Why did ISIS change its priorities, and how did we arrive at what may be an era of attacks across the West? Statements by ISIS leaders, including Al-Adnani, have been either disregarded or not taken seriously. While ISIS threats contain fair amounts of bluster, its fighters believe in what they say, and each one of these threats should be properly translated and analyzed. 

A series of articles praising the Brussels attacks and warning of more in the future was published March 24 by the ISIS-affiliated media company Al-Wafa'. One writer promised that the U.S. was next in line after Belgium, that ISIS fighters would soon attack it, and that all American citizens worldwide were legitimate targets. Another article stated that ISIS members would soon target at nightclubs, stadiums, and schools in European countries and cities, among them Portugal, Hungary, Madrid, Rome, and Amsterdam, and would indiscriminately strike women, children, and the elderly. Another article, "America, You Are Next," hints that ISIS lone-wolf attackers would strike in the U.S. again: "Look at what the caliphate supporters living among you have done. Examine what [San Bernardino attacker] Syed Farook, may Allah have mercy on his soul, and his wife did. They killed many of you. Then how about we send you 10 Syed Farooks? ... Your security apparatuses will be unable to expose these quality and precision attacks before they are executed..."[6]

In a video released March 25 by ISIS's Ninawa Province celebrating the Brussels attacks, an ISIS fighter from Belgium said: "Realize that you have a long bill and that you have to pay it with your blood." Another fighter added: "This is the beginning of your nightmare. Today we enjoy this beautiful [act of] vengeance... after the [9/11] New York [attacks] and [the November 2015] Paris attacks, we present to you a new 9/11."  The fighters also promised more attacks unless the West ceased attacking Muslims.[7]  

ISIS's Tripoli Province in Libya released a video on March 26, featuring an English-speaking fighter threatening more attacks and stating that the wave of ISIS terror in Europe is revenge for Western interference in Arab countries: "We have soldiers everywhere. And as long as you continue to drop your bombs, God willing, we will continue to slaughter you on your streets, we will continue to kill you... This is just revenge, this is just a payback. As long as you do not leave our countries, we will come to your lands... This is just the beginning." [8]

Over the last few months, ISIS's threats against the U.S. and Europe have only grown more strident.  It wrote in the 14th issue of its English-language magazine Dabiq, released April 13: "Paris was a warning. Brussels was a reminder. What is yet to come will be more devastating and more bitter."[9]   On April 17, an official ISIS media wing, Furat Media, released a new nasheed (Islamic religious song) by the well-known German ISIS operative Denis Cuspert, aka Abu Talha Al-Almani, who was allegedly killed in October but who, according to reports this week by the German government, may still be alive.[10] It went: "Europe, a new battlefield, go ahead and get your reward... Become martyrs over there, the virgins in paradise are already waiting you... Kill police officers, or apostates... Paris, New York and Moscow, bomb in Berlin."[11]  

And on April 20, ISIS's weekly news bulletin Al-Naba featured an article setting out the group's long-term vision of war against the U.S., with a warning: "The caliphate soldiers today... are infiltrating deep into Europe, while their eyes are on America, awaiting any breach in their opponents' lines in order to focus the attack against it..."[12]  

An article in the ninth issue of ISIS's French-language magazine Dar Al-Islam, released April 26, concludes with praise for the use of terror as a tactical means for triumphing on the battlefield: "It is necessary to terrorize the infidels and cast dread into their hearts" including by "cutting the throats of the enemies lustily."[13] Days later, on April 29, Al-Hayat Media Center published a music video featuring a nasheed in French sung by its young Caliphate cubs. The video, which is subtitled in English, includes images of Western leaders such as Presidents Obama and Hollande, with statements such as "Our warriors are everywhere, ready to sacrifice themselves... Our sabers are sharpened to slice necks... Beware, those who are submitted [to Allah] are ready to blow themselves up."[14]

On May 21, Al-Furqan, one of ISIS's leading media arms, released a new audio statement by Al-'Adnani in which he urged "Caliphate soldiers" and ISIS supporters to target civilians in the U.S. and Europe: "If the tyrants have shut the doors of hijra [immigration to ISIS territories] in your face, then open the gate of jihad in their faces and make them regret their action."[15] Heading this call a week later, a self-proclaimed ISIS fighter known as "Amriki Muhajer" encouraged his Telegram followers to carry out lone-wolf attacks in the West, instead of immigrating to ISIS-controlled territory.[16]

At the same time as it threatens the West with attacks, ISIS is also telling us how to keep these attacks from happening. When it warns that the West is facing what is just the beginning of a wave of ISIS attacks against it, and that the U.S. will be the next to be targeted, by both regular ISIS fighters and lone-wolf operators, it also clearly states that if the U.S. and its allies stop bombing and attacking ISIS, ISIS will in turn stop attacking the West. ISIS is highlighting this in its videos and other propaganda - and it is reverberating among its online followers as well as its lone-wolf attackers. This was underlined when, during the June 13, 2016 Orlando nightclub massacre, gunman Omar Mateen, who in a call to 911 had sworn allegiance to ISIS, was heard by hostages saying on the phone that he wanted the U.S. to "stop bombing ISIS in Syria."

ISIS is strongly motivated to stop attacking the West, by both religious conviction and by its original objective of dealing with the closer, more immediate enemy. It also wants to get back to focusing on growing and strengthening its caliphate.

As with the Brussels attacks, ISIS, in the year leading up to and following the November 2015 attacks in France, warned several times that it would be carrying out attacks in the West.  With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching, the U.S. and the rest of the West can only hope that the brave men and women involved in counterterrorism efforts - who are rarely recognized for the public safety that they provide - will be able to stop the next attacks by ISIS, that are surely already in the works.

*Steven Stalinsky is the Executive Director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).  He is the author of the upcoming book American Traitor - The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda's U.S.-Born Leader Adam Gadahn


[10], June 15, 2016.

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