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January 15, 2020 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 207

San Francisco As A Jihadi Target

January 15, 2020 | By Steven Stalinsky
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 207

Introduction

The San Francisco area is home to the major technology companies, including social media – YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the Internet Archive, and many others – that have become integral to the daily activity of every jihadi organization. Because the companies have taken action over the years to remove jihadi content, their CEOs as well as their headquarters in the San Francisco area have been targeted with calls for attacks on them.

At the same time, over the past two years, around San Francisco there have been ISIS- and Al-Qaeda-linked arrests, while the city is being mentioned frequently in online jihadi communications for targeting.

This report reviews jihadi threats against targets in the San Francisco area beginning in early 2015. Specific targets singled out include some of the city's main tourist attractions and neighborhoods– the Golden Gate Bridge, Geary Street, Pine Street, the Nob Hill cable car, Pier 39, and the Federal Reserve Bank, as well as gay bars frequented by students. Some of these targets, according to the threats, are to be attacked during peak tourist seasons such as Christmas.

The threats have come in the form of posters, videos, and e-books posted on social media, and specifically name and depict methods for mass killing such as poison gas, backpack and car bombs, and snipers. Jihadi media outlets such as the Al-Abd Al-Faqeer Foundation, Ash-Shaff Media, the Al-Taqwa Media Foundation, the Al-Khilafa Media Foundation, the Hadm Al-Aswar Foundation, and others have all issued threats to San Francisco.

While, as this report shows, San Francisco is on jihadis' radar, it should be noted that in February 2017 the San Francisco Police Department cut ties with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force,[1] following pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The CAIR announcement of the news celebrated the SFPD's move, announcing it under the headline "Good News: SFPD Suspends Participation In The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force." A CAIR civil rights attorney commented: "As our concerns with the conduct of the federal government increase, we are happy to see our police department take this important step to ensure its commitment to protecting our community."[2]

To date there is little evidence that ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or other groups have actually set into motion plans to attack. As in other cases, they are inciting their online followers to do so.[3]

ISIS Posters Featuring Threats To San Francisco

A poster released October 24, 2019 on the Telegram channel of the pro-ISIS Hadm Al-Aswar Foundation shows two ISIS fighters and an ISIS flag against the backdrop of San Francisco's Geary Street. The foundation regularly publishes threatening posters;[4] this one is titled "Flames Of War," in reference to two important ISIS videos by that name that included threats against the U.S. and other Western countries.[5]

On July 29, 2019, the pro-ISIS Ash-Shaff Media Foundation shared five posters on its Telegram channel that included threats and encouragement of terror attacks in the West. One of the posters showed an ISIS fighter aiming an RPG and an image of San Francisco, and read: "Terror – The Revenge Attacks In Your City." The Ash-Shaff media group is believed to be based in Indonesia and/or operated by Indonesians.[6]

In March 2019, ISIS supporters published numerous posters threatening the U.S.[7] One, released by the pro-ISIS Al-Taqwa Media Foundation, shows an armed ISIS fighter facing the San Francisco skyline.[8] Titled "The Jihad of the Believers Continues," the poster features a quote from a March 18 message by ISIS spokesman Abu Al-Hasan Al-Muhajir underlining the importance of steadfastness and patience in the cause of jihad.[9]

 

In July 2018, the pro-ISIS Al-'Abd Al-Faqeer Foundation published a series of posters encouraging biological attacks on Western targets; they were circulated on Telegram between July 22 and July 29, following the July 20 release by the foundation of a video threatening biological and chemical weapons attacks in retaliation for the chemical attacks by the regime of Syrian President Assad and for the alleged chemical attacks by the anti-ISIS coalition in Raqqa and Mosul.[10] The poster featured an ISIS fighter spreading poison gas in San Francisco, with the text "We will make you fear the air you breathe" and the bioterrorism symbol.[11]

ISIS Releases Video Celebrating Orlando Shooting – Whose Perpetrator Had Plans To Travel To San Francisco After Planned Attack – And Featuring Footage Of San Francisco Landmarks

A nine-minute video released June 26, 2016 by ISIS's Ninawa Province, titled "Most Beneficial to Us and Most Harmful to Them," celebrated the ISIS-linked attacks earlier that month – the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida and the murder of two French police officials in a Paris suburb.

According to federal law enforcement officials, Omar Mateen, who on June 12, 2016 killed 49 and wounded 53 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was thought to be planning to come to the San Francisco Bay area to visit his wife's family. Federal law enforcement in the Bay area had been aware of his travel plans, particularly since the San Francisco Pride weekend was set for June 25-27, 2016.[12]

The video opens with statements by a fighter identified as Abu 'Abdallah Al-Bosni ("the Bosnian"), who called on Muslims in the West to carry out attacks. His statements were accompanied by footage of San Francisco landmarks, in the style of reconnaissance footage filmed for the purpose of planning an attack. The video featured footage of San Francisco landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge taken from the bridge's pedestrian walkway, with a shot panning up to one of the bridge's supports before focusing on the vehicles traveling on it. Other footage focused on Pine Street at the corner of Powell, the cable car and tracks going up Nob Hill at that corner shot from the cable car itself, and the city's financial district. [13] 

 

  

ISIS- And Al-Qaeda-Connected Arrests In The San Francisco Area

In November 2019, Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, 50, of Maple Heights, Ohio, aka Abdur Raheem Rafeeq and Salah ad-Deen Osama Waleed, pleaded guilty to plotting to carry out a July 4, 2018 terror attack in downtown Cleveland in support of Al-Qaeda and of threats to kill President Trump and his daughter and son-in-law, as well as to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. He was arrested July 1, 2018. Pitts had previously sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda, and had discussed the idea of traveling to San Francisco on its behalf.[14]

 

On February 26, 2019, Amer Sinan Alhaggagi, 23, was sentenced to over 15 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to ISIS. He had been arrested in 2016, and in July 2018 admitted that he had knowingly attempted to provide services and personnel to ISIS. Beginning in July 2016, he had boasted online about a series of terrorist attacks he wanted to carry out on behalf of ISIS, to "redefine terror," and that if he succeeded the "whole Bay Area [was] gonna be in flames." He planned to explode a car bomb outside a gay nightclub in San Francisco, and plant backpack bombs on routes known to be used by emergency vehicles in an effort to kill first responders seeking to aid casualties; even after his arrest he hatched a new plot for a bomb attack and shared the plan with prison inmates. He also pointed out bars and clubs frequented by students and said "I was trying to target, you know, like clubs, you know, like dance clubs, bars... stuff like that." He also assisted individuals he believed were ISIS supporters, including one who was an actual ISIS member, to create Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail accounts, and committed credit card fraud.[15]

On August 6, 2018, Everitt Aaron Jameson, 27, of Modesto, California, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a life term of supervised release, for attempting to provide material support to ISIS, after pleading guilty on June 4, 2018.[16]  He had been arrested in an FBI sting on December 22, 2017 on suspicion of plotting a terror attack at San Francisco's Pier 39 set to take place a few days later, on Christmas Day. The attack was meant to be carried out using explosives and a truck; it was inspired by attacks in New York and San Bernardino, California. He had attended Marine Corps basic training in 2009, earning a "sharpshooter" rifle qualification, and in promoting himself to ISIS as a recruit he cited this training and offered funding.[17]

In 2015, Adam Shafi, then 22, of Fremont, was arrested at San Francisco International Airport after purchasing a plane ticket to Turkey, allegedly to go from there to Syria to join the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra; he was released in April 2019 after 40 months in prison and two attempts by federal prosecutors to imprison him as a terrorist. During a family trip to Egypt when he was 21, he was reported missing by his father. According to court records and FBI files, Shafi's father told U.S. Embassy officials that he was worried his son might have been "recruited" by "extreme imams." According to court documents, Shafi was heard stating that he wanted to meet Allah with scars on his face, and kill those who support America.[18]

Pro-ISIS Article Threatening Lone Wolf Attacks – "Bombs Going Off In The Streets Of San Francisco"

On January 10, 2015, ISIS supporter "Hamel Al-Bushra" ("Bearer of Tidings") tweeted an article titled "Lone Wolves" threatening a wave of lone wolf terror attacks in Western cities. The English translation of the article, which was released by the pro-ISIS media company Al-Khilafa Media Foundation, stated: "Allah said in His Holy Koran: 'Whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you' So do you feel the same way we do, O the people of Europe, America, Australia, Canada & Russia?... Yes you will feel the same way as we do, when you hear the bombs going off in the streets of San Francisco & Belgium!"[19]

Al-Qaeda Supporter's Book Suggests Targets In San Francisco Area

A book published in November 2016 by Al-Qaeda supporter Suleiman Al-'Ali that was shared via Telegram encouraged Muslims to carry out attacks on strategic economic targets in the U.S. and the West, whether as part of planned organizational activity or as lone-wolf attacks, with the aim of bringing down the U.S. The book, titled "The Collapse of the Idols: Operational Activity Abroad and Individual Jihadi Action – Importance, Targets, Operational Mechanisms, and Means," suggests a number of Western targets, including the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, for which it provided the address and coordinates.[20] 


From the book: The addresses and coordinates of all U.S. Federal Reserve Banks: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Richmond, and St. Louis.


Address and coordinates of Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on Market Street

Jihadi Threats Against Tech CEOs and Companies

The CEOs of tech companies have been targeted as well by jihadis, following the companies' efforts to remove jihadi content from their platforms.

On Telegram, Pro-ISIS Hacking Group Posts Image Threatening Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

The pro-ISIS hacking group Kalachnikv E-security team shared an image on its Telegram channel of Facebook CEO and cofounder facing a noose, on March 17, 2016. The group frequently posts articles on web-hacking techniques along with encryption tips.[21]

ISIS Supporters Distribute Poster Threatening Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

the pro-Islamic State (ISIS) Mu'sasat Al-Dhakhair Al-I'lamiyyah Telegram channel published a poster with a digitally created image of Twitter cofounder and CEO Jack Dorsey with a bullet hole in his bloodstained forehead and the text "If you delete our accounts we will delete your neck," on August 27, 2018. The poster was also published on the channel's WordPress page under the heading "Terrorism is a duty in our religion."[22]

ISIS Hackers 'Sons Caliphate Army' Video Mocks Facebook And Twitter, Shows Off Hacking Prowess, Threatens CEOs

The hacker group Sons Caliphate Army (SCA) released, on February 23, 2016, a video titled "Flames of Ansar" (Flames of [ISIS] Supporters) on its Telegram channel. The post included 11 different links to various platforms that are hosting the video, among them YouTube, The Internet Archive, and Google Drive. The video showed Facebook and Twitter accounts being hacked and manipulated, adding that these hacked accounts are then given to ISIS supporters. The video concluded with a message to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, mocking them for being unable to curb ISIS supporters' use of their platforms: "To Mark and Jack, founders of Twitter and Facebook and to their Crusader government. You announce daily that you suspended many of our accounts And to you we say: Is that all you can do? You are not in our league. If you close one account we will take 10 in return and soon your names will be erased after we delete your sites, Allah willing, and will know that we say is true"[23] (the video can be viewed here).

Social Media Posts By San Francisco-Based Jihadi Sympathizers

The MEMRI JTTM team has identified multiple cases of jihadis living throughout California and in the area of San Francisco who are posting support for ISIS and jihad in the U.S.. This has included individuals employed by major sports teams and sports venues.

Muslim Convert From San Francisco Tweets About Jihad, Beheading; Shares Content From Sheikh Known For Radicalization

A San Francisco Bay Area resident explained in his Twitter bio that he is a Muslim convert introduced to Islam at age 14 at a juvenile detention center, and that he took his Shahada (declaration of faith) "when the Syrian war was in its first years." He added: "Muslim. Alhamduillah. Basketball head. #BayArea. Wifed." On the Twitter account he created in November 2018, he has posted content from the Michigan-based Islamist preacher Sheikh Ahmad Musa Jibril, a known jihadi associated with the radicalization of many English-speakers, including the June 2017 London Bridge attackers who killed 11 people and wounded 48.[24] He also asked his followers to pray for "our brothers waging righteous jihad under the banner of pure tawheed [monotheism] against the tyrants and enemy's of Islam..." He has said he does not support any specific group, but has also tweeted: "I don't care if my tweets draw attention, too many Muslims remain silent out of fear of being labelled a terrorist..."

At the top of his Twitter page is a photo of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.[25] With regard to his local activity, he has tweeted about training at a gym in the Bay area, and about people he meets at his job, including "Aaron Fox and vlade divoc of the Kings" – pro basketball player De'Aaron Fox and general manager Vlade Divac of the Sacramento Kings basketball team. He tweets about playing basketball, the gym, and training, writing on February 18, 2019 that he was training at the gym, and "Stay ready so I don't have to get ready" and on February 26, "Any brothers from the #Bay here? Specifically SF or Oakland that want to ball with me?"

On March 8, 2019, he tweeted a photo of himself with his eyes blacked out and wrote: "#NewProfilePic." In the photo, he appears to be at the Bay Bridge.

On March 25, he tweeted: "Somehow people have a twisted thinking that dropping bombs and phosphorus killing thousands is more civilized and morally correct than a beheading which is actually the opposite."

On March 16, he shared a tweet that read: "Daesh [ISIS] has proven to demonstrate a reckless disregard for human life and continues to be a global threat..." and wrote: "A lot of hypocrisy coming from ones who burn tent camps of Muslim families besieged in bahguz with illegal white phosphorus and bombs every building in town to dust."

Jabhat Al-Nusra Fighter's Bride – A San Francisco Native "Back Home"

A San Francisco native and Muslim convert wed a Welsh Jabhat Al-Nusra fighter known on Twitter. She tweeted that she had moved to Syria, in the summer of 2014, "to help people and to live my life peacefully with Muslims."

On January 25, 2015, she posted a photo from her Instagram account of an interior shot of what she said was her home in the San Francisco Bay area. She wrote, "Home back home <3 #bayarea."

In early February 2015, her husband changed the name on his Twitter account, and her account went offline.

 

* Steven Stalinsky is the Executive Director of MEMRI.

 

[1] Abc7news.com/news/sf-temporarily-suspends-ties-to-fbi-joint-terrorism-task-force/1733119/, February 2, 2017.

[2] Ca.cair.com/sfba/updates/good-news-sfpd-suspends-participation-in-the-fbis-joint-terrorism-task-force.

[8] See MEMRI JTTM report New Pro-ISIS Posters Threaten U.S., Israel, April 03, 2019

[10] See MEMRI JTTM report Pro-ISIS Media Calls For Biological Attacks In West, July 22, 2018.

[12] Sfexaminer.com/news/feds-orlando-gunman-planned-to-travel-to-sf-bay-area, June 21, 2016.

[13] See MEMRI JTTM report French, Bosnian ISIS Fighters Urge Muslims In The U.S., Canada, Australia, Europe To Carry Out Attacks, June 26, 2016; Thesun.co.uk/news/1353609/isis-makes-specific-threat-to-san-francisos-iconic-golden-gate-bridge-in-chilling-video/amp/#, June 28, 2016; Hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/counterterrorism/isis-threat-poster-coinciding-with-wildfires-depicts-fiery-san-francisco, October 29, 2019.

[14] Wkyc.com/article/news/local/cleveland/maple-heights-guilty-plea-cleveland-july-4-terror-attack/95-68b5d05b-e1e2-487e-990a-1673db87830e, Justice.gov/opa/pr/ohio-man-pleads-guilty-plotting-july-4th-attack-cleveland-part-plot-provide-support-al-qaeda, November 5, 2019.

[15] Justice.gov/usao-ndca/pr/isis-supporter-sentenced-over-15-years-prison-attempting-provide-material-support, February 26, 2019.  

[16] Justice.gov/opa/pr/california-man-sentenced-15-years-prison-attempting-provide-material-support-isis, August 6, 2019.

[17] Nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Man-Accused-Plotting-Possible-Terror-Attack-San-Francisco-FBI-465957673.html,
December 22, 2017.

[18] Eastbayexpress.com/oakland/terror-or-entrapment/Content?oid=12242075&storyPage=6, January 3, 2018;
Sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Prosecution-of-Fremont-man-shows-why-terrorism-13781811.php, April 19, 2019;
Eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2018/10/08/accused-of-terrorism-and-jailed-for-three-years-adam-shafi-is-released-following-a-mistrial, October 8, 2018.

[24] Mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/london-bridge-terror-attack-mastermind-10848900, July 21, 2017.

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