Just days after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called for enhanced security in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, federal authorities arrested an Ohio man who espoused support for the Islamic State (IS) and who allegedly plotted to attack the US Capitol.
Although DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson described the enhanced security measures as “precautionary,” he announced recent world events call for increased vigilance in homeland security.
“We have no specific, credible intelligence of an attack of the kind in Paris last week being planned by terrorist organizations in this country,” Johnson said in a statement. “But, the reasons for these measures should be self-evident to the public: the recent attacks in Paris, Ottawa, Sydney, and elsewhere, along with the recent public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on Western objectives, including aircraft, military personnel, and government installations and civilian personnel.”
Islamic State Inspired plot to attack the US Capitol
Amid the call for increased vigilance, Christopher Lee Cornell, a 20-year-old resident of the Cincinnati area, was charged with attempt to kill a US government official and possession of a firearm in furtherance of attempted crime of violence.
The criminal complaint filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio stated Cornell allegedly planned to detonate pipe bombs at the US Capitol and open fire on any nearby employees and officials in order to fulfill “the directives of violent jihadists.”
Between summer 2014 and January 2015, Cornell established and used Twitter accounts under the alias Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah to post videos, statements and other content showing his support for IS. Cornell voiced his support for violent jihad, including attacks committed in North America and elsewhere.
A confidential informant cooperating with the FBI initiated communication with Cornell via Twitter in the fall of 2014. The informant revealed that on a separate messaging platform Cornell said that he had been in contact with persons overseas and did not believe he would be directed to conduct a terrorist attack in the US.
However, Cornell also indicated that he would like to conduct violent jihad as his way of supporting IS, saying, “I believe that we should just wage jihad under our own order and plan attacks and everything.”
Cornell added, “We already got a thumbs up from the Brothers over there and Anwar al Awlaki before his martyrdom and many others,” and “I believe we should meet up and make our own group in alliance with the Islamic State here and plan operatives ourselves.”
In October 2014, Cornell met with the informant to discuss his support of IS and waging jihad. Cornell shared his jihadist videos and information about the constructionof bombs from his laptop computer with the informant.
Cornell and the informant met for a secondtime in November where Cornell revealed his plans to conduct an attack on the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Cornell’s plot involved traveling with the informant to DC where they would build, plant and detonate pipe bombs near the US Capitol, followed by a shooting rampage to kill government employees and officials in the US Capitol.
Cornell was arrested on January 14, 2015 by law enforcement after purchasing a firearm and approximately 600 rounds of ammunition, with the plan to travel to DC to attack the US Capitol.
Just hours after Cornell’s arrest, the FBI and DHS issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies notifying them of the plot.
"The alleged activities of Cornell highlight the continued interest of US-based violent extremists to support designated foreign terrorist organizations overseas, such as ISIL, by committing terrorist acts in the United States,” the bulletin said. “Terrorist group members and supporters will almost certainly continue to use social media platforms to disseminate English language violent extremist messages."
In response to the plot, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, issued a statement urging President Obama to counter the growing threat of violent Islamist extremism.
"I commend the hardworking agents at the FBI for making this arrest. In the wake of the attacks in Paris, this threat should set off alarm bells here in the United States and compel the Obama administration to not only act, but call the threat what it is: violent Islamist extremism,” McCaul said.
Continuing, McCaul said, “These terrorists are intent on attacking our country and are attempting to convince Americans at home to radicalize, embrace their perverse world view and commit acts of violence. The administration must urgently work to counter violent Islamist extremism in the United States.”
Plot to attack US Capitol highlights need for enhanced homeland security measures
The plot to attack the US Capitol by an IS-sympathizer highlighted the need for continued vigilance. In response, DHS has instituted a number of enhanced security measures, including ramped up security at US airports.
The enhanced measures for airport security come on the heels of the latest of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire agazine. Last month, Homeland Security Today first reported that the entire issue is devoted to inspiring lone wolf jihadists in the US and the West, and especially urged jihadists to attack on commercial passenger planes.
The magazine included a lengthy section providing very detailed instructions on how to build a new bomb AQAP purports can be “hidden” not only on aircraft, but also to blow up other targets, with the intent of causing ripples throughout US and Western economies.
“Last week the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took steps to enhance the number of random searches of passengers and carry-on luggage boarding aircraft at US airports,” Johnson said. “I have directed TSA to conduct an immediate, short-term review to determine whether more is necessary, at both domestic and overseas last-point of departure airports.”
In addition, Johnson also directed an enhanced presence of the Federal Protective Service at US government buildings in an expanded list of major cities around the country. DHS could not reveal the precise locations at which they are enhancing security because the information is “law enforcement sensitive.”
DHS will also continue its efforts to engage community organizations around the country on the topic of countering violent extremism. These efforts include the White House-hosted summit on countering violent extremism to be held on February 18.
“Public awareness, support and participation in our homeland security efforts are also essential. ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ is more than a slogan,” Johnson said.
Despite the heightened security measures and the recent plot to attack the US Capitol, Johnson urged Americans to continue with life as usual.
“We urge Americans to continue to travel, attend public events and freely associate with others," Johnson said. "However, given world events, this is a time for heightened vigilance by federal, state and local governments, critical infrastructure owners and operators, as well as the public."