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Jihadi Attack on Paris Newspaper May be Part of Larger Operation against ‘Blasphemers’

Given the nature of the deadly attack on the Paris-based Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices Wednesday, US counterterrorism intelligence sources told Homeland Security Today on condition of anonymity that there’s been what they described as “pretty actionable" intelligence in various forms that’s been connected to indicate the Paris attack was well-planned and “very likely” carried out by well-trained jihadists – possibly from France since they Single Post Template - Magazine PRO Homeland Security Todayreportedly spoke fluent French — who likely received their training on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq fighting with the Islamic State.

Le Point has reported that French police are focusing on two suspects the magazine described as "French-Algerian." According to Le Point, the two men, 32 and 34-years old, returned to France from Syria, and that in 2008 one of them was tied to an Iraqi network in Paris that encouraged young men to joinjihadists in Iraq. The magazine reported he was also arrested in 2005 as he attempted to travel to Damascus.

Moreover, the sources said, intelligence indicates the attack may be the beginning of a larger coordinated plan of action against numerous individuals jihadists have been identifying for assassination going back to at least 2010, including individuals in the United States, although previous jihadi hit lists against Western individuals in 2011 drew mostly yawns from many intelligence officials and authorities.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices occurred during a time of intensified worries in France and other Western European nations over the hundreds of radicalized Muslims and self-radicalized jihadist European citizens who went to fight with the Islamic State and feared would return to carry out jihadi attacks in their own countries – a uneasiness that has had Western counterterrorism authorities on edge since ISIS declared itself an Islamic State and appointed its own so-called Caliph.

Former CIA counterterrorism analyst Aki Peritz told BBC World News the attacks were "very professional, well thought out, well researched and well executed."

In November, French Islamic State members released a video through the Al Hayat Media Center calling on Muslims to carry out jihadi attacks on French soil and offering operational support.

According to witnesses, at least one of the attackers claimed he was an Al Single Post Template - Magazine PRO Homeland Security TodayQaeda member. Counterterrorism intelligence officials said on background there’s indications the attackers belong to one of the jihadist group’s affiliates, likely Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has long urged such attacks, and even developed "hit lists" of people to kill.

Paris is no stranger to lone wolf attacks. In November 2013, Abdelhakim Dekhar was behind several attacks in central Paris. He critically wounded a photographer at the offices of Liberation newspaper before opening fire on the offices of Société Générale bank in the La Défense district and taking a motorist hostage. Paris police said Dekhar’s DNA matched genetic prints found on the shotgun cartridges he used and a car he commandeered during the attack.

Homeland Security Today Contributing Writer Dave Sloggett wrote in August that, “All across Europe, security services have become increasing candid about the threat their nations face from terrorism linked to Syria and Iraq by the establishment of the Islamic State. Their openness about the scale of the problem they face is clear. They are trying to prepare Europeans that another terrorist atrocity cannot be prevented in the West. The problems with preventing people from traveling overseas and potentially returning ready to conduct acts of extreme violence — as leaders of the Islamic State have claimed they will do — are simply too huge.”

Sloggett conducted a study of data released by the various security agencies of thirteen European countries that revealed a mixed picture of radicalization when analyzed in the context of the local demographics.

“Aside from Turkey,” he said, “whose population is nearly all classified as Muslims, France is the country with the next highest Muslim population at around 5.5 million out of a total of 63 million people. This represents around 9 percent of the total population. French authorities have been very clear that they believe around 700 people have traveled to Syria, a rate of 1 in 8,000 of the Muslim population. Despite having a similar overall population, Turkish authorities believe that, like France, only 700 have crossed the border into Syria.”
 Single Post Template - Magazine PRO Homeland Security Today
What was clearly a professional, coordinated attack by heavily armed, presumably Islamist jihadists shouting "we have avenged the prophet" and "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) as they stormed the offices of the Paris-based satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo – which has repeatedly angered jihadists in the past for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed – they killed at least 12 people, including editor Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, four cartoonists and two police officers in the deadliest attack in France in four decades.

The attack occurred just hours after the newspaper published a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi earlier today. The Wall Street Journal also reported that the newspaper’s website was crashed early Wednesday after an apparent cyber attack.

"I saw them leaving and shooting. They were wearing masks. These guys were serious," said a witness who declined to give his name. "At first I thought it was special forces chasing drug traffickers or something. We weren’t expecting this. You would think we were in a movie."

One of the police officers reportedly was assigned as Charbonnier’s bodyguard in response to prior death threats against him, a police official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Charbonnier had been under police protection for quite some time because of death threats over the newspaper’s satirical depictions of Prophet Mohammed.

The gunmen called out the names of their victims, and after the attack quickly fled (possibly changing vehicles several times, according to police), while calling out: “We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed, we have killed Charlie Hebdo."

Any depiction of the prophet is forbidden by Islam, and punishable by death.

The magazine has been on Jihadists’ hit list for its numerous satirical portrayals of Prophet Mohamed over the years, including a cartoon of a turbaned Muslim on a wheelchair pushed by a man dressed as an orthodox Jew with the caption, “Intouchables 2.” Another cartoon on the back page depicted a naked Mohammed exposing his butt to a film director, which was apparently inspired by a 1963 film starring French film star Brigitte Bardot.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo made headlines when it named the Prophet Muhammad as editor-in-chief of an edition of the newspaper titled, “Sharia Hebdo,” and featured Prophet Mohammed as guest editor. Not surprisingly, the edition of the publication incited outrage and its offices firebombed.

The attack and further threats of violence didn’t deter Charlie Hebdo, which continued to publish more Muhammad illustrations the following year.

Censorship by radicalizedreligion?

“Today’s violent attack in France … appears to be an organized effort by Islamist terrorists whose perverse ideology is to attack organizations and individuals critical of that ideology, attempting to stifle the most basic freedom civilized societies hold dear – the freedom of speech,” said Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich), vice chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security and chairman of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. “This barbaric violence cannot and will not be tolerated, and the US stands ready to assist our French Single Post Template - Magazine PRO Homeland Security Todayallies in the global effort to stop terrorist organizations from harming the innocent.”

Britian’s Guardian newspaper cartoonist Steve Bell told to BBC News, "We’ve got to stand up for the right to take the piss out of these monsters, these idiots, these fools, these posturing maniacs who strut around in their black gear as a kind of death cult trying to frighten us all."

“This is more than a personal tragedy. It is an attack on the media and freedom of expression,” said UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova. “The world community cannot allow extremists to silence the free flow of opinions and ideas. The perpetrators of this attack must be brought to justice and UNESCO is ever more determined to stand for a free and independent press.”

Conversely, the White House criticized Charlie Hebdo in 2012 for publishing cartoons mocking Prophet Muhammad. Then White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said of cartoons of a naked Prophet Muhammad that, “We are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this.”

Carney declared the images to be “deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. We don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it.”

Similarly, in the wake of the jihadi attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on September 11, 2012 that the administration first blamed on a film on Muslim extremism, President Obama said at the United Nations on September 25, 2012 that, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

In Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) March 2013 English-language magazine, Inspire, Charlie Hebdo editor and cartoonist Charbonnier appeared on a “most wanted” poster illustration titled, “Yes We Can: A Bullet a Day Keeps the Infidel Away.” Nine individuals were identified, includinSingle Post Template - Magazine PRO Homeland Security Todayg US pastor Terry Jones, who has a gun pointed at his head. Jones stirred up an uproar among Muslim extremists when he threatened to burn copies of the Koran.

But Prior to all that, in 2006, the publication was under the spotlight for a cover depicting a cartoon of a weeping Prophet Muhammad saying, "C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons" (It’s hard being loved by jerks). A series of similar controversial cartoons followed in 2012, and Charb defended their publication, citing freedom of expression, explaining, "We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation."

Charb later stated, “a cartoon never killed anyone.” Words that do not sit well with today’s events.

“The motive here is absolutely clear; trying to shut down a media organization that lampooned the Prophet Mohammad,” CBS News security consultant and former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell told “CBS This Morning.”

“What we have to figure out here is the perpetrators and whether they were self-radicalized or whether they were individuals who fought in Syria and Iraq and came back, or whether they were actually directed by ISIS or Al Qaeda,” Morell added.

Morrell warned law enforcement and intelligence agencies that they need to “worry about copycat attacks, not only in France but in the rest of the world, and I would even say in the broader world to include the United States.”

French President Francois Hollande immediately went to the scene of the shooting, where he stated, "An act of exceptional barbarism has just been committed here in Paris against a newspaper, meaning (against) the expression of liberty.”

Jihadists’ react swiftly to Paris attack

According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Jihadist reaction to the attack on Charlie Hebdo was almost immediate.

“Participants on jihadi forums and social media praised the attackers, saying that the shooting was a legitimate act of revenge against the weekly for insulting Islam and against France for its crimes against Muslims,” said MEMRI Executive Director Steven Stalinsky.

MEMRI said, “Members of the pro-ISIS forum Jihadi Media Platform (alplatformmedia.com) lashedSingle Post Template - Magazine PRO Homeland Security Today out at France. A member called Al Dia’ Al Gharib wrote: ‘France was [once] part of the land of Islam and will return to be the land of Islam, in spite the worshippers of the Cross.’”

“Another, who goes by the name Muhib Al Salihin, wrote: ‘France is one of the harshest enemies of Islam and of the Islamic State in particular.” Forum member Abu Al Qassem Al Shawqi commented: ‘[This] is news that quenches the thirst for revenge. By Allah, beloved ones, let us not think lightly of prayers. By Allah, they [the attackers] are soldiers of Allah.’ And a member calling himself Abu Bakr Al Zari’ni remarked: ‘Congratulations to France and to its people for reaping what their hands sowed. Did these evil cartoonists think that we were a nation that would remain silent in face of those who insult our Prophet…? Did [French President] Hollande and the governments that preceded him think that their interventions and despotism in the lands of the Muslims would not be met with retribution? No, by Allah, from now on the youths of Islam will no longer remain silent, especially since we have a state [ISIS] to mobilize armies if anybody insults the nation of Islam.’”

“Arabic-speaking jihad supporters also celebrated the attack on Twitter, some using the Arabic hashtag ‘Paris Is Burning,’” MEMRI reported, saying, “Many of them shared videos from tSingle Post Template - Magazine PRO Homeland Security Todayhe scene of the attack, calling the shooters ‘heroes’ and praising them for avenging the honor of the Prophet and of Islam. One, who calls himself Najam (@35njm), wrote: ‘#Paris Is Burning. Oh Allah slaughter them, Allah attack them. This newspaper insulted the Messenger of Allah and Islam.’ ISIS supporter Hamel Al Liwa’ (@blue964) tweeted: ‘Fear prevails among the newspapers and journalists who hate Islam. There are demands for military protection of the paper headquarters. #Paris is turning into a military barracks.’ Another ISIS supporter, Al Khilafa Hiya Al Hal [‘the Caliphate is the solution’] (@death4x), shared a video of the attack and commented: ‘France turned the lands of the Muslims intobattlefields, and now the Muslims have turned Paris into a battlefield. Allah Akbar.’”

The following are some reactions by French-speaking jihadists on Twitter.

ISIS supporter Abou Hafs (@Ansar_Al_Ouma) tweeted: “Oh Allah, the honor of your prophet has been cleansed.” Another, Al Furat Wadijlah (@AlFuratWadijlah), commented on the character of the attack: “An RPG7 with Kalashnikovs, it’s a well prepared assault.” He added: “That dog Charb [Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief and cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier, who is one of those killed in the attack] was supposed to publish this drawing on the first page this week.”

Jihadists discussed infidel ‘hit lists’ in 2011

In June 2011,Homeland Security Today first reported that 11 of the nation’s top military leaders at the time were among 58 past and present military, corporate and civilian officials who were identified by members of the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Al Mujahedeen jihadist forum as infidels who should be murdered, according to a jihadist “hit list” that accompanied a June 6 Florida fusion center bulletin.

The bulletin coincided with an unusual flurry of similar alerts that were issued at about the same time by the FBI, Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and which came on the heels of then FBI Director Robert Mueller having told the Senate Committee on the Judiciary that one of the early assessments from intelligence seized at Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan is that Al Qaeda is committed to continuing attacks against the United States.

While some officials downplayed the “hit list” as wishful thinking by Al Qaeda-sympathetic jihadists, other counterterrorism authorities went on high alert in response to the jihadi forums’ members’ disturbing talk of assassinating Single Post Template - Magazine PRO Homeland Security Todaytop US military and corporate leaders, especially in light of testimony a few weeks earlier in a federal terrorism trial that revealed a senior Al Qaeda official had ordered Lockheed Martin chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert Stevens assassinated because his company manufactures UAVs used by the US military in strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Al Qaeda leadership targets in Yemen and in special operations in Somalia.

Stevens was disclosed to have been an Al Qaeda target in testimony that named Ilyas Kashmiri — the Al Qaeda paramilitary commander in Pakistan who’d been considered a possible successor to Osama Bin Laden — as having ordered Stevens killed. Kashmiri killed by a missile strike from a possible Lockheed Martin UAV in North Waziristan in September 2009.

The allegation that Stevens was targeted by Kashmiri was made during testimony in May by Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley in the trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who was charged with having been involved in the 2008 Mumbai, India attacks that killed 166 civilians.

In his testimony, Headley said “there was a plan to kill [Stevens] because he was making drones.” Headley said Kashmiri arranged for unnamed operatives to carry out surveillance of Stevens in the US in connection with the terrorist group’s alleged plot to kill him.

Headley further testified that he’d researched the Lockheed Martin CEO online, stating “my research is more in-depth than Googling someone a couple of times.”

In a statement following confirmation of Kashmiri’s death from the Al Qaeda-tied Harakat Ul Jihad Al Islami’s Brigade 313, the equivalent of a jihadi special operations group that Kashmiri commanded, the group stated their leader had been "martyred" and that, "God willing, America, which is the ‘pharaoh’ of this, will soon see a revenge attack, and our real target is America.”

Contacts for Harkat Ul Mujahideen Al Islami, an offshoot of  Kashmiri’s Harakat Ul Jihad Al Islami, were found in the cell phone of Bin Laden’s trusted courier. This spinoff group is strongly believed by counterterrorists to have been part of Bin Laden’s support network in Pakistan.

With concerns over jihadists’ "hit lists" fresh on their minds at the time, counterterrorism officials were spooked when 22-year-old Ethiopian-American Muslim, Yonathan Melaku, a Marine Corps Reserve lance corporal, was taken into custody on suspicion of having possible bomb making materials in his car, which he’d parked near the Pentagon. Melaku’s car contained unidentified suspicious materials as well as a notebook with numerous references to Islamic jihad.

Forensic and other evidence disclosed in a criminal complaint and the supporting affidavit by Joint Terrorism Task Force FBI Special Agent Kelley Clark, the lead investigator, alleged Melaku was the perpetrator of shootings throughout the Washington, DC-area that targeted military locations.

Federal officials said on background that there is no evidence “at the moment to either suggest or indicate” Melaku is associated with any terrorist group.

The names of the top US military leaders that were spelled out in each of the official alerts that were disseminated to law enforcement authorities had been submitted by Ansar Al Mujahedeen and other jihadi forums’ members in response to the June 3, 2011 video by radicalized American Muslim Adam Gadahn, an Al Qaeda spokesman.

In Gadahn’s video, "Do Not Rely on Others, Take the Task Upon Yourself,” the hardened terrorist made a plea to jihadists — especially “lone wolf” jihadists in the United States — to take up arms against Americans involved in prosecuting the war on what Al Qaeda perceives to be true Islam.

Among the top Defense Department officials forum members named at the time included Gen. David Petraeus, Commander of International Security Assistance Force & Commander of US Forces Afghanistan; Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Scwartz; Gen. James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps; and Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Commander, US Strategic Command.

During the Senate confirmation hearing for Petraeus, it was disclosed that he was the only person Bin Laden had targeted by name in the materials that were seized from the Al Qaeda leader’s compound in Pakistan.

Other top US military commanders who were on the “hit list” compiled by analysts based on Ansar Al Mujahedeen jihadist forum messages were Michael Decker, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight; Thomas Ferguson, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; and James Hursch, Director of the Defense Technology Security Administration.

The initial list of “suggested targets” that the forum’s members recommended jihadists kill were compiled and identified in an attachment to the June 6, 2011 "Situational Awareness Bulletin,” Forum Chatter: Online Jihadists Provide Instructions for Preparing a Hit List, disseminated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Central Florida Intelligence Exchange (CFIX), a regional fusion center opened in August 2007.

The fusion center bulletin was first obtained by Homeland Security Today and the BlackNET Intelligence Channel, who jointly working together to interview counterterrorism officials to get a sense of the seriousness of the threats that the forum’s members had been discussing when news organizations obtained the alerts that were issued by the FBI and DHS that contained some of the same information as the CFIX analysts’ bulletin.

In addition to the top US military leaders targeted by Al Qaeda sympathizers at the time, 11 top and senior executives of AeroVironment Inc. also were identified by the jihadist forums members.

AeroVironment manufactures the thousands of miniature robotic UAVs like the Raven, Wasp and Digital Puma that were being used over the battlefields in Afghanistan.

Other top past and present corporate leaders involved who were nominated for assassination included seven from KBR and several from Blackwater Group, including founder Erik Prince; Gary Jackson, who was president during operations in Iraq; and former vice president Cofer Black, a 28-year CIA veteran assigned to the Directorate of Operations who once headed up the Agency’s Counterterrorist Center.

Black also served as the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism from December 2002 to November 2004, and was the point man for the government’s counterterrorism policy in the first term of President George W. Bush.

In addition to Lockheed Martin’s Stevens, Halliburton Senior Vice President of Investor Relations, Christian Garcia, and seven executives of RAND Corporation, eight from IAP Worldwide Services, Inc. and the chairmen of Dassault Group and Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy also were named.

Lastly, several think tank executives, one US Representative and US pastor Terry Jones were targeted.

Other corporations proffered by Jihadi forum members as worthy terror targets appeared to have been taken from a website that named “The 25 Most Vicious Iraq War Profiteers,” according to intelligence contained in the CFIX alert. While the webpage is no longer active, it can still be found in a Google cache of the page.

“Getting to these criminals isn’t as hard as you might think,” Gadahn claimed in his video that inspired members of the Ansar Al Mujahedeen jihadist forum to draw up the list.

“I mean, we’ve seen how a woman knocked the Pope to the floor during Christmas mass, and how Italian leader Berlusconi’s face was smashed during a public appearance,” Gadahn said. “So, it’s just a matter of entrusting the matter to Allah and choosing the right place, the right time, and the right method.”

“Target major institutions and public figures,” Gadahn urged his fellow jihadists, saying, “do not rely on others, take the task upon yourself. What are you waiting for?”

A separate “Law Enforcement Sensitive” security alert from the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) Protective Intelligence Investigations branch of the DoD’s Coordinator for Threat Mitigation office also provided to Homeland Security Today reflected Pentagon officials’ concerns.

Titled, AQ Hit List to Include Occupants of the Pentagon, it stated, “Although the topic of individual jihad has been addressed regularly throughout the jihadi forums, recent issues of Inspire, along with AQC’s [Al Qaeda Central] propaganda video, are presenting these issues with a new flavor that makes the material relevant … In recent postings, the online jihadists are providing both tactical techniques and specific targets to facilitate and assist in the planning of operations in the West …”

One Jihadi poster cited by both the DoD and CFIX bulletins “advised that he fully agrees with the message relayed by Adam Gadahn in reference to targeting politicians, influential leaders and CEOs who ‘work with the crusaders try to destroy the Ummah.’ He places emphasis on targeting individuals and businesses in the US, UK and France and provides a simple plan ‘which can be shared by the supporters of jihad’…”

"[W]e [should] now have a list of assassination” targets …whether one list or several lists, according to importance, so that, for example, there would be the first list, the second list, etc.,” the Jihadi forum member said.

"[T]hese lists, with the names of their owners, should be announced loudly and spread in the center of sin,” the forum member continued. “For example, with the sanction of the base of jihad [Al Qaeda], the matter would have an effect like a nuclear bomb.”

Pentagon analysts took particular note of the jihadi’s advice “that large amounts of money and security resources would have to be used to protect these ‘most wanted’ individuals and it will also make them re-think their involvement in the war against Islam.”

The FBI said in its alert that the “hit list” and the call to jihadists to take up arms against the persons the Ansar Al Mujahedeen and other jihadist forums’ members identified is more “aspirational” in nature, and that there is no indication that there are any plots that have “progress[ed] beyond these discussion forums.”

The FBI said AQAM has a long history of making web-based threats that never materialize.

However, the FBI noted that “though there has been an increase in postings on extremist web forums since [Osama bin Laden’s] death on 2 May 2011, these examples are the most target specific threat postings in the forum since that date,” adding, “the depth and breadth of the list provided …represent a familiarity with defense and intelligence contractors and private sector support."

But counterterrorism analysts also pointed out that the names could easily have been obtained from the Internet.

Senior counterterrorism officials and analysts interviewed by Homeland Security Today said at the time that while there was “not insignificant chatter” on jihadist websites, chat forums and in the personal emails of known and suspected terrorists who the US Intelligence Community has under surveillance, “we haven’t really seen any intelligence that we’d consider as actionable or otherwise gives us a hint that there is a specific plot” to kill anyone discussed in “these chat room[s in response] to Gadahn’s message,” one said.

The FBI had noted in an “Unclassified – For Official Use Only” security bulletin to law enforcement authorities that Al Qaeda’s fall 2010 issue of Inspire, in the article, Tips for our Brothers in the United Snakes of America, had provided jihadists suggestions for a possible weapon of mass destruction attack and an operation similar to that of the alleged Ft. Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan, that specifically targeted a “crowded restaurant in Washington, DC at lunch” that would likely kill US government employees.

“Chatter city leads to chattering teeth around here,” a DC-area security official told Homeland Security Today. But the arrest at the time of Marine Reservist Yonathan Melaku only added to the official’s “re-renewed” concern, he said. “Melaku is precisely the ‘random, lone-wolf’ freelancers with special forces-type military-training who were the very targets of the Gadahn/Awlaki ‘web-casts …,’” he said.

The official also noted that the jihadists seemed to be demonstrating a “bureaucratic bent” in their development of a “hit list.” A bent that also was noted by the Pentagon and CFIX analysts, who remarked about the one forum member who stated that “these lists will be sent to the leaders of the Mujahedeen through jihadi media correspondents and forum administrators, which will allow the leaders of jihad to add or delete entries as they see fit; arrange entries according to priority; and give approval and blessing.”

“Yes, I think this is serious, and those [named] probably already are very much aware of the threat … but hopefully have been notified and taken appropriate measures,” 20-year veteran CIA covert operations officer and Islamist jihadist authority, Clare Lopez, told Homeland Security Today at the time. She added that the individuals named, and the call for their death by the Al Qaeda video and the Ansar Al Mujahedeen forum, is “entirely in keeping with the Islamic obligation to fard ‘ayn, or individual jihad, whenever Muslim lands are occupied by the infidel.”

A senior counterterrorism official told Homeland Security Today on background that “chatter of this nature” is ongoing “nearly all the time – it’s just not always reported – and most of the time it’s a lot of wishful thinking – Al Qaeda has lots ofwishful thinking, believe me!”

Retired Army Special Forces information warfare officer, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, said “the recent ‘targeting’ of US individuals and businesses is an information operation – Al Qaeda does not have the resources or ability to launch viable attacks against these individuals – and even the ‘lone wolves’ they are hoping for will not be able to take on the targets without some level of planning and support – therefore the current list is having its intended effect – to freak people out …”

But a retired senior military officer who’d been involved in counterterrorism whose family members potentially could be put on the list because of their involvement in the war on terrorism, said it only takes one true believer to kill a few, or thousands. Consequently, the official said he believed the list, and any others like it, should indeed be taken very seriously.

The former official told Homeland Security Today that, “yes – absolutely – we should worry,” emphasizing, “people who say not to worry aren’t on this list!”

“Would Al Qaeda Central like to have individual jihadists out there – these lone wolves – trying to kill these people?” asked another senior counterterrorism official. “Sure they would! But because of precautions that are taken, the intelligence capabilities we have, the potential is lower than it might seem too many people. Still, it’s a concern, and notifying appropriate authorities is the prudent thing to do. But it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an identifiable threat; like I said, there’s chatter like this all the time.”

What is worrisome, counterterrorism authorities conceded, is there’s seen a growing debate within jihadist circles about carrying out small-scale, low-tech, improvised attacks on soft targets by lone-wolves that can have a more terrifying and persistent effect than a mass-casualty attack.

“The real fear is that you get someone – maybe an ex-Special Forces Muslim from somewhere who isn’t on any watch list, for example – who has the wherewithal to carry out professional covert-like hits … That’s the sort of thing that we’d be worried about," an official stated.

Jihadis must have ‘hit lists’

According to the CFIX bulletin, “the release of Al Qaeda Central’s newest propaganda video … generated fervent discussions by members of the top-tier [Al Qaeda] forums regarding the lone offender operations which were advocated in [Gadahn’s] video.”

The CFIX bulletin noted that “Leman Pigments, a member from the Shumukh Al Islam forum, advised that he fully agrees with the message relayed by Adam Gadahn in reference to targeting politicians, influential leaders and CEOs who ‘work with the crusaders try to destroy the Ummah.’ He places emphasis on targeting individuals and businesses in the US, UK and France and provides a simple plan ‘which can be shared by the supporters of jihad.’”

Pigments “suggests creating a special workshop to collect detailed information on individual actors in the war against Islam such as CEOs from companies that support the war, media institutions and politicians. He advises that information on these individuals and organizations is easily obtainable on the Internet for those who know how to use search engines.”

Pigments further “urge[d] fellow members to collect information such as work addresses, residential addresses, phone numbers, photos and any other relevant information that will assist in targeting these individuals and organizations,” and that “these lists will be sent to the leaders of the Mujahedeen through jihadi media correspondents and forum administrators, which will allow the leaders of jihad to … add or delete entries as they see fit, arrange entries according to priority” and “give approval and blessing.”

It was forum member Pigments who stated, “we [should] now have a list of assassination [targets] or a list of available wanted [targets], whether one list or several lists, according to importance, so that for example there would be the first list, the second list, etc.”

The aspiring Jihadist further proposed that [“]The media [outlets] would be forced to publish the matter. Many of those whose names appeared on these lists would scream through the American and global media, accusing Al Qaeda of terrorism and demanding the appropriation of protection for [themselves], and some would urge bravery and say that they would not be frightened by threats like these, etc."

“It would not be necessary for Al Qaeda to say that it would assassinate those whose names appeared on the list; it would be enough to say that they are inciting the assassination of those [people] and sanctioning their killing …,” Pigments continued.

Pigments went “on to advise that large amounts of money and security resources would have to be used to protect these ‘most wanted’ individuals and it will also make them re-think their involvement in the war against Islam,” and concluded “his posting by suggesting that the existence of these Al Qaeda hit lists will assist in the facilitation of operations by those wanting to fulfill their obligation of individual jihad.”

“As a follow-up to the Shumukh Al Islam posting,” the CFIX bulletin cautioned, “‘Lion Rebel,’ [another Jihadist] member of the Ansar Al Mujahedeen forum, posted an article regarding ‘sowing fear and terror in the hearts of the people.’ He reiterate[d] the idea of creating lists of those involved in the war against Islam and expands on it by stating that once the residential and business addresses have been obtained, they can send them ‘booby-trapped parcels’ such as letter bombs."

“Lion Rebel then proceeded to list the name of a US business which could be targeted which generated three pages of responses and recommendations mentioning other desirable target. In the discussion thread they provided [a] web link to assist the brethren who are [planning] to identify potential targets. After the business names are pulled from the website listed above, they can be run through a Google search to pull back the website for the businesses to identify the CEO’s. The online jihadists advise that many of the company websites will provide a photo along with the names.”

According to the CFIX analysts, the “implications” are that “with the continued call for individual jihad in the form of lone offender operations, the potential for success will lie in their ability to not only avoid communication of their plans, but mainly in their ability to blend into society, thus preventing law enforcement and members of the Intelligence Community from being able to detect and prevent an attack from occurring.”

And, “in addition to providing easy access to jihadist propaganda,” the CFIX bulletin concluded, “radical Islamist forums such as Ansar Al Mujahedeen and the Shumukh Al Islam forum also highlight[ed] the intelligence process [i.e. establishing workshops for collecting, collating and analyzing data, as well as sharing ‘lessons learned’ and success stories] utilized by online jihadists in preparation for future operations. The ability to identify their process and use it to analyze the intended audience, as well as the effectiveness of the information being distributed will be essential in countering the propaganda efforts of militant groups, as well as identifying those individuals desiring to carry out lone offender operations in the West.”

The CFIX bulletin then offered a cautionary tale of the online Jihadist, “Lion Rebel,” who described himself in the Jihadi forum as a “hard-working … Ansari,” a South Asian ethnic group surname. Lion Rebel reported that he had made “202 posts” and was “now” setting-up a “workshop of terror and the real terrorism: individual terror!” Or, as further described, dryly, in a notation by the CFIX analysts – the “Hit List.”

Analysis

In light of today’s attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, perhaps there is a “lone-wolf” central committee that’s not just proffering idle chatter in cyberspace, but is indeed secretly laboring away plotting additional attacks like this one.

Over the past year, the dangerous rhetoric put forth by the Islamic State through media services and social media platforms has threatened attacks on the homeland.

The Department of Homeland Security, FBI and Pentagon have issued multiple alerts about the possibility of a rangeof attacks, including cyberterrorism, lone wolf attacks and attacks specifically targeting military and law enforcement.

During the siege at the Lindt Chocolate Café in Sydney, Australia last month by Iranian-born self-proclaimed Islamic cleric Man Haron Monis – an avowed supporter of the Islamic State – that ended in a shootout with security forces leaving Honis and two of the 17 people he’d taken hostage dead, jihadists swarmed social networks expressing their satisfaction that Australians were struck in their own home.

And, in November, calling on his Islamic State soldiers “to continue their fight” and, "O soldiers of the Islamic State, continue to harvest the soldiers,” Islamic State demigod Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi (Caliph Ibrahim) vowed an “Erupt[ion] [of] volcanoes of jihad everywhere” in a 16 minute recorded audio message released by the Al Furqan media company on the Shumoukh Al Islam forum.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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