(British Transport Police)

ISIS Media Group Claims London Bridge Attack Was Revenge for Europol’s Online Extremism Purge

ISIS supporters claimed that Friday’s London Bridge attack was revenge for a European crackdown on terrorists using messenger apps such as Telegram, while the terror group officially claimed that Usman Khan carried out the stabbings on behalf of the Islamic State.

Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed in the attack; both were graduates of the University of Cambridge and were involved in the Learning Together prisoner rehabilitation program. Three more people were wounded.

Khan, a 28-year-old Stoke-on-Trent native who was sent to prison in 2012 for his part in a plot inspired by al-Qaeda to bomb the London Stock Exchange, was sentenced to a 16-year term but released in December. Khan’s lawyer said his client had requested a deradicalization program while in prison, and on Friday he was participating in a Learning Together conference at Fishmongers’ Hall, just north of London Bridge.

Police said the attack began inside the hall before moving to the bridge, where Khan “was pursued and detained by members of the public, as well as a British Transport Police officer who was in plain clothes, before armed officers from both the City of London and Metropolitan Police arrived, confronted the attacker and shot him,” according to Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu. He was wearing “what looked like a very convincing explosive device,” which turned out to be a hoax; police have increased patrols across the city in the wake of the attack.

ISIS’ Amaq news agency said in a statement posted Saturday that Khan, without addressing him by name, “carried out the attack in response to calls to target the nationals of coalition countries,” which is boilerplate language used by the terror group to describe why the jihadist carried out the attack in the name of ISIS.

The claim surfaced on the TamTam messenger app as well as Telegram, a special focus of the Europol operation that claimed to have recently removed “over 26,000 items of IS-supporting content” with the assistance of nine online service providers.

In an online poster circulated on social media, the Al-Battar Media Foundation declared that “the holiday season started early in Britain,” a nod to ISIS’ annual push for followers to conduct Christmas and Hanukkah attacks in crowded or symbolic places.

“Justice terror strikes London again,” said the poster, featuring a photo of Khan and hailing the “killing of two crusaders.”

“Islamic State replies to Europol campaign with stabbing attack in London,” the group added.

Al-Battar, which originated from a Tunisian-led ISIS Libya unit, has been promoting ISIS since the heyday of the caliphate, being among the official and affiliated ISIS channels that claimed without basis that the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas was an Islamic State operation. Investigators determined that shooter Stephen Paddock had no apparent religious or political motives, but ISIS pushed their narrative for months in an effort to inspire lone jihadists and cells to undertake a similar mass attack.

Al-Battar was especially prolific after the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., even going so far as to offer a compilation package to supporters at the time consisting of official video releases, unofficial videos and graphic-design elements that jihadists could use on social media including memes of shooter Omar Mateen and the U.S. Capitol under attack. This year, the group has used 9/11 images to urge lone jihadist attacks and encouraged would-be terrorists to follow in the footsteps of a June attack in Tripoli in which a lone assailant killed four.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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