April 27, 2015

TSG IntelBrief: The Islamic State’s Eternal Call to Terror

• Despite heavy pressure in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State still inspires people in other countries to act violently in its name, and likely will for years to come

• The threat comes both from people with connections to the group and those merely trying to heed the group’s call to attack its enemies

• The April 26 arrest in Malaysia of 12 men suspected of plotting to conduct terrorist attacks under the flag of the Islamic State comes on the heels of the arrest there of 17 other men associated with the terrorist group earlier this month in Kuala Lumpur

• On April 24, Saudi officials announced the arrest of an individual associated with the Islamic State believed responsible for the shooting deaths of two policemen in Riyadh earlier this month—a troubling sign in the country that remains a top target of the group.


The call to terror has no expiration date. Since last September, the Islamic State has publicly and repeatedly called on its supporters everywhere to strike at its almost infinite list of its enemies, however far from Iraq and Syria. While ‘successful’ attacks like those in Paris, Ottawa, and other places have grabbed the headlines, the list of near misses is growing more rapidly, reflecting the tremendous stress on security and intelligence services across the globe.

On April 26, Malaysian authorities announced the arrest of 12 men charged with plotting to conduct attacks in the greater Kuala Lumpur area, likely involving homemade but potent explosives. The arrests coincided with the start of the two-day ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) conference, but it is unclear if the conference itself was a target. Malaysia is experiencing an increase in disrupted plots and recruiting by supporters and perhaps even members of the Islamic State. Earlier this month, 17 people were arrested for plotting attacks against government installations and kidnappings for ransom, with the goal of establishing and financing a local Islamic State affiliate, or wilaya. Along with the explosive materials, police seized what is now an essential part of any attack, the black flag of the Islamic State.

Over 100 people have now been arrested in Malaysia over recent months for crimes associated with the Islamic State—an ominous trend for a country that has previously battled extremist undercurrents and terrorist groups such as Jemmah Islamiyah (JI) and al-Qaeda. Malaysia is not alone. Saudi Arabia continues to be a prime target for the Islamic State; and unlike in other locales where attacks by people without direct connection to the group are a threat, Saudi Arabia is exceedingly vulnerable to attacks directed and supported by the Islamic State from neighboring Iraq. It has arrested hundreds of people since last autumn suspected of plotting or recruiting for the Islamic State.

The most recent incident was on April 24 when the Saudi Ministry of Interior announced the arrest of Muhammad Abdulrahman Abu Niyan for allegedly killing two police officers in Riyadh earlier this month in a drive-by shooting. Authorities claim that Abu Niyan and the still-at-large Nawaf bin Sarif Samir al-Enazy were part of an Islamic State plot that also included planned car bombs (three cars with explosives were seized at the time of Niyan’s arrest north of the capital) as well as additional shootings.

Abu Niyan spent time in the United States, where he ran up a lengthy arrest record before being deported back to Saudi Arabia. His last U.S. arrest was in 2012 after he disrupted a flight heading to Houston by refusing to stop smoking and then attacking other passengers while yelling about Usama bin Ladin. The Islamic State feeds off people such as Abu Niyan, whose extremism is underpinned by mental health issues—a not-uncommon combination also seen in attackers from New York City to Sydney. Saudi officials reported that the two men had been in contact with an Islamic State member in Riyadh as well as others in Syria, a case of the group being directly involved in the planning. This is a sign of how the country's close proximity to Syria and Iraq and the certainty of numerous Islamic State members already in the country will be a constant and lasting challenge.

Unfortunately the threat is not restricted to the Islamic State but rather is diffused across the globe through the ideology of bin Ladinism, which other groups like al-Qaeda also espouse. Paris remains a target of choice because of the prevalence there of extremists with differing associations but a shared ideology of violence. On April 26, police arrested three more men in connection with a plot to attack a church south of Paris. The main perpetrator, Sid Ahmed Ghlam, was already a ‘known wolf’ of terror, having come to the attention of authorities for attempting to travel to Syria to join an undisclosed extremist group. After the January Paris attacks, which involved wolves who were far too well-known, authorities are working hard not just to detect violent extremist individuals but to monitor and then disrupt their plots. As the call to terror continues to be heard by receptive ears, countries from France to Malaysia will continue to fight against threats that have no expiration date.


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