Category Archive: Terrorism

Heightened threats. Do you know what to do?

We assumVigilancee that you saw the recent media report that the U.S. intelligence community has alerted law enforcement to potential al-Qa’ida attacks in the U.S. planned for Monday, November 7, the day before Election Day. This threat is reportedly still being assessed and its credibility has not yet been validated. However, the counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States.

According to a statement from the FBI, the Bureau shares and assesses intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety. The NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau continues to work closely with federal, state, local, and private sector partners to maintain situational awareness of the current threat environment.

For more information on the current situation scroll down below the “What should we do?” section.

What should we do? 

In police speak, we should “remain vigilant” and “maintain situational awareness of the current threat environment.” How does that translate to your site? What should you be doing? You should “step up” your security profile and maintain heightened vigilance through the election and the days thereafter.

  • Pre-determine how you will step up your game.  Don’t wait for an emergency. Consider the steps you should take when the experts advise you to go to “high alert”, e.g., add guards, close doors, more-thorough bag checks.
  • Increase visible security measures. Someone planning an attack should look at your facility, conclude that it is defended and decide to go elsewhere. While the presence of armed security and law enforcement personnel and the placement of security checkpoints do not guarantee that an attack will be averted or interrupted, their presence can enable the timely discovery and quick resolution of potential threats and reduce the lethality of terrorist attacks.
  • Test your systems. OK, you’ve identified systems to screen your mail, respond to bomb threats and suspicious objects and you have an active shooters plan. The key question is: “Will they work in reality?” Do your panic buttons function? Test them (after you first alert the alarm company). Have you had tabletop exercises and drills covering multiple hazards? How can you make sure that your entire staff and constituencies are on their collective toes?
  • Check in with your local police. Reach out to your local police and make sure that they know about the times of services, events, school arrivals and dismissals. Offer them the opportunity to get to know your programs, your rhythms, your people and your building. Ask them for suggestions as to how to make your people safer.
  • If you see something, say something. Think how to build a culture of security, because security is everybody’s business. If any of your staff, students, volunteers, congregants or clients sees or hears something suspicious they should feel comfortable to report it to the appropriate person in your facility and the information should be passed on to the police. Make sure all of the key staff have the right contact info in your jurisdiction. (In NYC, 1-888-NYC-SAFE/in NYS, 1-866-SAFE-NYS).

The information below is adapted from NYPD Shield’s analysis from the NYPD Counterterrorism, Bureau Terrorism Threat Analysis Group.

Foreign violent extremists

Recent propaganda produced by al-Qa’ida’s Yemen-based affiliate, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have made reference to the upcoming U.S. presidential election; however, the group, which has previously launched multiple plots against the U.S. homeland, has not voiced any specific threats in these publications.

When commenting on the prospect of either a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency, a March 2016 issue of the group’s Arabic-language al-Masra newsletter argued that a Clinton victory would mean “an extension of the policy of Obama and the Democrats in the region,” while Trump being elected would mean “a drastic change in American policy towards Muslims, since the hostility that Trump bears and the Islamophobia from which he suffers will have a huge impact in the conflict in the Middle East region and the Muslim countries in general.”

Meanwhile, in May 2016, an issue of the group’s English-language Inspire magazine included a reference to the presidential election by the magazine’s editor-in-chief, who argued that the outcome was irrelevant since it will not impact “inhuman American policies in Islamic lands.” Historically, there have been other indications that al-Qa’ida and its sympathizers have viewed elections as significant events.

For example, the 2004 Madrid bombings were carried out by an al-Qa’ida-inspired cell three days before Spain’s general elections. The coordinated blasts, which targeted Madrid’s commuter railway system, killed 192 people and wounded an estimated 2,000 others.

Meanwhile, declassified documents recovered by U.S. forces in the May 2011 raid on Usama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, revealed that the topic of U.S. elections was discussed among al-Qa’ida’s leadership in the context of the group planning its propaganda releases.

Domestic violent extremists

The 2016 presidential campaign has included unprecedented divisive political rhetoric, sparking occasional violence from supporters of both the Democratic and Republican candidates. Throughout the campaign, a wide range of organizations—from non-profits to media outlets—as well as the candidates and delegates have received harassing messages, including threats of violence. Election Day 2016 comes at a time of heightened tension throughout the country, including perceived public unrest over law enforcement activity and mistrust of government institutions. Exacerbating this tense political climate are the recent assertions that the 2016 election may be “rigged,” potentially undermining the legitimacy of the presidential election process. Several domestic armed militias and extremist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and prominent anti-government forces such as the Oath Keepers, have used the accusation of election fraud to announce their intention to overtly, or covertly, monitor voting sites, stoking concerns that organizations may intimidate or coerce voters at the polls.

The election is also taking place at a time of elevated concern over attacks in the west perpetrated by terrorist organizations and their sympathizers such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qa’ida, both of which have experienced recent territorial defeats and leadership losses. Of note, an April 2016 issue of Dabiq, ISIL’s English-language magazine, specifically named Huma Abedin, Clinton’s vice chairwoman for her campaign, as a target for assassination. The continual threat of homegrown violent extremism remains a key concern as evidenced by the recent bombings in Seaside Park, NJ, Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, and the attempted bombing in Elizabeth, NJ. Though the suspect in these incidents was apprehended and there is no indication that he was part of a broader conspiracy, the September 17 blasts serve as a reminder that New York City remains a top target for extremists.

Sources

  • “Sources: U.S. intel warning of possible al Qaeda attacks in U.S. Monday,” CBS News, November 4, 2016.
  • Tharoor, Ishaan, “Al-Qaeda’s analysis of the U.S. election is actually pretty accurate,” Washington Post, March 30, 2016.
  • “Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Ladin Sidelined?,” Combatting Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point, May 3, 2012.
  • “Editor’s Letter,” Inspire Magazine, No. 15, al-Malahem Media, May 2016.

Increased vigilance as 9/11 anniversary nears

VigilanceA recent federal bulletin urged state and local law enforcement to be on high alert ahead of 9/11 anniversary. It explained that that terrorists – specifically those aligned with
ISIS – “may be inspired or directed to conduct attacks against events associated with 9/11 memorial commemorations or other mass gathering targets timed to this date.” The report notes the symbolism associated with the somber anniversary as a motivating factor for a potential terrorist attack.

While the FBI reports that it is “unaware of any specific, credible information” of a plot against the U.S. homeland (or against Jewish communal targets), Daesh (aka “ISIS”) and Al Qaeda propaganda have repeatedly tried to inspire attacks by individuals  — such as the ones in Paris, Nice, Istanbul and Orlando — using firearms, edged weapons, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and commercial vehicles. Federal analysts note that there is an  “ongoing heightened threat environment.”

Heightened security measures should be in place through 9/11 and through the Jewish holiday season (Remember: the potential attacker in Aventura, FL was aware of the Jewish calender and planned to strike on a Jewish holiday in order to maximize the impact of his attack). Many of the terrorists responsible for recent incidents engaged in “pre-operational surveillance”, i.e., they checked out the site while planning their attack. Consider the following elements of heightened vigilance:

  • Increase visible security measures. Someone planning an attack may look at your facility, conclude that it is defended and decide to go elsewhere. Several recent incidents also underscore that the presence of armed security and law enforcement personnel and the placement of security checkpoints do not guarantee that an attack will be averted or interupted. Nevertheless, their presence can enable the timely discovery and quick resolution of potential threats and reduce the lethality of terrorist attacks.
  • Review your policies and procedures. How else can you send a signal to outsiders that your facility is a tough target? For example, does your staff do regular inspections of your facility looking for something that, “Just doesn’t look right?” If not, start now. If they do, should you increase the frequency. Review JCRC’s Sample Access Policies and Procedures to identify additional steps.
  • Test your systems. OK, you’ve identified systems to screen your mail, respond to bomb threats and suspicious objects and you have an active shooters plan. The key question is: “Will they work in reality?” Do your panic buttons function? Test them (after you first alert the alarm company). Have you had tabletop exercises and drills covering multiple hazards? How can you make sure that your entire staff and constituencies are on their collective toes?
  • Check in with your local police. For most Jewish organizations, September is the start of a new program year. Reach out to your local police. Offer them the opportunity to get to know your programs, your rhythms, your people and your building. Ask them for suggestions as to how to make your people safer.
  • If you see something, say something. Think how to build a culture of security, because security is everbody’s business. If any of your staff, students, volunteers, congregants or clients sees or hears something suspicious they should feel comfortable to report it to the appropriate person in your facility and the information should be passed on to the police. In NYC the number is 1-888-NYC-SAFE. Elsewhere in New York State the number is 1-866-SAFE-NYS. Every tip is investigated.

Latest National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin

Posted on June 16, 2016

16_0615_NTAS_bulletin header

SUMMARY

16_0615_NTAS_bulletin

Click to view a PDF copy of the bulletin.

In December, we described a new phase in the global threat environment, which has implications on the homeland. This basic assessment has not changed. In this environment, we are particularly concerned about homegrown violent extremists who could strike with little or no notice. The tragic events of Orlando several days ago reinforce this. Accordingly, increased public vigilance and awareness continue to be of utmost importance. This bulletin has a five-month duration and will expire just before the holiday season. We will reassess the threats of terrorism at that time.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS

Since issuing the first Bulletin in December, our concerns that violent extremists could be inspired to conduct attacks inside the U.S. have not diminished.

  • Though we know of no intelligence that is both specific and credible at this time of a plot by terrorist organizations to attack the homeland, the reality is terrorist-inspired individuals have conducted, or attempted to conduct, attacks in the United States.
  • DHS is especially concerned that terrorist-inspired individuals and homegrown violent extremists may be encouraged or inspired to target public events or places.
  • As we saw in the attacks in San Bernardino, Paris, Brussels, and, most recently, Orlando, terrorists will consider a diverse and wide selection of targets for attacks.
  • Terrorist use of the Internet to inspire individuals to violence or join their ranks remains a major source of concern.
  • In the current environment, DHS is also concerned about threats and violence directed at particular communities and individuals across the country, based on perceived religion, ethnicity, nationality or sexual orientation.

Important links in the document

  • Learn how to recognize signs of pre-operational planning associated with terrorism or other criminal activity.
  • Be prepared for increased security and plan ahead to anticipate delays and restricted/prohibited items.
  • In populated places, be responsible for your personal safety. Make a mental note of emergency exits and locations of the nearest security personnel. Keep cell phones in your pockets instead of bags or on tables so you don’t lose them during an incident. Carry emergency contact details and any special needs information with you at all times. For more visit Ready.

Click here to read and download a PDF copy of the full bulletin.

Posted in Terrorism

Lessons learned: Aventura, FL bomb plot

Posted on May 09, 2016

The FBI arrested James Gonzalo Medina (aka James Muhammad) on April 29, 2016 for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons or property within the United States. Click here for the “Lessons Learned”.

The allegations

Aventura-Turnberry Jewish Center

Aventura-Turnberry Jewish Center

According to a complaint filed with the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida at a hearing on May 2, 2016, Medina was arrested after he attempted to place what he believed to be an improvised explosive device (IED) at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center (a large Conservative synagogue) in Aventura, Florida. The device Medina attempted to place and remotely detonate was never operable due to FBI intervention.

Medina, according to the complaint, had stated his desire to conduct an attack, saying it was to “strike back to the Jews” because “It’s a war man and it’s like it’s time to strike back here in America.”

On March 27, 2016, Medina and two associates allegedly discussed an interest in conducting an attack on a synagogue. One of the associates subsequently relayed Medina’s intentions to die in a shooting at a synagogue in Aventura to the FBI. According to the complaint, on or about April 1, 2016, Medina confirmed his desire to conduct a weapons attack using AK-47 rifles and that, if he were to conduct an attack, he would want to do it at a synagogue. Medina further explained his desire to become a martyr in the attack. When Medina was told that there was a Jewish holiday in a few weeks, Medina responded by saying that it would be a good time to attack. He also allegedly discussed hiding a bomb in the bathroom.

The complaint alleged that Medina created a flyer that contained a photo of the ISIS flag and the words “ISIS in America;” and that he made three videos, saying, “I am a Muslim and I don’t like what is going on in this world…Aventura, watch your back. ISIS is in the house;” “Today is gonna be a day where Muslims attack America. I’m going to set a bomb in Aventura;” and one saying goodbye to his family.

On the day of his arrest, Medina allegedly took possession of what he believed to be an explosive device in a parking lot in Hallandale Beach, FL. He did not know that it was inert and of no danger to the public. He was arrested upon his arrival at the synagogue. Continue Reading

Brussels attack analysis | get smart fast

Posted on March 27, 2016

Last week’s attack and sorting through the information overload is daunting. We regularly turn to a few knowledgeable sources to help to guide us when we’re perplexed. Here are a few examples:

  1. Foreign Fighters in Syria/Iraq (2012 to 2014) – per million population

    Founded in 1996, the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) is one of the leading academic institutes for counter-terrorism in the world, facilitating international cooperation in the global struggle against terrorism. It is based at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya and includes some of the top experts in terrorism, counter-terrorism, homeland security, threat vulnerability, risk assessment, intelligence analysis, national security and defense policy. See their The Brussels Attacks – What do we know? & Insights from ICT Experts.

  2. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism—better known as START—is a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence headquartered at the University of Maryland comprised of an international network of scholars committed to the scientific study of the causes and human consequences of terrorism in the United States and around the world. See their Terrorism in Belgium and Western Europe; Attacks against Transportation Targets; Coordinated Terrorist Attacks.
  3. The U.S. State Department issued a Travel Alert for Europe cautioning that terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation. The State Department also maintains a Worldwide Caution which highlights that all European countries remain vulnerable to attacks from transnational terrorist organizations.
  4. Stratfor is a geopolitical intelligence firm that provides strategic analysis and forecasting to individuals and organizations around the world. One of their recent analyses observes, “The Brussels blasts are a striking reminder of the difficulty of preventing attacks against soft targets. Unlike hard targets, which tend to require attackers to use large teams of operatives with elaborate attack plans or large explosive devices to breach defenses, soft targets offer militant planners an advantage in that they can frequently be attacked by a single operative or small team using a simple attack plan. In addition, attacks against transportation-related targets such as metro stations and airports allow attackers to kill large groups of people and attract significant media attention.” Alongside transportation hubs, hotels and restaurants, institutions — such as houses of worship and schools — are classic soft targets. See Brussels Blasts: The Struggle to Secure Soft Targets.
  5. Scott Atran is an anthropologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, Oxford University, John Jay College and the University of Michigan and author of Talking to the Enemy and In Gods We Trust. His research specialty is terrorists: how they are recruited, how they think, why are they so effective. He and his team are quite busy these days: he’s embedded with the Peshmerga outside of Mosul interviewing captured (and soon to be executed) ISIL fighters; his team is running experiments in neighborhoods like Molenbeek and around the Bataclan, and tracing out the networks of the friends, family and disciples of the Paris and Brussels terrorists. His, often raw, Facebook posts from the battlefield carry a surrealistic quality. He recently addressed the UN Security Council on The Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting PeaceWe do not necessarily agree with every one of his conclusions, but he is consistently thoughtful and incisive.