Arrests and plots linked to U.S. domestic Islamist extremism in 2019 rose by 50 percent, according to data recently released by the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism.
According to the report:
- 30 arrests linked to domestic Islamist extremism were made
- Of the 30 arrests, nine were for terror plots
- Of the nine people arrested for plotting attacks, seven (78 percent) were U.S. citizens
- 21 others were arrested for engaging in domestic criminal activity motivated by Islamist extremism
- Of those 21 individuals, a large majority faced charges for attempting to provide material support to ISIS
- Close to 70 percent of all domestic Islamist extremist criminal activity in 2019 was inspired by ISIS
The findings indicate that Islamist extremism still poses a significant threat to the United States, says the ADL, even though there were no attacks or murders linked to domestic Islamist extremism last year.
There was one deadly Islamist attack in 2019 perpetrated by Mohammed Alshamrani, a Saudi national studying at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.
In December, Alshamrani opened fire at the naval station, killing three people and injuring eight others. Federal authorities announced yesterday they had uncovered evidence that Alshamrani was connected to al-Qaeda and had planned the attack for years before coming to the U.S.
“Make no mistake: the threat of Islamist extremist activity in the United States is serious and cannot be ignored,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
In addition to the nine individuals arrested for plotting attacks, “ISIS’s ability to continue inspiring a large percentage of violent activity even after being effectively disbanded demonstrates the lasting influence of its violent ideology and propaganda on Islamist extremist activity in the United States,” said Oren Segal, vice president of the Center on Extremism. “As long as the ideology persists and spreads online, extremists will continue to be inspired by violent rhetoric and instruction.”
At a press conference Monday, Attorney General William Barr and FBI director Christopher Wray detailed how Alshamrani’s two iPhones were recently unlocked by federal technicians after months of failed attempts. Apple refused to open Alshamrani’s phones for U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Barr noted that based on the information gleaned from the phones, counterterrorism operations against one of Alshamrani’s overseas associates in Yemen are already underway.
The phones also revealed significant information about Alshamrani himself. Wray said Alshamrani was radicalized as far back as 2015 and maintained contact with al-Qaeda operatives the next four years.
“Alshamrani described a desire to learn about flying years ago around the same time he talked about attending the Saudi Air Force academy to carry out what he called a ‘special operation.’ He then pressed his plan forward, joining the Air Force and bringing his plot here to America,” Wray said.
“We now know that Alshamrani continued to associate with AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] even while living in Texas and in Florida, and in the months before the attack while he was here among us, he talked with AQAP about his plans and tactics, taking advantage of the information he acquired here to assess how many people he could try to kill,” Wray added.
“He wasn’t just coordinating with them about planning and tactics, he was helping the organization make the most it could out of his murders, and he continued to confer with his AQAP associates right up until the end — the very night before he started shooting.”
Alshamrani planned the attack carefully. He cased out the Navy base’s classroom building, made videos inside the building, and wrote out a will on his cell phone that described his motives for the attack.
The will was then released by al-Qaeda after the attack when the terror organization claimed responsibility.
The attack was carried out on December 6, 2019, but as early as September 11 of that same year, Alshamrani posted on a social media account, “the countdown has begun.”
Investigators previously said that he had posted anti-American, anti-Israeli, and jihadi messages on social media within two hours of the attack.