Recent Arrests Confirm Jihadist Trends
By: Scott Stewart | Stratfor.comApril 2, 2015
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Recent Arrests Confirm Jihadist Trends

On March 25, FBI special agents arrested 22-year-old Hasan Edmonds at Chicago Midway International Airport. According to a criminal complaint filed in the case, Edmonds was on his way to Egypt to join the Islamic State when the agents intercepted him. Authorities charged Edmonds, a supply specialist with the Illinois Army National Guard, and his cousin, Jonas Edmonds, with conspiring to provide material support for a terrorist organization in the form of personnel — themselves. Shortly after, special agents arrested Jonas, who was allegedly plotting to conduct an armed assault against a National Guard armory.

This case highlights a number of developing jihadist trends we have been monitoring.


According to the criminal complaint, the FBI began investigating the Edmonds cousins in late 2014 after a confidential informant sent a friend request to Hasan, who maintained a Facebook account under the name "Hasan Rasheed" that espoused pro-Islamic State sentiments. The informant pretended to be an Islamic State member residing in another country, presumably Syria or Iraq.

Upon establishing contact in January 2015, Hasan told the informant he was in the process of raising funds to travel and join the Islamic State. In a later email to the informant, Hasan noted that Jonas and his family were planning on doing the same.

Over the next two months, Hasan and Jonas contacted the informant several times via different electronic communication methods in addition to meeting face-to-face with a second informant posing as an Islamic State member living in the United States.

The Edmonds cousins told the informants their main goal was to emigrate to the Islamic State, but that if they were unable to do so, they would be willing to carry out attacks inside the United States similar to the ones conducted Jan. 7 at the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Hasan obtained a passport, but Jonas appeared to have some difficulty. He told the informant his prior criminal history might be the problem.

During a March 23 meeting with the second informant, the Edmonds cousins said that after Hasan left the country, Jonas would attack the National Guard Armory where Hasan had trained. Hasan provided a sketch of the facility and outlined an assault of the building that would kill the most people, including the unit's commander. Jonas said he would purchase an AK-47 rifle and hand grenades from a contact and wear Hasan's uniform during his attack.

The next day, the Edmonds cousins took the informant to see the National Guard Armory that was to be attacked. Hasan reportedly entered the building and secured a training schedule that could be used in planning the attack because it presumably listed dates when the unit would be conducting drills and when soldiers would be present.

First Point of Contact

Critics of the FBI often accuse it of preying on simple and easily swayed people. However, an examination of those who have traveled overseas to fight with jihadist groups or have conducted domestic grassroots attacks shows that they are similar to the people the FBI catches in sting operations. The only difference seems to be who makes contact with the aspiring jihadists first — the jihadists or the authorities pretending to be jihadists.

The Edmonds cousins are no exception. Had they been able to establish communications with a real jihadist facilitator instead of a government informant, Hasan and Jonas likely would have acted on their plans. The first point of contact for aspiring jihadists determines what path they will take.

While the FBI did succeed in getting to the Edmonds cousins first, the people the FBI and the authorities are able to catch and prosecute are only a small percentage of aspiring jihadists who have succeeded in emigrating to join the Islamic State and other jihadist groups. Fortunately, as we noted last week, the appeal of these jihadist groups is limited, and they have only been able to recruit a minuscule percentage of their intended audience so far.

Simple Attacks

We must also consider the loyalty the Edmonds cousins demonstrated toward the Islamic State and their willingness to conduct attacks in the United States. There was no indication that they believed they could only conduct attacks after first attending a jihadist training camp overseas. There was also no discussion of an elaborate bombing plot that they would need help carrying out. Instead, Jonas was prepared to launch a simple armed assault on the National Guard armory using weapons he could obtain through his criminal contacts.

The case indicates that jihadists are shifting their mindset to carrying out simple attacks using readily available weapons. This is a trend we forecast in May 2010 following pleas by jihadist leaders and a large number of botched and thwarted bomb plots. The widespread adoption of this mindset took a little longer than we expected, but after the attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris and Tunis and arrests like the Edmonds case, we can confidently declare that it has.

Unfortunately, armed assaults are far easier to conduct than bombing attacks, and they frequently result in higher casualty counts. There is also a large spectrum of vulnerable, soft targets that such attacks can be launched against. Moreover, armed assaults do not require the attackers to undergo sophisticated training to make bombs or acquire precursor chemicals that can draw the attention of authorities. Instead, they can use legally purchased firearms that can be legally stored in their homes.

However, the perpetrators still need to follow the terrorist attack cycle, and they become vulnerable to detection when conducting preoperational surveillance. Also, previous armed assaults by other terrorist groups have resulted in the creation of special anti-terrorist forces. For example, the failed attempt to rescue the Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in 1972 motivated the German government to create the elite Grenzschutzgruppe 9, commonly known as GSG 9. Furthermore, past shooting incidents have led many police forces to adopt "active shooter" training protocols.

While the details of active shooter tactical programs may vary from department to department or country to country, the main idea behind them is that responders must engage and neutralize the active shooter as quickly as possible, rather than allowing them to continue on a killing spree unopposed. Depending on the location and situation, a single officer or pair of officers with shoulder weapons can engage the shooter. Other times, a group of four or more officers trained to quickly organize and rapidly react as a team is required.

Active shooter programs have proven effective in several cases, including the November 2009 Ft. Hood shooting. In the United States, armed off-duty police officers and civilians can also make a difference in shooter attacks. In February 2007, for example, an off-duty police officer cornered a heavily armed gunman who had already killed five people in the Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City. He kept the gunman pinned down until other officers could arrive and kill the shooter.

Finally, the Edmonds cousins' case is a reminder that domestic military facilities are prominent targets in the minds of would-be jihadist attackers. In addition to the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-inspired attacks in Fort Hood and against an armed forces recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas, numerous attacks against military bases such as Fort Dix, Fort Hood and other targets such as military entrance processing centers have been thwarted. But military targets are not the only targets threatened. Everyone — military or civilian — should practice good situational awareness and adopt the proper mindset.

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