By Alex Kassirer, Senior Counterterrorism Analyst, Flashpoint
- Discussions about the U.S. presidential election and subsequent President-elect Donald Trump victory have recently taken place on a private, predominantly pro-al-Qaida Dark Web channel, in which several members are self-identified Westerners, including Americans.
- During these discussions, these members expressed fear as they anticipate anti-Muslim violence and policies under the new administration.
- Much of the post-election discussion within the jihadist community has exemplified a feeling of empowerment, believing that Trump will damage the United States’ reputation and bolster jihadist recruitment.
- The discussions within this channel, however, reveal the anxieties of some jihadists, inspiring them to consider preemptively arming themselves. This environment of fear and resentment has also led to conversations about vandalizing property in the U.S.
- Given these revelations, it is important that physical security teams take the appropriate measures to protect against the threat of Westerners, and in this case Americans, who opt to follow such guidance and act on their expressed fears and grievances.
Flashpoint analysts recently gained access to a Dark Web channel established by a pro-al-Qaida jihadist allegedly located in Syria. The channel comprises members similarly allegiant to al-Qaida, many of whom staunchly oppose ISIS.
Many of these members have since identified themselves as Westerners, some of whom claim to live in the U.S. As such, the U.S. presidential election has been at the center of many conversations – as has been the case in the wider online jihadist community.
The conversations in this group, however, offer an alternate reaction to the victory of President-elect Donald Trump.
Whereas many jihadists have thus far revealed themselves to feel emboldened and empowered – believing that President-elect Trump’s appointment could result in increased support for groups like ISIS and usher in the downfall of the nation – the individuals in this Dark Web channel are apparently fearful of the potential consequences of Trump’s presidency.
One member, who identified himself as a Texas resident, expressed anxiety over the “many anti Islam militias around the country” that “Trump has mobilized,” claiming that they “will be activated once he takes office.”
This individual, who is an avid al-Qaida supporter, added that such anti-Islamic actions are “humiliating the Muslims.” Another self-identified American called on fellow group members to “pray for us Muslims in America,” similarly fearing the potential implications of the Trump administration.
Further discussing the “Trump effect,” another group member proclaimed:
Trump supporters are anti Islam[ic] and have deep [hatred] against Islam and Muslims because they think Islam is [an] evil religion, now [that] trump is in charge of America u will see many of those groups pop up and harass Muslims, they are already starting to provoke…. Muslims in America will face tough years under lead of trump.
The member added:
Trump fool[ed] the masses by saying he [will] stop immigration and fight Muslims, make Mexico pay, etc etc and media also has done lots of propaganda against Islam and Muslims so this hatred has been building up in the hearts of Americans. Imagine if u watch TV and each time u watch news about Muslims is bad news. This has [an] effect on the mind.
A similar anxiety was expressed by Ohio State University student Abdul Razak Ali Artan, who carried out the November 28, 2016, attack on the school’s campus, leaving nearly a dozen injured.
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Prior to his attack, which was ultimately claimed by A’maq Media to be in support of ISIS, Artan was featured in the August 25, 2016, issue of his school’s paper, explaining:
I wanted to pray in the open, but I was scared with everything going on in the media. I’m a Muslim, it’s not what the media portrays me to be. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen.
But, I don’t blame them. It’s the media that put that picture in their heads so they’re just going to have it and it, it’s going to make them feel uncomfortable. I was kind of scared right now. But I just did it. I relied on God. I went over to the corner and just prayed.
Though direct connections between Artan’s remarks and his ultimate attack remain unclear, he nonetheless expressed a sentiment that is also held by members of this Dark Web channel.
Members of this channel, however, are being quite explicit about how they believe American Muslims should address these concerns. On December 6, 2016, the following guidance was issued in this group:
Muslims in Texas should arm themselves and help the sisters out [by] buying for them pepper spray so at least they can defend themselves on the street…Trump will radical[ize] followers who [will become] extreme.
The latest presidential election has clearly reinforced the idea within these jihadist communities that the West is at “war with Islam,” and has consequently driven such actors to seek “lone wolf tricks.” Dark Web channels like this have facilitated such searches, a phenomenon made apparent by one member’s offer of “lone wolf pdfs” to anyone who “inbox[s]” him.
This idea of physical violence is not, however, the only way individuals in this channel are coping with perceived transgressions against Muslims. One of the self-proclaimed Americans in this channel has repeatedly claimed to have vandalized property and has urged others to do the same.
Due to the inherent symbolism, the individual has singled out holiday decorations, or more generally, any location with such decorations.
Thus far, neither al-Qaida nor ISIS has released official material commenting on the results of the U.S. presidential election in its aftermath. The jihadist community, however – comprised of fighters, members, and supporters – has discussed the topic at length.
Much of this conversation has been dominated by pro-ISIS actors who have voiced their excitement due to the belief that President-elect Trump’s anti-Muslim commentary will damage the reputation of the U.S. and bolster jihadist recruitment.
The post-election discussions in this Dark Web channel, however, offer insight into a different reaction.
Here, in an online community that includes self-identified Americans, the perceived hostile policies and sentiment toward the Muslim community are inspiring fear and subsequently motivating jihadists to take aggressive measures – thereby elevating the current physical threat landscape.
It is therefore crucial that physical security teams and executive protection specialists address the fallout from the current U.S. political environment and take the appropriate measures to protect against the threat of those who follow such guidance by acting on their expressed fears and grievances.
These measures could include using intelligence and other awareness tools to gain visibility into the physical threat landscape around an event, headquarters or office, or traveling executive.