WASHINGTON - A bold, new threat by an alleged American member of the Islamic State terror group has U.S. intelligence officials taking notice, although so far there seems to be little to back it up.
The threat, posted on the blog site JustPaste.it, says Sunday’s attack in Garland, Texas, “is only the beginning.”
“We have 71 trained soldiers in 15 different states ready at our word to attack any target we desire,” wrote Abu Ibrahim Al Ameriki, a U.S.-born terrorist thought to be active in Pakistan's tribal areas. “The next six months will be interesting.”
Al Ameriki also wrote that the target of the attack in Garland was Pam Geller, co-founder of the American Freedom Defense Initiative. AFDI was holding a conference at the location of the attack featuring a contest to draw a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.
Police identified the gunmen in the Garland attack as Elton Simpson, 31, and Nadir Soofi, 34. The pair wore body armor and managed to wound a security guard after opening fire, but were shot and killed by a police officer on the scene.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Wednesday suggested there is little evidence thus far to suggest either man was operating under orders from the Islamic State group.
“Based on what we know now, and there is still a lot more that we have to learn, this is consistent with what has previously been described as lone wolf attacks,” Earnest said. “You have two individuals that don’t appear to be part of a broader conspiracy.”
Threat taken seriously
U.S. intelligence officials said Wednesday they take the new threat from Al Ameriki seriously, but they added the fact such threats are being posted online does not come as a surprise.
“We expect ISIL and its supporters to continue their efforts to incite fear and encourage lone wolf attacks around the world,” a U.S. intelligence official told VOA, using an acronym for the group. “We also remain concerned about individuals in the West who are inspired by ISIL’s propaganda and may take violent action on their own,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
As for the threat itself, analysts like Max Abrahms, a terrorism expert at Northeastern University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, say there is little to back it up.
“There really is no evidence that ISIS is succeeding in the development of an affiliate within the United States,” Abrahms said, using another acronym to identify the group. “That seems extraordinarily unlikely."
Abrahms also said the gunmen in Sunday’s attack, while well-armed, failed to do much damage.
“These attackers do not seem to me to be like the trained soldiers that this terrorist [Al Ameriki] is describing,” he said.
In his post, Al Ameriki wrote that of the 71 Islamic State fighters in the U.S., “23 have signed up for missions like Sunday [in Garland].”
“It does reflect a pattern,” said former U.S. Ambassador Mark Wallace, now chief executive officer at the Counter Extremism Project. “You’re seeing that ISIS and others have sought to take action against those who in any way use free speech for humor or to express themselves related to Islam, and are calling for those persons to be killed or hurt.”
U.S. counterterrorism officials say more than 180 Americans have traveled to or attempted to travel to Syria or Iraq. Of those Americans, some are back in the U.S.