FBI Investigates 1,000 ‘Lone Wolf’ Militants

FBI director Christopher Wray told senators that lone wolf terrorists are the FBI’s highest counterterrorist priority. He said there are another 1,000 probes into “domestic terrorists.”

The FBI is pursuing 1,000 investigations into suspected “lone wolf” militants and another 1,000 into “domestic terrorists”, director Christopher Wray told a Senate appropriations hearing, Reuters reports. Wray said “lone wolf” terrorists – individuals often radicalized over the internet or other social media – are the FBI’s “highest counterterrorism priority.” “And what makes it so hard is that there are not many dots to connect with some of these people,” he said. “They pick soft targets, they use easy-to-use weapons … IEDs (improvised explosive devices), cars, knives, guns.”

Several mass shootings in recent years have been attributed to so-called “lone wolves” whose activities are difficult to predict, such as Orlando night club shooter Omar Mateen. Wray said the FBI was “trying to get better at looking for red flags” that could signal when people becoming radicalized might start to consider taking action. Another official said that included in the lone wolf category are  right-wing extremists, violent animal rights and anti-abortion extremists, and in the domestic terror category were African-American or left-wing militants.  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), said that as part of the annual budget request the FBI had presented, the Trump administration reduced the FBI budget by 5 percent and postponed plans for a new FBI headquarters.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Are Federal Air Marshals Really Needed?

The Transportation Security Administration calls the marshals an important layer of security, but they never have faced a true terror threat on a flight. Air marshals themselves were arrested 148 times over a decade.

Federal air marshals “are the last line of defense on board an aircraft,” says trainer Mike LaFrance, but some lawmakers and critics in watchdog agencies are asking whether the program that peaked at nearly $1 billion a year and never has caught a single terrorist on board a plane is really needed, USA Today reports. The program has existed under a variety of names and agencies for 57 years, and it expanded significantly after the 9/11 hijackings. Air marshals can’t be on every plane and they haven’t faced a real terror threat during an actual flight. Transportation Security Administration head David Pekoske called the program “a terrific organization” that performs a stressful job under difficult circumstances.

TSA calls the service an important layer of security that begins when a passenger buys a ticket and goes through a database search against no-fly lists and checkpoint screening at airports. The prospect that an air marshal could be on a specific flight is a deterrent to would-be attackers by itself, TSA says. Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) would like to abolish the program that he said had about 4,000 air marshals in 2009 and averaged a total 4.2 arrests per year during the first seven years. He calls the program “the most needless, useless agency.” Air marshals themselves were arrested 148 times from November 2002 to February 2012, according to a report by ProPublica based on TSA documents. Air marshals were also charged with more than 5,000 cases of misconduct during that period, including 1,200 cases of lost equipment and 950 missed flights, the report said. USA Today describes the training that air marshals receive.


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Veteran to Avoid Death Penalty in FL Airport Shooting

In a deal approved by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Esteban Santiago, a military veteran charged with fatally shooting five people and wounding six others at the Fort Lauderdale airport last year will plead guilty in exchange for receiving a life sentence.

A military veteran charged with fatally shooting five people and wounding six others at the Fort Lauderdale airport last year will plead guilty in exchange for receiving a life sentence under an agreement disclosed Tuesday in Miami federal court, the Miami Herald reports. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys said they reached the plea agreement after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions weighed in on the death penalty question in the murder case of 27-year-old Esteban Santiago. Sessions, who had final say, received input from both sides in South Florida as well as a panel of experts at the Justice Department.

Prosecutors said Sessions signed off on the plea agreement proposed by Santiago’s defense attorneys and that shooting victims’ family members were also on board with the proposed life sentence. “That was something taken into account in the attorney general’s decision” on whether to pursue the death penalty, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro. Santiago is accused of flying on a one-way ticket from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January of last year to carry out the shootings of mostly elderly travelers — one of three mass firearm killings in Florida since 2016. Santiago, who suffers from mental health problems, is expected to change his plea to guilty on May 23 after undergoing a psychiatric competency evaluation ordered by U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom. She said she wanted to be certain Santiago has the “capacity” to make the decision to plead guilty.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Three Kansas Men Convicted on Terrorism Charges

A jury found three Kansas man guilty of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. They were charged with plotting to set off a bomb at an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and worshipped.

A jury unanimously declared three Kansas men guilty of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to violate the civil rights of residents of a Garden City apartment complex, the Wichita Eagle reports. Curtis Allen, Patrick Stein and Gavin Wright were found guilty of all charges Wednesday after a four-week trial. They had been charged with plotting to set off a bomb in 2016 at an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and worshipped. “Terrorists, whether foreign or domestic must be stopped and punished according to the law,” said Stephen McAllister, U.S. Attorney for Kansas. “Today’s verdicts are a victory for the rule of law and national security.”

President Trump, who was supported by the defendants, has said that terrorists might be coming into the U.S. as refugees. The defendants had asked the  judge to pull jurors from rural Kansas since they’re twice as likely to have voted for Trump, a motion that was denied. During the trial, a defense attorney for Allen called statements by the men “locker room talk.” Defense attorneys argued that while the men’s rhetoric was hateful, it wasn’t criminal, and that the bomb plot was driven by the FBI. McAllister said the jury’s guilty verdict was a “vindication” of the FBI’s investigation. An informant testified that the three men were suspicious of Muslim Somali immigrants, whom they believed were involved in gun, drug or human trafficking in order to support ISIS. The Kansas men called themselves “Crusaders” who planned to create a “bloodbath” by detonating vehicles laden with bombs the day after the November 2016 election. Day testified that Stein called the Somalis “cockroaches.”

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Trial Ending for Three Accused of Targeting Muslims

Three men charged with plotting to bomb an apartment complex in western Kansas, where Muslim immigrants from Somalia lived and had a mosque, wanted to kill as many as possible and send a message they were not welcome in the U.S., a federal prosecutor said in closing arguments.

Three men charged with plotting to bomb an apartment complex in western Kansas, where Muslim immigrants from Somalia lived and had a mosque, wanted to kill as many as possible and send a message they were not welcome in the U.S., a federal prosecutor said at their trial on Tuesday, Reuters reports. Prosecutors charged Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Eugene Stein with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction in Garden City, Ks., and conspiring to deny others’ civil rights. Stein also faces weapons-related charges, and Wright is charged with lying to the FBI. Officials have said the men were members of a militia group. “Their ultimate goal was to wake people up and to slaughter every man, woman and child in the building,” said prosecutor Anthony Mattivi in his closing argument in federal court in Wichita on Tuesday. “There’s no doubt that these three defendants were deep in the heart of a violent conspiracy.”

Prosecutors said the men were members of a militia group called the Kansas Security Force and formed a splinter group, “the Crusaders.” The defendants tried unsuccessfully to recruit other militia members to join them, prosecutors charged.  One of the men who was approached told the FBI of the plan. Defense attorneys say their clients were entrapped by the federal government. Allen’s attorney, Melody Brannon, said on Tuesday the informant who aided the FBI was the one who provided all the maps and aerial views of the apartment complex, and even encouraged the use of bombs. “The FBI was out to get a headline, to make an example out of these men,” she said. Kari Schmidt, Wright’s attorney, added: “In America, we don’t imprison people for their thoughts and words. There were no bombs.”

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Obama-Era Anti-Extremism Aid Faces Uncertain Future

Five years after two brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, federally funded community programs to prevent attacks by homegrown extremists are barely underway, and it’s not clear whether the Trump administration will continue the effort.

Five years after two brothers who had been living in the U.S. for a decade bombed the Boston Marathon, federally funded community programs to prevent attacks by homegrown extremists are barely underway and face an uncertain future, the Associated Press reports. Those projects, under a strategy developed during the Obama administration, are aimed at steering young people away from extremism. They have been hobbled almost from the start by suspicion and mistrust among Muslims, who complain they are being singled out. It’s unclear whether the strategy will continue under the Trump administration.

In Massachusetts, the Somali Community and Cultural Association abruptly withdrew from a $500,000 program with Boston police and two other organizations just as work was beginning in earnest late last year. Another Somali group has stepped in to take its place. Deeqo Jibril, the association’s founder, said, “Focusing efforts specifically on one subgroup will ultimately create deeper divisions in our fractured society, doing more harm than good.” Chad Wood of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is funding the efforts, stressed the agency’s approach to preventing terrorism isn’t based on race or religion and instead focuses on communities targeted by terrorists for recruitment. Created in 2011, the Countering Violent Extremism strategy was seen as a way to short-circuit extremism before it exploded in violence. Last June, 26 programs were awarded $10 million in grants, the largest pot of money doled out to local communities yet under the program. The Trump administration has not proposed authorizing any further grants as it continues to review the program and intends to submit its own terrorism prevention strategy to Congress this year, Wood said.

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Most Attackers in Mass Violence Showed Red Flags

A new report from the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center says that most mass attacks in public spaces are preceded by behavior that worried other people. “There’s no such thing as an impulsive act,” says one expert.

The attacks sound numbingly familiar: five shot to death at an airport in Florida, 26 slain at a Texas church, five killed by a gunman rampaging through Northern California. These violent outbursts last year, and others like them, had key things in common. Long before the violence, the people identified as attackers had elicited concerns, red flags that littered their paths to wreaking havoc on unsuspecting strangers. This is a common thread in most of the mass attacks in public spaces last year, the majority of which were preceded by behavior that worried other people, says a new study from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, reports the Washington Post.

“Regardless of whether these attacks were acts of workplace violence, domestic violence, school-based violence or terrorism, similar themes were observed in the backgrounds of the perpetrators,” the report stated. Every person blamed for a mass attack was a man. All of them “had at least one significant stressor within the last five years, and over half had indications of financial instability in that time frame,” the report found. That included issues with family relationships, being fired or suspended from work and facing unstable living situations. More than half had histories of mental health issues, criminal charges and substance abuse. Nearly half were fueled by some kind of personal grievance. Half of the attackers had patterns of making threats, while a third made specific threats to their eventual targets. “Direct threats should be investigated, because a threat unchecked could escalate into an act of violence,” said Matthew Doherty, who formerly led the National Threat Assessment Center. Doherty, now at Hillard Heintze, a law enforcement and security advisory firm, said, “There’s no such thing as an impulsive act.”

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It’s ‘Disturbingly Easy’ to Make Bombs Like Those in Austin

Bombs set off by Austin’s Mark Conditt contained an “exotic” battery. While that could have been used as part of a timer, experts say Conditt’s package bombs appear to have been constructed to explode through movement. As a result,  a battery most likely would have been used as part of an ignition system to set off the explosives.

Although the serial bomber responsible for a half-dozen explosives attacks over the past three weeks is dead, questions about Mark Conditt’s methods remain. How can a 23-year-old with modest education manage to obtain explosives and construct functional bombs that killed two and injured four? The answer: Disturbingly easily, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Police said Conditt’s bombs contained an “exotic” battery. While that could have been used as part of a timer, experts note Conditt’s package bombs appear to have been constructed to explode through movement. As a result,  a battery most likely would have been used as part of an ignition system to set off the explosives.

Fred Milanowski, agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Houston bureau, said that because of lab analyses of the bombs, “we knew the explosive mixture that was used.” He said a search of Conditt’s home had revealed homemade explosives. The words “mixture” and “homemade” could be telling, explosives experts said. According to the U.S. Bomb Data Center’s 2016 report, a significant number of bombs set off that year employed explosives that required two components to be mixed. Most of the materials are unregulated in small quantities because separately they are not explosive. They are also relatively simple to find and purchase. A new Texas law outlawing improvised bombs even explicitly protects one of the most common sources of dangerous mixed explosives.

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Austin Bomber Leaves Behind a Video ‘Confession’

A recording left by Mark Conditt before he killed himself described seven explosive devices he had built but did not offer a reason for his attacks.

Austin bomber Mark Conditt left behind a 25-minute video confession recorded on his phone, which authorities found with him after he killed himself with an explosive device early Wednesday, reports the Austin American-Statesman. The discovery of the confession comes after a series of bombings over three weeks that killed two, injured five and created fear through the city. Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said the recording – which officials believe was made between 9 and 11 p.m. Tuesday night as authorities closed in on Conditt – describes in detail the differences between each of the seven explosive devices authorities say Conditt built, including one found intact at a FedEx facility Tuesday and the final one that took his life early Wednesday.

Manley said there appeared to be no specific reasons why Conditt targeted the people who were killed or injured in the attacks. The recording, which officials won’t release while the investigation is underway, does not clearly illustrate a motive for the bombings or explain how he chose his victims. “He does not at all mention anything about terrorism nor does he mention anything about hate,” Manley said, “but instead, it is the outcry of a very challenged young man, talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.” Before the confrontation with Conditt, authorities had been looking for a “peaceful resolution, Manley said.  Police located him in a motel parking lot, but as they waited for tactical teams, he drive out of the lot. “Not knowing where he was going to go or what might be next or whether he was armed, there was a decision made to put the stop in that frontage road before he got on I-35 and potentially went anywhere else,” Manley said.

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Can We Prevent a Drone Terror Attack?

Some 200,000 drones are now sold to hobbyists in an “uncontrolled’ global market every month. A Philadelphia professor says they have already been deployed by terror groups in the Middle East and by U.S. criminals, and a $1.6 billion industry has merged to develop anti-drone technology.

The uncontrolled market in toy or hobbyist drones makes their future use in a domestic terrorist attack “likely,” says a researcher and lecturer on drone warfare. But it will still require sophisticated technical skills to deploy them effectively, according to Michael J. Boyle, Associate Professor of Political Science at La Salle University in Philadelphia, and a Senior Fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute. If you are looking for a drone for you're own personal use check out this holy stone x400c review. “It’s not quite as easy to launch a terrorist drone attack as the breathless media suggests,” Boyle told a recent terrorism seminar at John Jay College. But “given the increasing availability of drones, it is likely that there will be a terrorist drone attack in the developed world,” he said. Boyle estimated that 200,000 drones are sold globally each month on a “toy drone market that is completely uncontrolled.” Even the cheapest drones can be rendered harmful with DIY adaptations. Meanwhile, concerns about the use of weaponized drones in domestic terrorism have fueled a boom in anti-drone technology development, with estimates that this has already become a $1.6 billion industry, said Boyle. “As it is now, you can buy a drone on Amazon and it goes out there,” Boyle said. Interdiction strategies range from using radio frequencies and acoustic signatures to the Dutch government’s training hawks to go after drones in the sky. Geo-fencing is effective in stopping drones, particularly at airports, but “you can hack it,” he said. In the U.S. so far, the dark side of drones has been confined to “routine criminal activity,” such as dropping drugs and other contraband into prisons. Boyle suggested there have most probably been “disrupted attacks” already in the U.S., the United Kingdom, or other Western countries. But he noted that “aborted attacks are not on the public record.” Drone manufacturing has been dominated by the U.S., Israel, and China, but other countries are jumping in, and now more than a dozen nations produce them. So far, such attacks have occurred in the Middle East, primarily Iraq and Syria. This January, a swarm of armed miniature drones was launched at a Russian military base in Syria, with ISIS believed to be behind sending 13 drones packed with explosives into action, possibly backed by Turkey. The concerns were recently underlined by Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, at a Senate panel last September. “I think we do know that terrorist organizations have an interest in using drones,” Wray said. “We have seen that overseas already with some frequency. I think that the expectation is that it is coming here, imminently.” Boyle said that while some terrorism experts could be guilty of “threat inflation,” there is no denying that when it comes to dealing with drones that could be used in attacks, “we are in the Wild West.” One of the biggest challenges to turning a drone into a weapon is the fact that current models on the market are able to fly only 20 or 30 minutes. Drones are also unstable, can’t carry substantial payloads, are resistant to chemicals being added, and are vulnerable to weather conditions, especially wind. And, Boyle noted, it is very hard to conduct a dry-run drone attack. Boyle, who has studied the use of terrorist drones in the Middle East, said the groups that have shown the most success are those who are highly organized and most closely resemble a military command structure. That would include Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Russian separatists in the Ukraine, and Mexican cartels.
Michael J. Boyle

Michael J. Boyle

“Iran is big on drones,” Boyle said, adding that when it comes to ISIS, the drones tend to be retro-fitted commercial models, based on analysis of wreckage. One concern is that with ISIS in retreat in parts of the Middle East, foreign fighters with battlefield expertise will return to their native countries, ready to purchase, weaponize, and launch drones. Nonetheless, “It’s much harder to carry out an attack in a well policed city in the Western world than in a battlefield in Syria or Iraq,” Boyle said. “It’s unlikely that terrorist drone attacks will be a regular event due to technical limits.” When it comes to homegrown terrorists, Boyle said his research shows that far-right violent groups steer clear of drones because they are paranoid of the machines’ ability to conduct surveillance and gather information for the government. As for someone acting on his own, it’s “not that easy for a lone wolf to do,” he said. Nancy Bilyeau is Deputy Editor (Digital) of The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org