Christopher Lee Cornell, the 20 year old Cincinnati man also using the online persona “Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah” on social media, was arrested by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force on January 14, 2015 for allegedly planning to plant pipe bombs at the U.S. Capitol and then open fire on those nearby.
Cornell maintained several accounts on Twitter showing great support for the Islamic State (IS) and the lone wolf method of jihad. His posts indicate an influence by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American jihadist and AQAP operative killed in 2011. Further, Cornell’s Twitter accounts tweeted various IS media releases, including the Steven Sotloff beheading video.
Cornell’s social media accounts also appeared to follow and be followed by jihadist accounts, some of which being prominent jihadist fighters and recruiters, such as Syrian fighting group Rayat al-Tawheed and al-Nusra al-Maqdisiya, a pro-IS group known for leading a threat campaign against Twitter.
Support for Lone Wolf Attacks
Across his various accounts, Cornell praised lone wolf jihadists. In an October 23, 2014 tweet, for example, the user made reference to what was then the recent isolated attacks in Canada by Martin Rouleau (Quebec) and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (Parliament Hill, Ottawa):
May Allah reward the brothers who fought and recieved Shahada [martyrdom] in Canada! May these recent attacks send terror into the hearts of the kufr [disbelievers]!
In another tweet made on October 29, 2014, he mentioned previous lone wolf attacks in the West while commenting on what appeared to be the U.S.-led coalition against IS in Syria:
Canada, Britain and America all faced attacks by brave lone wolf mujahid and were terrified so what makes you think they can handle a army?
To a similar note, he also tweeted on the same day:
America wouldn’t be able to handle war in their homeland. They are weak, cowardice and are on the edge of economic collapse.
Influence by Anwar al-Awlaki
Tweets made by Cornell’s accounts also indicate great influence from deceased jihadist recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki. In a tweet made on November 5, 2014, Cornell posted a quote which he attributed to Awlaki:
An August 21, 2014 tweet by the user appealed to Awlaki while also mentioning what were increasing protests following a police officer’s killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri:
People are protesting for some thug who armed robbed a store yet stay quiet about Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. #Ferguson
Such tweets coincide with the criminal complaint filed against Cornell, which claims that he communicated to a “confidential human source (CHS)” that his plan to attack the Capital would please the deceased recruiter and jihadists overseas:
…we already got a thumbs up from the Brothers over there and Anwar al Awlaki before his martyrdom and many others.
Awlaki was also credited with the recruitment of the Kouachi brothers, who had performed the January 7 Charlie Hebdo attack.
Promotion of IS Propaganda and Beheading Videos
Tweets from his accounts also show participation in grassroots efforts to disseminate IS propaganda, to the extent that he even posted links to multiple IS releases. A tweet made by one of Cornell’s accounts on October 24, 2014 provided a link to what was indicated to be an archive of productions by al-Hayat Media Center, IS’s Western-aimed media arm (which released the beheading videos, among other things):
In another example, on July 3, 2014, Cornell’s account tweeted a video produced by al-Hayat Media Center, titled “There is no Life Without Jihad.” The video, released on June 19, 2014, showed IS fighters, identifying as British and Australian nationals, calling for Muslims to join IS while claiming that those within the group “understand no borders.”
Cornell’s Twitter account also shared “A Second Message to America,” the September 2, 2014 IS video showing the beheading of U.S. journalist Steven Joel Sotloff, a day after its release.
Read more at Insight Blog
Rita Katz, the Director and co-founder of the SITE Intelligence Group, has studied, tracked, and analyzed international terrorists, the global jihadist network and terrorism financing for more than a decade. Ms. Katz has personally briefed government officials in the White House, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Homeland Security on terrorist financing and recruitment networks.
Ms. Katz is the author of TERRORIST HUNTER: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman who Went Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America.