A pair of extremist groups, growing increasingly volatile. A double holiday—Independence Day and Ramadan. The FBI felt it had to pounce before things got out of hand.
As the Fourth of July neared, the White House and FBI headquarters decided to shut down two ISIS-inspired terror cells that appeared to be ratcheting up towards attacks, a senior law enforcement official told The Daily Beast.
This year’s Fourth of July was particularly worrisome because it comes during the Muslim holiday Ramadan, which ISIS has declared to be a time when jihad is all the more imperative.
“No acts of worship are equal to jihad, and jihad in Ramadan is not matched by jihad in other months,” ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said recently.
If you have been paying attention to the news in recent days, you have heard talk about a July the Fourth threat; CNN, in particular, has gone wall-to-wall with it. We are going from lone wolves to lone wolf packs and the increasing danger presented by cells like these two—combined with the obvious symbolism of Independence Day—goes a long way toward explaining the heightened alarm.
The more serious threat at the approach of this double holiday appears to have come from a cell based in the New York area that is said to have been researching the construction of pressure cooker bombs, complete with timing mechanisms.
Such bombs were used with devastating effect at the Boston Marathon and officials worried that the New York cell might seek to do the same in the crowds that gather for the city’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display.
The criminal complaint filed against one member of the New York cell, 20-year-old Munther Omar Saleh of Queens, suggests that he may have been taking orders directly from ISIS. He referred to ISIS as “dawla”—Arabic for the “state”—when communicating with a confidential informant.
“I’m very sorry, but I was ordered by dawla officials not to talk to anyone,” Saleh said, according to the criminal complaint.
The other cell that worried officials as the holiday approached was comprised of two men from Boston and a third from Rhode Island. The three allegedly plotted at one point to behead anti-Muslim agitator Pamela Geller in New York.
One of the trio, 26-year-old Usaamah Rahim of the Boston area, obtained a 9-inch fighting knife on May 27, followed three days later by a second Marine fighting knife and a 13-inch “Spec Plus” fighting Knife, all via Amazon.com.
On May 31, Rahim met with a fellow Bostonian, 25-year-old David Wright, and 24-year-old Nicholas Rovinski of Providence on a deserted Rhode Island beach. Rovinski had originally connected with them through Facebook. His call to arrange the huddle was recorded by authorities.
“Like I said, I’ve been wanting to meet up with you to discuss some important aspects that I think you might, you might enjoy,” Rovinski said.
“Oh, that sounds so wonderful,” Wright replied.
Wright then had texted Rahim, saying that Rovinski “wishes to speak on some juiciness.”
“LOL,” Rahim replied.
The three allegedly stood in a rainstorm and discussed beheading Geller in New York.
At 5 a.m. on June 2, Rahim was recorded telephoning Wright to announce that he had decided not to join the “vacation” to the Big Apple. He suggested that he would instead be going after police officers close to home.
“I can’t wait that long, I can’t wait that long man,” Rahim said according to the complaint. “I’m going to be on vacation right here in Massachusetts… I’m just going to, ah, go after them, those boys in blue. ’Cause, ah, it’s the easiest target and, ah, the most common is the easiest for me.”
Rather than let the scheme play out any longer, the FBI and the Boston police approached Rahim on the street later that same day.
“Rahim took out one of the knives he had purchased from Amazon.com when he saw the officers and agents,” the complaint notes. “One of the officers told Rahim to drop his weapon and Rahim responded, ‘You drop yours.’ Rahim moved towards the officers while brandishing his weapon, and he was shot by law enforcement.”
The authorities scooped up Wright within hours and Rovinski ten days later. The two were charged with conspiring to provide material support to ISIS.
Down in New York, the local Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF) prepared to shut down what appeared to be developing into a significant bomb plot.