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Military Installations and Personnel

Individuals acting on behalf of ISIS and al-Qaeda have attacked military targets in the West—including army posts, recruitment centers, and navy reserve centers—in an attempt to kill soldiers. Most notably, in November 2009 Maj. Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 U.S. soldiers at the Fort Hood military post near Killeen, Texas. He reportedly killed the soldiers in an effort to preemptively protect Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan, where many of the troops were set to deploy. (Source: New York Times)

Since then, al-Qaeda and ISIS have repeatedly called on their followers to attack military installations in the West. In an August 2014 pamphlet titled “Palestine: Betrayal of Guilty Conscience,” al-Qaeda urged lone wolves to target “military barracks” in countries that “support and provide for the [Jews].” The group named three military academies in Georgia, Colorado, and California, respectively, as well as a military academy in Camberley, England, as “examples of targets.” In January 2015, ISIS released a video on Twitter urging lone wolves to carry out attacks on Western military targets and personnel. During Ramadan in 2016, now-deceased ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani directed lone wolves to target military targets in the United States and Europe. (Sources: Palestine: Betrayal of Guilty Conscience, p. 20, 37, CBS News, Reuters)

The shooting at Fort Hood inspired John T. Booker, a U.S. citizen and ISIS sympathizer who in April 2015 attempted to set off what he thought was a 1,000-pound car bomb outside the Fort Riley army installation in Kansas. In March 2014, in an interview with the FBI, Booker said that he had enlisted in the U.S. Army in order to carry out an insider attack like that of Hasan’s. He later told an undercover FBI agent that he wished to target a U.S. Army base with guns and a grenade, and that such an act is permitted under Islam because the Quran tells you to “kill your enemies wherever you are,” according to the criminal complaint filed against him. Booker also revealed to the agent his plan to capture a high-ranking military officer and film him saying that ISIS was in the United States so that “kuffars [nonbelievers] will be afraid.” In February 2016, Booker pled guilty to one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of attempting to destroy government property with an explosive device. (Sources: U.S. Department of Justice, pp. 4-7, CBS News, FOX 4 News)

In July 2015, three months after Booker’s arrest, U.S. extremist Mohammad Abdulazeez opened fire at a military recruitment center and a Navy reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Abdulazeez killed four U.S. marines and one sailor before he was shot dead by police. Days before the shooting, Abdulazeez had lamented in a blog post that “life is short and bitter,” and that Muslims should not allow “the opportunity to submit to Allah… [to] pass you by.” A search of Abdulazeez’s house revealed CDs of lectures by deceased AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had called on al-Qaeda sympathizers to target soldiers in America. For example, in the spring 2011 Issue of Inspire, Awlaki wrote that “…killing 10 soldiers in America for example, is much more effective than killing 100 apostates in the Yemeni military.” He specifically called on lone wolves to kill “army recruiting center[s].” (Sources: CNN, New York Times, NBC, Inspire, p. 11)

Indeed, al-Qaeda and ISIS may choose to target Western military installations due to the fact that both groups—according to Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein as well as ISIS’s magazines, videos, and speeches—seek to ultimately provoke Western armies into fighting a final battle. Al-Qaeda ideologues reportedly believe that this battle will lead to a global caliphate, whereas ISIS prophesizes that it will precede the apocalypse. (Sources: New Yorker, Spiegel Online, Long War Journal, Wall Street Journal, Brookings, Atlantic, CBS News)

Al-Qaeda’s master plan, according to Fouad Hussein, includes luring Western militaries into a war of attrition in Muslim countries. Hussein interviewed top al-Qaeda leaders in the 1990s and later authored the book Al-Zarqawi: The Second Generation of Al Qaeda, which, according to author Lawrence Wright, is “perhaps the most definitive outline of Al Qaeda’s master plan.” According to Hussein, al-Qaeda ideologues believe that a war of attrition in Muslim lands will “awaken” a domestic Muslim insurgency. The group’s master plan reportedly began with the 9/11 attacks, and—according to al-Qaeda ideologues—will last until 2020, when a period of “total confrontation” between Muslims and non-Muslims will lead to the group’s victory and bring about a global caliphate. (Sources: New Yorker, Spiegel Online, Long War Journal)

ISIS, having already declared a caliphate, seeks to eventually lure Western militaries to the Syrian town of Dabiq, where, according to Islamic prophecy, those militaries will prepare for and fight one of the final battles against the mujahideen. ISIS’s aptly-named Dabiq magazine regularly quotes deceased al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as saying: “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dābiq.” In the November 2014 ISIS video depicting American hostage Peter Kassig’s death, a militant warned, “Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.” In December 2015, ISIS released an audio recording of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in which the emir referenced the final battle in Dabiq: “They know what await[s] them in Dabiq and Ghouta ... it’s defeat and destruction. They know it’s the final battle, and subsequently we will conquer them when they no longer could conquer us ... and Islam anew prevails over the world until the end of time.” (Sources: Wall Street Journal, Brookings, Atlantic, Dabiq, p. 2, Dabiq, p. 2, CBS News)

Al-Qaeda and ISIS may continue to urge lone wolf attacks on Western military bases and personnel for a number of reasons, including their patent hatred of Western society and values, and of the ‘crusader’ armies that uphold those values. Ultimately, however, both groups envision a final encounter with these Western militaries, and may be simply stoking the flames in preparation for the big battle.

Case Study: Fort Hood Shooting

On November 5, 2009, Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army Major and psychiatrist at the Fort Hood military post near Killeen, Texas, opened fire inside the base’s medical center, killing 13 soldiers and wounding 32 more. Hasan reportedly shouted “Allahu Akhbar” (God is great), while firing in a “fanlike motion” throughout the room, according to witness reports. During his trial, Hasan told the courtroom that as member of America’s military, he realized he was on the “wrong side of America’s war” and that he had decided to “switch sides.” According to Hasan, he had targeted U.S. troops to preemptively protect Taliban soldiers and other Muslims in Afghanistan, where many of the soldiers he killed were set to deploy. According to lead prosecutor Col. Michael Mulligan, Hasan believed “that he had a jihad duty to kill as many soldiers as possible.” In choosing to target the military personnel, Hasan believed that “Muslims should stand up and fight the aggressor,” according to Col Terry Lee, a retired official who worked alongside Hasan on the military base. (Sources: Huffington Post, Statesman, CS Monitor, New York Times, CNN, Telegraph)

Nidal Hasan headshot
(source: ABC News)
and Fort Hood aerial view
(source: WFAA)

Hasan began sending emails to AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki nearly a year before the Fort Hood shooting. In his first email to Awlaki, dated December 17, 2008, Hasan asked the cleric to “make some general comments about Muslims in the u.s. [sic] military.” He further sought to gauge the cleric’s level of support for the murder of U.S. soldiers by inquiring about the case of Hasan Akbar, an Army sergeant and convert to Islam who in 2003 murdered two fellow soldiers at a military command center in Kuwait in order to stop U.S. troops from killing Muslims overseas. Hasan asked if Awlaki would consider Akbar, or other soldiers who had “committed such acts with the goal of helping Muslims/Islam [who are] fighting Jihad,” as “shaheeds” (martyrs) upon their death. (Sources: Fox News, IntelWire, New York Times, Washington Post)

In all, Hasan sent 14 emails to Awlaki, dated from December 2008 to June 2009. Awlaki replied twice to Hasan’s emails. Though he did not directly answer Hasan’s question regarding the targeting of U.S. soldiers, Awlaki wrote, “May Allah assist you in your efforts.” Following the shooting, al-Awlaki told Al Jazeera: “Nidal Hasan is a hero. He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people.” In the first issue of al-Qaeda’s Inspire, released in the summer of 2010, an article referred to Hasan as a “heroic mujahid brother” and urged lone wolves to follow his example in “stand[ing] up and kill[ing] all the crusaders by all means available to him.” (Sources: IntelWire, BBC News, Inspire, p. 5)

Case Study: Fort Hood Shooting

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