From the Middle East to Southeast Asia to North America and Europe, Islamic State militants have shown there is no place safe in the world from their terror. Unlike other terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, attackers have shown a much more advanced network without sacrificing on a single unified command structure. However, unlike all the other terrorist groups in the past, the most dangerous ability that Islamic State has demonstrated is its capability to lure Western educated individuals. And importantly, only a few attackers received direction directly from the Islamic State and quite a few of them were “lone wolf” attacks inspired by IS. A look at the kind of people who have been gravitating towards Islamic State and conducting and planning attacks on its behalf across the world.
Bahrun Naim, 32, Indonesian
January 14, 2016, Jakarta attacks, 2 killed
Indonesian police believe Naim was the architect of the deadly firing in Jakarta. He orchestrated the attack from the militant group’s de factor capital of Raqqa. Police think Naim, a former bogger and an IT technician who was arrested in 2010 for his involvement in a terrorist network, was trying to prove his leadership skills to IS leaders in Syria by plotting the attack.
“Be lone wolves by whatever means you can,” Naim wrote on his blog. “Bamboo sticks, lighters, sand, knives, glass and even stones will demand you act out on your pledge of allegiance. The earth and sky will witness if you were honest in your pledge or not.” He goes on to laud the November 2015 attacks in Paris as “astounding” and “inspirational”. “In order to get the credit from IS, he needs to prove his leadership capabilities,” Jakarta police chief Tito Karnavian said. He said Naim’s vision was to unite the now-splintered groups across Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, that support IS. The post also noted that information technology was a “double-edged sword” to Western nations, as it has enabled intelligence and security services to track terrorists but has also helped terrorist groups organise, recruit and expand their operations.
Nabil Fadli, 27, Syrian
January 11, 2016, Istanbul blast, 10 killed
Nabil Fadli, a Saudi-born Syrian who killed 10 German tourists in a suicide bombing in Istanbul, was planning a major attack on New Year’s Eve celebrations in Ankara but changed targets after the plot was foiled, Turkish officials said. His father’s job as a teacher took the family to Saudi Arabia, where Fadli was born, but they returned to Syria after his father’s work there ended.
Fadli, who blew himself up among tourists near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, had registered with immigration authorities in the city a week before the blasts. Officials working to piece together Fadli’s movements before the bombing said his plans had changed after two of his accomplices were caught preparing a suicide attack on a square in Ankara where crowds gather to celebrate the New Year.
His role raised fears over IS militants entering target nations as refugees. It was not clear why he registered with the authorities days before the bombing, but officials suggested a deliberate attempt to complicate efforts to cope with the influx of Syrian refugees. The fact that the bomber had registered as a refugee suggests planning by Islamic State leaders, either to cover their tracks or provoke a backlash in Europe against legitimate Syrian asylum-seekers.
Edward Archer, 30, American
January 7, 2016, Philadelphia cop attack, 1 officer hurt
Using a gun stolen from police Edward Archer ambushed an officer sitting in his cruiser in Philadelphia, firing more than a dozen shots at point-blank range. When apprehended, Archer said he was acting “in the name of Islam”. He also pledged allegiance to Islamic State when he was questioned. “I follow Allah. I pledge my allegiance to the Islamic State, and that’s why I did what I did.” Investigators believe Archer traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2011 and to Egypt in 2012 and the purpose of those travels remained unclear. Officials said there was some doubt as to why Archer’s mother, Valerie Holliday, said he had serious psychological problems. But officials said they did not know if that was true. Beyond repeating his allegiance to Islam, police officials said, “He wouldn’t give us anything more than that.” In talking with investigators, the man appeared “savvy enough to stop short of implicating himself in a conspiracy, if there was one,” officials said.
“He doesn’t appear to be stupid, just extremely violent.”
Though there were questions raised about how long he had been a Muslim, and if he was one at all, court records show he had earlier been sentenced to prison for carrying an unlicensed gun and assault.
Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, American;
Tashfeen Malik, 29, Pakistani (with US residence permit)
December 2, 2015, San Bernardino shooting, 16 killed
US citizen Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, who was a Green Card applicant, killed 16 people at a party at a community centre in San Bernardino, California. Farook brought Malik to the United States in July 2014, with a Pakistani passport and a K-1 visa, which designated her his fiancée and had applied for her Green Card. Malik passed three background checks by American immigration officials as she moved from Pakistan. None uncovered what she had said online about her views on violent jihad. She said reportedly said she supported it and that she wanted to be a part of the jihad.
The couple left their 6-month-old girl with Farook’s mother on the day of the attack, saying they had a doctor’s appointment. Farook was at an office party, but had reportedly left abruptly after an argument with one of his colleagues. He seemed angry, witnesses said. He later returned with with Malik, and they went into the building and began firing. The couple had been armed heavily when they were eventually shot down by the police. They were observant Muslims, but had been described by friends as “quiet and unobtrusive”.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, Belgian Moroccan
November 13, 2015, Paris attacks, 130 killed
A 28-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin Abdelhamid Abaaoud was targeted in police raids a week after the attack on Paris that left 130 people dead. Abaaoud was suspected of being the mastermind behind one of the deadliest attacks in Europe in decades. He is suspected of involvement in several botched terrorist plots, including an attack on a train which was foiled by passengers. He was one of Islamic State’s highest-profile European recruits, prominently profiled in the group’s English magazine Dabiq, where he boasted of crossing European borders to stage attacks. Abaaoud was a petty criminal who went to fight in Syria in 2013 and European governments thought he was still there until Morocco said he was actually in France.
He had an invaluable asset for Islamic State leaders eager to take their battle to Europe — a pool of friends and contacts back home willing to carry out attacks. He is believed to have recruited young men to fight for Islamic State from immigrant families in his native Brussels district of Molenbeek. His own family has disowned him, accusing him of abducting his 13-year-old brother, who was later promoted on the Internet as IS’s youngest foreign fighter in Syria.
Abu Osama al-Masri, 42, Egyptian
October 31, 2015, Egypt-Russia plane shot down, 224 killed
Islamic State’s Sinai branch, which was led by a wealthy former clothes importer who goes by the name of Abu Osama al-Masri, claimed responsibility for bringing down a Russian airliner in Egypt that killed 224 passengers in Octber. Sinai Province’s leader, Masri, studied at a 1,000-year old Egyptian centre for Islamic learning that supports the government and was known for its moderate views. However, he was radicalised and took up arms in Sinai before heading to Syria with about 20 followers when security forces clamped down on Islamists after the ouster of former President Mohammed Mursi. There, he gained experience that would prove useful upon his eventual return to the Sinai, when they joined Islamic State and embraced its goals of creating a caliphate across the Muslim world. Last year, security officials said Masri was killed, but he later appeared in a video purported to prove he is alive and reaffirmed his loyalty to Baghdadi. He was seen kneeling beside weapons seized from 30 Egyptian soldiers his faction had killed. In May 2015 a recording surfaced where Masri called for attacks against judges, saying: “It is wrong for the tyrants [judges] to jail our brothers, Poison their food… surveil them at home and in the street..”
Yunus Emre Alagöz, 23, Turkish
October 10, 2015, Ankara rally blasts, 103 killed
Yunus Emre Alagöz was the prime suspect and one of the two suicide bombers in the Ankara bombing targeting pro-Kurdish activists that killed 102 people, the worst attack of its kind in modern Turkey’s history. Yunus’ identity was determined via a DNA test.
His brother Seyh Abdurrahman Alagöz in July walked into a group of pro-Kurdish student activists in Suruç and blew himself up, killing 33 people.
The Alagöz brothers were reported to hold court in a small teahouse in the conservative town of Adiyaman with young followers, praying, reading the Quran and painting a picture of a better life across the border in Syria, in the ranks of Islamic State. Senior security sources noted from the beginning that the double bombings bore striking similarity to the Suruç attack. In both occasions, TNT explosives packed with metal ball bearings were used. Two officials at the Adiyaman prosecutor’s office told Reuters previously that the Alagoz brothers’ father had filed a criminal complaint against Yunus on October 15, 2014 on suspicion that he had joined an “armed terrorist organisation”.
Before the attack, Yunus’ whereabouts had been unknown since July 2014.
Seyh Abdurrahman Alagöz, 20, Turkish
October 10, 2015, Suruç border checkpost blast, 33 killed
Seyh Abdurrahman Alagöz, walked into a group of pro-Kurdish student activists in Suruç near the Syrian border in July and blew himself up, killing 33 people. The brothers belonged to the conservative southeastern Turkish town of Adiyaman. They reportedly got themselves into arguments with several parents in the city because they would usually hold discussions at a teahouse where they tried to radicalise local youths and asked them to take up arms for Islamic State.
“We yelled at them, saying ‘why are you brainwashing our kids? Stop interfering with their lives’,” a local resident told Reuters. “They were very calm and confident, we couldn’t intimidate them at all, they said ‘we don’t harm anyone. We just read the Quran here and they come and sit with us voluntarily’.” Several local residents said they had left Adiyaman in July after the Suruc bombing, while a small grocery shop in the town center said to have been owned by another brother was closed. “The driving force was their social ties. These boys knew each other, they believed in each other and that’s how they convinced each other. All these people, their names are present in the state’s records but until this day no serious investigation has been launched.”
Fahd Suleiman al-Qabaa, 23, Saudi Arabian
June 26, 2015, Kuwait mosque blast, 27 killed
Fahd Suleiman Abdul-Muhsen al-Qabaa walked in on Friday prayers at the Imam al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait City in June and blew himself up, killing 27 people. Authorities say the Saudi national flew into Kuwait’s airport at dawn, hours before he detonated his explosives-laden vest. Saudi Arabia said al-Qabaa was not previously known to security authorities. The Interior Ministry described him as a follower of a “fundamentalist and deviant ideology.”
A Saudi Arabian newspaper Al-Arabiya reported that al-Qabaa had an anomalous character since his childhood years and was taunted during family gatherings by those who disagreed with him on his strict interpretation of Islam. Qabaa never finished university and moved out to live in Riyadh with his father, a trader, around 20 years ago. He even rejected several government jobs because he believed they were forbidden by religion, the report said. Though he never visited Iraq or Syria, he found himself leaning more and more on the teachings of Islamic State than anyone else he knew. After being isolated by his family over his ardent leanings, he reportedly got in touch with the Saudi wing of Islamic State a few months before he was asked to carry out the attack.
Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi, early 20s, Tunisian
June 26, 2015, Tunisia tourist resort attack, 38 killed
Seifeddine Rezgui shot and killed 38 people, mostly Britons, before being killed at a tourist resort at Port El Kantaoui, about 10 kilometres north of Sousse, Tunisia. Rezgui, who was not on any security watchlist, is believed to have had links with Ajnad al-Khalifa, a jihadist group with very close ties to Islamic State which in the weeks before the shooting warned that it was planning an attack greater than that on Tunis’ Bardo Museum in March in which 22 people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, and released a picture of Rezgui under his jihadist nom de guerre Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani, a reference to the town of Kairouan, where Rezgui was studying. He never travelled abroad in his life, which made authorities think that he was radicalised at home, possibly at a mosque. His famly said that they had noticed no signs that he had been radicalised or been drawn to Islamic State’s ideologies. Authorities said that it appeared to the tourists at the attack site that Rezgui was familiar with the layout of the Imperial Marhaba resort, which led them to believe he had visited the place several times as a tourist.