By Bridget Johnson (@BridgetCJ)
Maybe the Islamic State is starting to consider the usefulness of the al-Qaeda job application discovered among the trove of documents in Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound.
Not that every ISIS terrorist is in need of remedial education – far from it, unfortunately. The terror group’s emir in Bangladesh until his August 2016 death, Tamim Chowdhury, was a Canadian honors student who fell into jihad soon after earning his chemistry degree. Those smarts quickly propelled him up the ISIS chain, and he masterminded the gruesome July 2016 attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka.
Another Bangladeshi didn’t prove so lethal, though: Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old legal permanent resident living with his parents, is accused of walking into the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan during the morning rush hour on 11 Dec. and detonating his homemade pipe bomb. Three people complained of ringing ears or headaches afterward while, like the Underwear Bomber before him, Ullah’s bomb-adjacent body (his abdomen) got burned. The Brooklyn resident reportedly was triggered by having to look at Christmas posters in the subway hall (and apparently a lot peeved the “ill-tempered” guy). His bomb, however, didn’t trigger as planned as the blast wasn’t powerful enough to propel shrapnel. Ullah’s use of a Christmas bulb in the device indicated consumption of al-Qaeda training guides, as the summer 2015 issue of Inspire magazine featured an explosive recipe consisting of a shrapnel-packed pipe and a Christmas light in the circuit to put a three-second delay on the explosion.
A couple embarrassing photos later, and ISIS’ Amaq news agency wasn’t shouting Brother Akayed’s name from the rumiyahtops. Amaq didn’t claim Halloween Manhattan attacker Sayfullo Saipov, either; they waited to mention the attack, in which eight people were killed, in their weekly al-Naba newsletter and didn’t even mention him by name. ISIS laid bare the reason for their disappointment between the lines, despite the tragic casualty count: they wanted Saipov to follow explicit instructions in ISIS tutorials for renting a large truck instead of the pickup he leased, and they want a jihadist to be killed or escape to jihad another day.
Ullah’s use of a Christmas bulb in the device indicated consumption of al-Qaeda training guides, as the summer 2015 issue of Inspire magazine featured an explosive recipe consisting of a shrapnel-packed pipe and a Christmas light
In their mind, being captured is a big strike against Ullah, as well. Being captured along with a widely circulated photograph of the bomb that only wounded the bomber as the assailant lay crumpled on the ground is a strike enhancement, and the photo of a forlorn Ullah strapped into a gurney gives ISIS an extra case of the sads. They want martyrs to trumpet across their media, or spree or serial killers for “prolonged terror campaigns.”
ISIS will also ding Ullah for being a dumb bomb-maker. This isn’t because they’re expecting or desiring only jihadists who can pass shop class, but because they’ve made clear that they want jihadists to wage attacks according to their skill level. If a terrorist can’t navigate an obstacle course, they’d rather he not join in the complex coordinated terror attack. If a terrorist can’t shoot straight, they’d rather steer him toward driving a car into a crowd. After Ohio State student Abdul Razak Ali Artan tried a ram-and-stab with no resulting fatalities except his own death, ISIS said trying to stab a group of people is good “for shocking terror (if one is capable),” but novices should start with one targeted victim.
Where is Ullah earning back some points from ISIS? They love that he got his device, however lame, into such a sensitive area undetected: a major metropolitan center, a transportation hub, an area packed with crowds. From that standpoint, he succeeded in causing terror as commuters will understandably be a bit more nervous in the days to come. New York officials readily admitted that they were lucky the bomb-maker was inept, because he got the bomb into a definite no-go zone.
ISIS supporters have been barking about the Hanukkah-Christmas-New Year’s season for weeks now, so the terror group will be happy with the attack timing – and will hope it will inspire more attacks.
he got his device, however lame, into such a sensitive area undetected: a major metropolitan center, a transportation hub, an area packed with crowds… New York officials readily admitted that they were lucky the bomb-maker was inept, because he got the bomb into a definite no-go zone.
They’ll also likely use the incident to press the point that they do want would-be terrorists to use their job to their advantage; though Ullah was working as an electrician, he didn’t prove to be an engineer. But that goes back to their “bloom where you’re planted” messaging: while their ultimate dream is to recruit someone at a nuclear plant, within security forces or in another sensitive location, they want a delivery driver using a heavy delivery truck to strike crowds, they want a catering worker to poison the buffet, etc. Ideally, as they’ll see it, Ullah’s electrician skills could have been put to use blowing up someone other than himself.
NYC knows, especially as the holiday season kicks into full gear, that they’re not in the clear. ISIS supporters followed up Ullah’s attack with a picture of Times Square and a threat to “recognize explosives as the capital of your country” (a reference to the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last week). Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all New York agencies to increase security at “high-profile locations around the state, including airports, bridges, tunnels, and mass transit systems,” with additional personnel “deployed to high-density areas and large public gatherings,” according to his office.
New York and other cities understand that it only takes a few more IQ points or a terrorist with a bit more luck to turn a fortuitous miss into a tragic hit.
Maintain security and threat awareness via Gate 15’s free daily paper, the Gate 15 SUN and learn more about Hostile Events Preparedness and our HEPS Program here. Gate 15 provides intelligence and threat information to inform routine situational awareness, preparedness planning, and to penetrate the decision-making cycle to help inform time-sensitive decisions effecting operations, security, and resources. We provide clients with routine cyber and physical security products tailored to the individual client’s interests. Such products include relevant analysis, assessments, and mitigation strategies on a variety of topics.
Bridget Johnson is a Senior Risk Analyst with Gate 15 and a veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.
Bridget is a Senior Fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, New York Observer, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits. Bridget is Washington Bureau Chief for PJ Media. Follow Bridget on Twitter: @Bridget_CJ
Featured Image and photo of Akayed Ullah via the Daily Mail, 11 Dec 2017, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5167317/Explosion-reported-NYC-Port-Authority-bus-terminal.html
“We meet in Christmas” via PJ Media, 27 Nov 2017, https://pjmedia.com/homeland-security/christmas-threat-times-square-new-isis-santa-poster/
Jerusalem propaganda poster, SITE Intel Group, via ISIS Live Map, 11 Dec 2017, https://isis.liveuamap.com/en/2017/11-december-proisis-media-group-portraying-the-nyc-attempted