What’s in a Claim? Reading Between the Lines of ISIS and Manhattan

By Bridget Johnson

In Saipov, ISIS has found qualities that don’t represent putting their best jihad foot forward, so they’re using some jihadi tough love to shame the next terrorist into doing a bit better.

The Manhattan bike path attack on Halloween and the suspect’s reported fealty to ISIS would seem to please the terror group, but the Islamic State has been sending signals that they may not be that enthused about Sayfullo Saipov.

The 29-year-old New Jersey Uber driver, who immigrated to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010, told investigators that he had decided to wage an attack a year ago and did a trial run with a rental truck weeks before he killed eight people along the West Side bike route, according to the criminal complaint.

According to federal officials, Saipov indicated he was heading for the Brooklyn Bridge but was stopped in his rampage when he collided with a school bus. Here, he brandished a paintball gun and pellet gun and was shot by a police officer. “Saipov wanted to display ISIS flags in the front and back of the truck during the attack, but decided against it because he did not want to draw attention to himself,” the complaint adds.

ISIS tells jihadists to use whatever means at their disposal to commit attacks, but they’re probably cringing at the thought that his next weapon to be revealed at trial might be a squirt gun.

The ISIS-linked Amaq news agency, which ISIS supporters count on to issue official claims of responsibility for attacks, notably has not mentioned the New York attack – even while, in the week since 31 Oct., they have issued claims for other incidents including those in Iraq, Egypt and Yemen. Amaq claimed the 1 Oct. mass shooting in Las Vegas by the next morning and ISIS quickly followed up with their official Nashir channel bestowing the nom de guerre “Abu Abdul Barr al-Amriki” on Stephen Paddock. (As of this month, officials maintain Paddock had no known links to extremist groups.)

ISIS was mum until the 2 Nov. scheduled release of their weekly al-Naba newsletter, a 16-page publication distributed online as a PDF. They gave news of the attack good play on the third page. They declared “one of the soldiers of the Islamic State of America” killed “a number of crusaders on a street in New York City” close to the site of the “Battle of 11 September.”

The terror group then praised a deadlier attack. “This is one of the most prominent attacks targeting the crusaders in the region America, the last of which was the attack of the martyr Abu Abd,” who killed “a great cross-section of the Crusaders” in response “to appeals targeting the citizens of the Crusader countries participating in alliance against the Islamic State,” the article continued. While they name-dropped their kunya for Paddock, they didn’t mention Saipov by name once – a notable omission.

The ISIS-linked Amaq news agency, which ISIS supporters count on to issue official claims of responsibility for attacks, notably has not mentioned the New York attack – even while, in the week since 31 Oct., they have issued claims for other incidents including those in Iraq, Egypt and Yemen.

ISIS also noted that the Manhattan perpetrator used a “small truck” in the attack – an adjective with meaning as the flatbed pickup Saipov rented from Home Depot was a far cry

from the stolen beer-delivery truck used in the April attack in Stockholm, the stolen semi (which, terrorist Anis Amri may not have known, was equipped by regulation with automatic brakes) plowed into the Berlin Christmas market, or the July 2016 Nice attack in which a delivery driver ran into Bastille Day crowds along the waterfront for more than a mile with a 19-ton delivery truck.

They’re likely disappointed that Saipov, a truck driver by trade, didn’t at least rent a moving van when they literally drew a picture of a big cargo truck to instruct all the dim-bulbed wannabe rammers out there. In the May issue of their Rumiyah magazine, a ramming-for-dummies infographic told would-be jihadis to rent a vehicle with a “slightly raised chassis and bumper,” a “double-wheeled, load-bearing truck” that is “large in size, heavy in weight” and is “fast in speed or rate of acceleration.” That month, the Transportation Security Administration issued a report on the vehicle ramming threat that discussed reporting “any suspicions arising from the rental of large capacity vehicles in areas and within a proximate timeframe of parades and other celebratory gatherings, sporting events, entertainment venues, shopping centers, or other activities which place crowds near roads, streets or venues accessible by vehicles,” as well as “repeat renters who may appear to be ‘practicing’ their large vehicle skills in the time leading up to a nearby open event.”

ISIS’ ire with their latest Western jihadist may ultimately stem from the very fact that he got captured, even though Saipov himself seemed to try to save face by declaring that he wanted an ISIS banner hung above his hospital bed. The terror group’s instructional propaganda tells jihadists to seek martyrdom, through suicide bombings or going out in a hail of bullets: “The ideal scenario is that they storm the location and he is killed as a shahid – inshaallah – after having inflicted upon the kuffar a just massacre,” said the May issue of Rumiyah. They’ve also embraced the possibilities of the jihadist as a spree or serial killer, suggesting in October 2016 ISIS suggested a “campaign of knife attacks” in which the attacker “could dispose of his weapon after each use, finding no difficulty in acquiring another one.”

Meanwhile, who falls into the ISIS propaganda black hole? The captured and surrendered loyalists who have reneged on their pledge to fight or die get nary a mention from the terror group. And while Saipov’s hospital statements indicate he’s going to try his best to be an imprisoned terror inspiration, the terror group has made clear that you’re either a martyr or a serial terrorist who escapes and lives another day to commit another attack.

ISIS is looking at a guy who reportedly decided to wage an attack a year ago, and yet by the day it was go time he was armed with everything-but guns: a paintball gun, a BB gun, a stun gun. Yes, ISIS tells jihadists to use whatever means at their disposal to commit attacks, but they’re probably cringing at the thought that his next weapon to be revealed at trial might be a squirt gun.

In Saipov, ISIS has found qualities that don’t represent putting their best jihad foot forward, so they’re using some jihadi tough love to shame the next terrorist into doing a bit better.

 


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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_PJM