The FBI announced the arrest of Harlem Suarez (aka, Almlak Benitez) yesterday, 28 July, for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction – a home made bomb – against beachgoers in Key West, Florida. Suarez was inspired by ISIS (aka “ISIL,” aka “Daesh.”)
Local law enforcement and the FBI discovered Suarez, a 23-year old male, in April 2015, based on his pro-ISIS Facebook rants that threatened violence against the U.S.
One of his posts, reports the Miami New Times, said: “Be a warrior, learn how to cut your enemies head and then burn down the body learn how to be the new future of the world Caliphate.”
Undercover FBI agents engaged the subject, who then offered to bomb a civilian target, asserting: “American soil is the past,'” and “We will destroy america and divide it in two, we will rais our black flag on top of your white house and any president on duty.'”
USA Today says that Suarez discussed several other targets before focusing on a crowded beach. They included police cars and police officers’ private homes. The beach bomb was supposed to be grenades with nails – the latter of which he purchased from Home Depot – as added shrapnel, and detonated by cell phone. Suarez allegedly aimed to put the bomb in a backpack and bury it in the sand and then detonate it when the target area was crowded.
After this, Miami New Times says that Suarez wanted to similarly attack South Beach and Marathon, but that these plots were in their infancy. He moreover talked about securing recruits for more mayhem from mosques in the Miami area.
This case represents the steadily growing, ISIS-inspired “lone wolf” phenomenon that is plaguing not just the United States, but France, the UK, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and scores of other nations – Muslim and non Muslim. It moreover proves that the lone wolves are not really lone wolves at all. They are part of a larger Islamist jihadi network, both formal and informal, bent on killing moderate and even conservative Muslims along with non Muslims worldwide. Dr. Seb Gorka, a recognized national security expert and top al Qaeda/ISIS specialist, makes the point plain here.
This case also represents a possible trend to watch for: the targeting of individual police officers for assassination.
Targeting specific, individual police is typical for active insurgency zones such as southern Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Yemen. It is atypical, however, for areas not wracked by insurgency, even if they are under threat by groups such as al Qaeda. Because of the terrorist calls for the assassination of U.S. Navy Special Warfare personnel after the Usama bin Laden raid, and because of similar calls by ISIS to attack individual military and national security personnel, the possibility of attacks on police is not beyond reason.
Similarly, targeting a Florida beach is an atypical venue from what security officials in the U.S. are used to protecting: big cities like New York and Washington, DC, and major military bases like Ft. Dix, New Jersey.
The world has already seen some of these ISIS geographic targeting trends happen as demonstrated by: 1) the 7-9 January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris that also included smaller towns such as Montagny Sainte Felicite and Dammartin-en-Goele, 2) the 16 July 2015 attacks on two US military facilities in Chattanooga, which were not presumed to be on any Islamist jihadist hit list, and 3) the 26 June 2015 attack on the Hotel Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel and its beach front in Sousse, Tunisia.
Lastly, it is apparent that, based on this case plus scores of other successful al Qaeda and ISIS-motivated attacks like Chattanooga, Texas, Fort Hood, and Alton Nolan’s beheading attack in Oklahoma, that the American home front has become part of the battlespace in the “global war on terror” (a term no longer used).
The U.S. “2014 Quadrennial Defense Review” asserted: “The homeland is no longer a sanctuary for U.S. forces, and we must anticipate the increased likelihood of an attack on U.S. soil.” Given the raging popularity of ISIS and its mission, this statement is indeed turning out to be the case not only for U.S. forces, but for American civilians as well.
This trend could possibly escalate because, at the moment, there is no substantial pushback, and definitely not a critical ideological pushback, against ISIS.
Sources and further reading:
“Federal prosecutors charge Fla. man in ISIL Key West bomb plot,” USA Today, 28 July 2015.
“Florida Resident Charged with Attempting to Use Weapon of Mass Destruction,” US Department of Justice, 28 July 2015.
“2014 Quadrennial Defense Review,” US Department of Defense.
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