WASHINGTON – Against a backdrop of heightened security and of resistance to a potential massive influx of Muslim refugees into the United States, ISIS has issued guidance in a little-noticed manual for the so-called “lone wolves” who have become a major concern of U.S. law-enforcement officials.
The 63-page, English-language manual, “Safety and Security Guidelines for Lone Wolf Mujahideen,” said to have been authored by three former members of the intelligence service of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who now work with ISIS in its self-proclaimed caliphate capital of Raqqa, Syria.
It was first revealed by in October by the Middle East Research Institute, which said it came from a top ISIS disseminator on Twitter named Abu Naseeha.
Middle East security expert Michael W.S. Ryan said the manual’s publication demonstrates ISIS intends “to create a new hybrid war weapon in its arsenal against the United States, a hidden weapon designed to be difficult to trace operationally back to the jihadist organization or to detect before an operation is executed.”
“The Islamic State clearly wants their clandestine proxies to be able to survive to fight another day and, therefore, spend as much time designing an exit plan as they do designing the operation itself,” said Ryan, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, in an analysis on the Washington, D.C.-based organization’s website.
Ryan said that creating such cells at long distance is extremely difficult, but ISIS “has signaled its intention to try because such cells are so hard to detect before they act.”
“Thus, the challenge to U.S. law enforcement, intelligence agencies and the general public, ideally working together, is clearly laid out in their latest jihadist manual,” Ryan said.
Ryan was a political-military and foreign assistance specialist for the Departments of Defense and State with an emphasis on Middle East and North Africa from 1979 to 1997.
To avoid detection by U.S. law enforcement, the manual calls on individuals and cells to maintain constant vigilance disclosing information on a strictly need-to-know basis and varying daily routines.
In addition, it covers how to devise a cover story, maintain safe houses, maintain weapons security and safely transport them and other cell operatives. It also tells how to perform surveillance of a target and detect surveillance by law enforcement.
The manual strongly advises covert cell operatives to blend in with their surroundings and not to draw any attention to themselves.
It instructs the operatives to recruit mostly family members or individuals with whom they have had lifelong relationships. In addition, covert operatives should not keep weapons or incriminating documents in their homes. They should hide their Muslim identity by wearing a Christian cross, ensure there is no Quran app on their smart phones, don’t exhibit prayer beads, cut off beards and stay away from mosques.
The manual would be especially attractive to cells and individuals such as the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, who carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, as well as Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed in 2011 by a U.S. missile strike in Yemen.
These examples, along with a list of refugees who came to the U.S. but later became jihadists, recently was outlined in a report by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. His report revealed the names of 12 “vetted refugees” who were allowed to enter the U.S. but later joined terror cells and plotted attacks against the U.S.
The Tsarnaev brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan, who were naturalized U.S. citizens, set off two pressure cooker bombs on April 18, 2013, at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264.
Tamerlan was killed in a gunfight, but Dzhokhar was captured, tried, convicted and sentenced to execution, which still is under appeal. They obtained detailed instructions from the al-Qaida magazine “Inspire,” which gave a step-by-step description, complete with pictures, of how to make a pressure-cooker bomb.
Awlaki, an imam at a mosque in Virginia, preached to three of the 9/11 al-Qaida hijackers and was a mentor to U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the perpetrator of the 2009 Fort Hood shootings, which killing 13 people and wounded 33. Awlaki was the first U.S. citizen ordered killed by President Obama for terrorist activities.
Revelation of the ISIS manual also comes after FBI Director James Comey last month testified to Congress that there was no real way to conduct background checks on the tens of thousands of Muslim refugees the Obama administration wants to resettle in the U.S.
“We can only query against that which we have collected,” Comey said. “And, so, if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interested reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing showing up because we have no record of them.”
The Tsarnaev brothers, along with al-Awlaki and their families, all were “vetted” prior to settling in the U.S.
Ryan said that it appeared ISIS was adaopting al-Qaida’s doctrine of individual and small-cell terrorism.
He suggested ISIS may be laying the groundwork for terrorist attacks within the U.S., Canada and other English speaking countries using local recruits for whom the U.S. is the “near” enemy.
ISIS in Raqqa appears to be planning to attack its “main far enemy,” the United States, Ryan said, “under the operational cover of home grown attacks by Americans or Canadians, instead of sending individual terrorists and small groups to fight against the United States and its allies from overseas.”
Canada, through its newly elected liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has promised to allow some 25,000 Muslim refugees into Canada at the beginning of the year, and he will send aircraft to pick them up.
Trudeau has dismissed suggestions his plan would compromise Canada’s security. However, the refugees he would welcome, principally from Syria, have no validated documentation, making any vetting even more challenging not only to Canadian but U.S. law enforcement officials.