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Jihadist Attacks in the West “Not Going to Stop,” Terrorism Expert Warns

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“Greater need and urgency” among jihadists to punish countries that have launched airstrikes against Islamic State

On Oct. 22, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a radicalized Muslim convert with a criminal background, opened fire in the Canadian Parliament building, killing a soldier before being fatally shot himself. In May, a young Frenchman named Mehdi Nemmouche who fought with ISIS in Syria shot and killed four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels. He was subsequently arrested.

The United States has seen its share of radicalized Muslims committing violent crimes and planning mass-casualty attacks. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, allegedly carried out by two Muslim brothers from Chechnya, killed three people and injured 264 others. Radical Muslims have also been arrested for planning to detonate car bombs in Times Square and subway tunnels in New York City.

On Oct. 1, a 23-year-old Portland, Oregon man, Mohamed Mohamud, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for plotting to detonate a bomb during a public Christmas tree lighting in 2010. Ali Muhammad Brown, 29, is accused of executing four men in New Jersey and Washington state earlier this year as part of a crusade to punish the the U.S. government for its foreign policy in the Middle East. On Sept. 25, Alton Nolen, 30, beheaded a coworker and stabbed another person during an attack in a food processing plant outside Oklahoma City.

The attacks have been portrayed as "lone wolf" incidents perpetrated  by violent and mentally-unstable individuals who are usually estranged from society. However, Turzanski said there are too many commonalities to ignore the broader threat of domestic jihad.

"It is very much their ideology," Turzanski said. "You start putting all this together and the first thing that’s obvious is that people who intend to do us harm lack the capacity for mass-casualty attacks. If ISIS and Al Qaeda had the capacity for mass-casualty attacks against us, they would do it. This shows they have changed their mindset."

When the Islamic State began conquering large swaths of Iraq and Syria  the terror group now controls an area larger than Maryland — it was primarily focused on establishing a caliphate and recruiting Muslims across the world to join it. When the United States-led coalition began striking Islamic State positions – an airstrike this week is said to have killed several top-level IS leaders – the group called upon Muslims living in the west to launch terrorist attacks in defense of Islam.

What makes the Islamic State’s message especially threatening to the West is the group’s broad appeal and savvy use of social media to engage disaffected Muslims who might be willing to sacrifice themselves in terrorist attacks.

"Fighting for the faith, for the cause, has tremendous appeal to idealists, dreamists, radicalists, extremists and fundamentalists who aren’t happy in their current situation," said Williams, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth professor.

"We compare ISIS’ messaging and intent with the stuff we previously saw from Al Qaeda, and it’s much more advanced and in local languages," Williams added. "Al Qaeda was clumsy and spoke mainly in Arabic, but ISIS is reaching audiences in English, French, German. They’re much more savvy and polished in their message. Their graphics are better, the filming of their documentaries is better. They’re more sophisticated and their outreach is much more active."

The promise of a caliphate  a state run by sharia law  also has a certain appeal that Al Qaeda lacked.

"We didn’t see jihadists or wannabe jihadists before traveling long distances to Yemen or Pakistan to join Al Qaeda," Williams said. "This new group, ISIS, is developing a utopian state. They’re actually offering housing and salaries and other things, even wives, for people who come."

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