Terrorist Martyrdom Operations: Paris, Wurzburg, New York

Any trip to Paris would be incomplete without stops at the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower. The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world housing art from Rembrandt, Raphael, Goya, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Donatello and other great artists. Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy spent time at both Paris tourist attractions scouting his targets. He would also take selfies marking his targets on social media.

On January 26, 2017, Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy boarded a flight from Dubai with a tourist visa and headed for Paris. Upon his arrival he rented an upscale apartment in the 8th Arrondissement paying €1700 for a one-week stay. Two days later he entered a gun shop and purchased two machetes. Below is a picture of the upscale apartment building where Al-Hamamy rented an apartment.

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Located on the Right Bank of the Seine River, the Louvre Museum in 2016 saw a decrease to just over 7 million visitors. As one of the most visited sites in Paris, tourists, school groups and others line up for entry and to pass through security. After the 2015 terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan Concert hall, the Stadium of France and restaurants, about 3500 French soldiers have patrolled tourist sites and other potential targets. One might think that deploying soldiers to potential terrorist targets in Paris might be a deterrent.

However, just before 10:00 a.m. on February 3, 2017, Al-Hamamy bypassed the main entrances to the Louvre Museum. He did not wait in the long lines of people seeking admission and waiting to pass through the security checkpoints. Instead he attempted to gain entry through the Carrousel du Louvre Shopping Mall entryway. Individuals using this entryway have the option of going to the shops and restaurants or to the one almost secret entrance to the museum. When using this entry to the museum one needs to already have purchased a ticket and have no large bags or large items with them.   Below is a picture of the Le Carrousel du Louvre “secret  entrance.”

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French soldiers told Al-Hamamy that he couldn’t enter the museum with his two backpacks. Four armed French soldiers were not a deterrent to conducting an attack. For at the end of these types of attacks the terrorist is hoping that he will become a martyr.Armed with a machete in each hand he began attacking the soldiers yelling Allahu Akbar.” This not a phrase one wants to hear being yelled on a bus or at a potential terrorist target site. Al-Hamamy struck one of the soldiers with a machete causing an injury before being shot multiple times. Al-Hamamy survived his attack but like the other attackers in New York and on the German train these individuals were all seeking martyrdom. These attackers all sought to self-sacrificing themselves seeking what they believe would lead them to paradise. Below is the article Just Terror Tactics in ISIS’s Rumiyah magazine.

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Just before Al-Hamamy conducted this attack he tweeted the following “for our brothers in Syria and fighters across the world. No negotiations, no compromise, no retreat, relentless war.” The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) propaganda arm Al-Hayat Media Center in the second edition of Rumiyah magazine called for individuals to attack infidels. In an article entitled, Just Terror Tactics ISIS stated:

“One need not be a military expert or a martial arts master, or even own a gun or rifle in order to carry out a massacre or to kill and injure several disbelievers and terrorize an entire nation.”

If one has no firearms one can easily acquire a knife, an ax or a machete. There are no barriers to acquire a weapon to attack the enemies of ISIS. One doesn’t even need training or to be an expert to carry out these attacks. One doesn’t need expensive weapons or bomb making experience is what ISIS is publishing to it’s followers and potential attackers.

ISIS continues to recruit individuals who can launch low-tech attacks. ISIS is using a two-prong strategy of having trained and untrained individuals launch attacks. By radicalizing individuals online and using encrypted apps, ISIS makes it more difficult to identify and stop potential terrorists. ISIS doesn’t need attackers to travel to obtain terrorist or weapons training. Traveling to Syria or Libya or somewhere else makes it easier for intelligence services to identify potential terrorists. ISIS recognizes this and tells individuals not to travel to Syria. By combining a strategy of using trained terrorists with firearms and suicide bomber vests along with untrained individuals armed only with a knife, ax, machete or truck ISIS is making it hard to detect these plots.

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One of the last things Riaz Khan Ahmadzai communicated before he executed his terror attack  was “Pray for me to be a martyr, I am waiting for the train.” On July 18, 2016, Riaz Khan Ahmadzai boarded a regional German train traveling from Treuchtlingen to Wurzburg, Bavaria. As the train pulled into the Wurzburg station Ahmadzai attacked passengers onboard with an ax and a knife. After injuring four people on the train he fled. He attacked another individual before being cornered by police. Ahmadzai refused to surrender and attacked the police with his ax and was shot and killed.

Ahmadzai, a 17-year old arrived via Austria in 2015 as an unaccompanied minor refugee seeking asylum. He arrived in Germany claiming to a refugee from Afghanistan. He was placed in a refugee center in Ochsenfurt where he lived until being placed in a foster home. Ahmadzai communicated with an ISIS handler who asked him:

What weapons do you intend to use?                        “Knives and ax.”
Would not it be better to do it with a car?                 “I can’t drive.”
You should learn.                                                                “Learning cost time.”
The damage would also be significantly greater.   “I want to come to paradise tonight.”

Just before the attack he sent a video clip to his ISIS handler in which he stated “I am a soldier of the caliphate and will be doing a martyrdom operation here in Germany.” Ahmadzai also wrote a letter in Pashtun to his father and said, Now pray for me that I can take revenge on these nonbelievers, and pray for me, that I make my way into heaven.”

Within weeks of Ahmadzai being moved from a refugee center to a foster home he was able to execute this attack. In the video released by ISIS Ahmadzai bragged about living among you and that he “planned against you in your land.” He stated My message to the Islamic nation-wake up, the Islamic Caliph is established. Support the Muslim Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” There can be no doubt as to his motivation for conducting this attack. We can expect ISIS to continue to inspire its followers to conduct attacks like these.

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Who would attack four armed police officers? On October 23, 2014, four police officers were standing together on Jamaica Ave in Queens, New York. A photographer asked if he might take a picture of the four officers together. As the photographer took the picture Zale Thompson moved into position with his ax. Thompson attacked the four New York Police officers with an 18-inch ax. A convert to Islam, Thompson had taken the kunya-Zaim Farouq Abdul Malik. The 32-year old man from Queens had served in the Navy but had been discharged in 2003 for misconduct. He had explored various radical sites online and was clearly seeking martyrdom. Posted under his kunya Zaim Farouq Abdul Malik stated, “Which is better, to sit around and do nothing, or to wage jihad.”

Why else would one attack four armed police officers with an ax? Two officers were injured in the attack before the assailant was killed. While these attacks make no sense, the statements of these terrorists show their intentions. One of Thompson’s statements shows his mindset and how he wanted to launch an attack.

“Helicopters, big military will be useless on their own soil. They will not be able to defeat our people if we use guerrilla warfare. Attack their weak flanks.”

We will continue to see ISIS identify individuals that can be manipulated and motivated to undertake terrorist attacks using low-tech weapons like knives, axes, machetes, and trucks. The benefits for ISIS are that these “inspired” terrorists are hard to identify, detect and stop. Little to no investment is required by terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda since the “inspired terrorist” provides their own weapons. These terrorist group don’t have to arrange for travel, logistics, security, safe houses finances or training to execute these attacks.  Terrorist groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will continue to call for these attacks as well as focus attention on jihadists who have undertaken these types of attacks.By doing this they may be able to inspire others to undertake and execute attacks.This death by a thousand cuts strategy keeps these terror attacks in the media, terrorizes people and makes the law enforcement and intelligence community expend resources trying to identify and prevent them from happening. Thus, enabling terrorist groups to spend their time and resources on “planned attacks.”

Next Generation of Al-Qaeda Terrorists

Twenty-seven years after the founding of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader is hoping that one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons can provide some luster to the floundering terrorist group. With Hamza Bin Laden featured on the latest audio tape from Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda is hoping that a Bin Laden can return interest in Al-Qaeda. For years Al-Qaeda was at the pinnacle of terrorists groups in the Middle East. But years of being run to ground, its leadership decimated by drone strikes and special forces operations have all but relegated Al-Qaeda to survival mode. These days Al-Qaeda has to compete for recruits, money and media with ISIS.

On the recent audio tape Hamza called for lone wolf attacks in London, Washington, Paris, and Tel Aviv. While ISIS attacks in Syria and Iraq have captured the attention of the world, Al-Qaeda wants to refocus attention to attacks in these world capitals. This theme echoes what Ayman al-Zawahiri said in his memoir Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet” when he stated “Therefore, we must move the battle to the enemy’s grounds to burn the hands of those who ignite fire in our countries.”

One can’t imagine that Hamza has a huge following of lone wolves waiting for his word to strike. But there is no telling what some lone wolf will read or state is the reason for launching an attack. This gives lone wolves the ability to link back to Al-Qaeda. Hamza Bin Laden was the only son of Khairiah Saber, Osama Bin Laden’s favorite wife. Like his brother Saad, Hamza was groomed to one day walk in his father’s shoes. But like Saad, Hamza and some of the other Bin Laden children were moved to Iran for their safety after September 11th. There they became restricted guests of the Iranians living under house arrest for years after the fall of the Taliban. While most thought that Saad Bin Laden was destined for leadership in Al-Qaeda he was killed in a drone strike in 2009.

This was not the first time that Hamza has been used in Al-Qaeda propaganda. As a small boy, Hamza appeared in Al-Qaeda videos with his father and other Al-Qaeda fighters. In 2005, at the age of fourteen, Hamza appeared in an Al-Qaeda video entitled “The Mujahideen of Waziristan.” Dressed in a camouflage coat, a headband and armed with an AK-47,  Hamza stated, “we will fight the kafir forever!” Hamza has been raised at the elbows of Al-Qaeda terrorists and has fought with the Taliban.

Hamza does not have a huge following in the jihadi world but his last name still carries weigh. The old grizzled lions of Al-Qaeda have become fewer and older with much of the leadership either killed or captured. While hordes of recruits are flocking to ISIS in Syria and Iraq due to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s violence and slick media that has never been the plan for Al-Qaeda.   Al-Qaeda has always positioned itself to be the facilitator and vanguard for jihad. But for the last ten years, Al-Qaeda has been more in survival mode than being the vanguard of the jihadist movement. And this void has been filled more by ISIS and their lighting quick strikes across Syria and Iraq. To defeat Al-Qaeda and groups like ISIS we must know and understand the ideology and concepts that motivate and drive these terrorists.

One thing is clear to Ayman al-Zawahiri. For Al-Qaeda to remain relevant they must link from the past to the future if they are to have legitimacy in the modern jihadi world. Ayman al-Zawahiri is hoping that Hamza Bin Laden is that link between the two worlds. By using the next generation in Al-Qaeda’s propaganda communications Zawahiri is positioning his terrorist group for the future.

We have seen terrorist groups bring in family members. When Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani, the founder of the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines was killed, the leadership named his younger brother Khadaffy Janjalani as their leader. Khadaffy Janjalani was not his brother. He hadn’t fought the Russians in Afghanistan and lacked Abdurajik’s religious background, leadership qualities and connections. But he did possess one thing-the Janjalani name -the link to the past.

Another father son succession can be seen with the Haqqani Network. Jalaluddin Haqqani started fighting the Russians under Yunis Khalis and later formed his own group. Today his son, Sirajuddin, who leads the Haqqani Network, is more violent than his father ever was.  In August 2012, when Badruddin Haqqani, Siraj’s brother was killed by a drone strike several other brothers and cousins stepped forward and assumed his duties including Yahya Haqqani, Abdul Azziz Haqqani and Ahmad Jan. The Haqqani Network is like a dynasty. The Haqqanis have always kept a hand on the levers of power often integrating fighters with elements of the Taliban but always under their own commanders.

Al-Qaeda has problems and is seeking to link to the next generation of terrorists. Just having the last name doesn’t guarantee success in the world of jihad. But Hamza is someone to watch since he has grown up inside Al-Qaeda and has the right pedigree. Zawahiri has watched Hamza since he was a small boy and clearly is positioning him for the future.