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FLASH ALERT: THREE MEN OF PALESTINIAN DESCENT SHOT IN SUSPECTED HATE CRIME, THREAT OF ESCALATION

Lydia Baccino, Magdalena Breyer, Vivan Negi, Victoria Valová, Extremism & NORTHCOM Teams

Evan Beachler, Senior Editor

November 27, 2023


Burlington, Vermont Highlighted In The Red Dashed Line[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to all law enforcement and members of the Muslim community following the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, Vermont, on November 25. Local law enforcement arrested the suspected perpetrator, Jason J. Eaton, near the scene of the shooting on November 26. They confirmed that Eaton was apprehended close to the scene of the incident, and a search of his property “gave investigators and prosecutors probable cause to believe that Mr Eaton perpetrated the shooting.”[2] Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad stated that “without speaking, he (the shooter) discharged at least four rounds from the pistol” at the three college students.[3] Two of the victims are in stable condition, with the third victim sustaining more serious injuries. The victims, identified as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ahmed, were wearing keffiyehs, a checkered headdress symbolizing Palestinian identity, and speaking in Arabic before the shooting took place. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other law enforcement agencies have begun investigations, with the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) calling for law enforcement to investigate the attack as a potential hate crime.[4] This recent shooting occurred amid increasing Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the aftermath of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.[5]


CTG is on HIGH alert for the safety of Muslim and Jewish communities following the suspected hate crime against three college students of Palestinian descent. The shooting will ALMOST CERTAINLY exacerbate the growing discontentment of Palestinian and Muslim Americans, VERY LIKELY amplifying the ongoing pro-Palestinian demonstrations and pro-Israel counter-demonstrations. Confrontations between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrators will LIKELY become increasingly violent as tensions continue to grow. Reports of the shooting will VERY LIKELY accelerate the progression of individuals susceptible to radicalization through the Pathway to Violence, LIKELY resulting in an attack on Jewish communities and other actors deemed complicit, such as government actors and institutions. Online discussions of the shooting will ALMOST CERTAINLY fuel the developing anti-government sentiments and skepticism of the Biden administration among members of the far-left, with far-right actors LIKELY exploiting this development to share their ideology.


On November 25, Jason J. Eaton allegedly shot three young men near the University of Vermont campus. The victims, identified as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ahmed, are of Palestinian descent. Two of the men are US citizens, while the other is a legal US resident. The college students were wearing traditional Palestinian headdresses and speaking a combination of Arabic and English when Eaton attacked them around 1825 local time.[6] Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad stated that “without speaking, he (the shooter) discharged at least four rounds from the pistol” at the three college students before fleeing the scene.[7] Two of the victims are in a stable condition, while the other remains in a more critical condition.[8] Around 1538 local time on November 26, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) arrested 48-year-old Eaton near the scene of the crime. A search of Eaton’s property “gave investigators and prosecutors probable cause to believe that Mr. Eaton perpetrated the shooting.”[9] The scheduled arraignment is for November 27.


According to a statement by the United States Attorney’s Office, members of the Chittenden County Gun Violence Task Force, FBI, ATF, and Burlington Police Department (BPD) are investigating the shooting.[10] While Murad stated that there is currently no additional information indicating a motive, both the ADC and CAIR have requested that law enforcement investigate the attack as a potential hate crime amid the “surge in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment.”[11] Calls to investigate this attack as a hate crime are due to the victims talking in Arabic while wearing keffiyehs, a headdress fashioned from a checkered scarf symbolizing Palestinian identity. Abed Ayoub, national executive director of the ADC, is quoted saying, “There is a lot of evidence, again, pointing to the fact that they were wearing the keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scar, and they were not robbed, they were not held up, and it was not an act of domestic violence.”[12] He went on to say “...approached them, followed them and shot them because of their race and ethnicity…”[13] The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Jewish Voice For Peace (JVP) have condemned the shooting, with the AJC urging “law enforcement to investigate this act as a possible hate crime.”[14]


The impact of the Israeli-Hamas conflict has seen a rise in both antisemitism and Islamophobia. Between October 7 and November 7, 2023, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 832 anti-semitic incidents, amounting to more than 600 cases of harassment, 170 instances of vandalism, and 30 assaults. Averaging 28 incidents a day, this represents an increase of 315% over the same period last year.[15] Similarly, instances of Islamophobia have also been on the rise, with a recent hate crime in Illinois resulting in the fatal stabbing of a six-year-old Palestinian boy.[16] CAIR reported an "unprecedented surge in bigotry.” From October 7 to November 4, the organization received 1,283 requests for help and complaints of anti-Muslim or anti-Arab bias. These figures represent a 216% increase over an average 29-day period compared to last year.[17]


These trends have further driven the rise of far-left ideologies, which are skeptical of American foreign policy and sympathetic to anti-Semitic ideologies. Eaton's attack on college students of Palestinian descent comes shortly after Osama bin Laden's 2002 “Letter to America” re-circulated on social media platforms, specifically TikTok. In his letter, bin Laden attempted to justify the targeting and killing of American civilians.[18] In videos sharing the letter, individuals encouraged others to read it in the wake of the United States' support for Israel in the war against Hamas.[19] The letter contained anti-semitic language and criticized US foreign policy and its support for the occupation of Palestine.[20] It contains “blatant language that is clearly calling for acts of genocide … [and] for killing noncombatants in any nation that is democratic and is fighting against a Muslim-majority state.”[21] Following the recirculation of the video on social media, the Guardian issued a statement claiming it removed a “previously displayed document” containing the translated version of the original “Letter to America” after the translation had been “widely shared on social media without the full context.”[22]


The attack in Burlington will very likely escalate tensions and direct confrontations between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel supporters. Irrespective of Eaton’s motives and stances regarding the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, the shooting will very likely fuel anger among pro-Palestine individuals and groups toward pro-Israel camps. The existing demonstrations and counter-demonstrations will very likely amplify in scale, with confrontations between the pro-Palestine and pro-Israel parties likely becoming increasingly violent. This escalation will likely decrease feelings of public safety among both Jewish and Muslim American communities, likely resulting in individuals channeling experiences of anger and insecurity into acts of violence against the opposite party. Such violence will likely take the form of physical altercations between groups, likely using small weapons such as knives or bats. Given the volatile environment, additional resources, such as police presence and medical personnel, at protests will very likely be intensified and on high alert.


The shooting is very likely to amplify discontent within Muslim- and Palestinian-American communities toward the current situation in the US, likely leading to significant security implications. It is likely that this incident will lead to individuals engaging in lone retributive attacks driven by the perceived injustices facing their community. Perpetrators will very likely target Jewish communities and institutions, as well as politicians and political institutions deemed complicit in the ongoing situation in Gaza and growing domestic hate crimes. Hamas and Hamas-affiliated groups will very likely seek to exploit the anger prompted by the attack to recruit and radicalize individuals and communities into joining their cause. They will likely strategically engage in online campaigns to reach broader and susceptible audiences, likely not limiting their efforts to US audiences. The risk of retributive attacks is very likely to be exacerbated as incidents of hate crimes and targeted violence continue rising in the context of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and growing domestic socio-political tensions.


The circulation and discussion of the shooting on social media platforms will very likely magnify far-left polarization online, likely building on the far-left discontent observed in the re-circulation of the “Letter to America.” The incident will likely drive far-left individuals to justify radical ideologies by conflating the Palestinian cause with Hamas’ or bin Laden’s calls to violence, very likely exacerbating anti-government sentiments and stances. The creation of online echo chambers and the sharing of extremist content will very likely accelerate the radicalization process among susceptible individuals, particularly those already harboring anti-government sentiments. Members of the far-left and other radicalized groups will likely view the government and its institutions as complicit actors in the hate crimes occurring in the US and Israeli actions occurring in Palestine, very likely increasing the risk of violent actions against government workers and infrastructure. This distancing from the current administration will very likely have significant repercussions for the 2024 election cycle, with the Democratic party very likely to be impacted by decreases in voter turnout.


CTG has gauged the risk for further violence using the Pathway to Violence matrix, a resource using information from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide insight into the six phases individuals take before committing acts of violence.[23] The increase in islamophobia and antisemitism online, along with the rise in violent attacks, will likely see the first stage, grievance, met. It is likely that many individuals will likely read the online hate rhetoric and will very likely either feel wronged, or a sense of injustice, or of being victimized. It is likely some individuals feeling this way will consider engaging in some level of violence, whether that is a targeted violent attack or organizing a demonstration that would likely result in violence.

  • The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends that the state law enforcement agencies increase security around university campuses and take the necessary precautionary measures to guarantee the safety and security of the public. It is recommended that this be done in conjunction with campus security, who will provide information specific to that campus, such as campus plan, access points, and university policies regarding student safety.

  • CTG recommends that the public verify the authenticity of the media related to the shooting to avoid spreading misinformation and sensationalism.

  • CTG recommends that state law enforcement agencies and the FBI facilitate intelligence sharing and cooperation to monitor and deter potential hate crimes.

  • CTG recommends that members of the public promptly report any observed signs of violent behavior to law enforcement to facilitate a timely response, enhancing community safety.

  • CTG recommends increasing police presence and patrols in areas with diverse populations to deter potential hate crimes.

  • CTG recommends that law enforcement agencies monitor online activities and accounts posting information related to the incident, specifically accounts celebrating or endorsing the incident through posts, reposts, comments, tags, and chat threads, to monitor any further developments or threats directed toward the Jewish and Muslim communities.

  • CTG recommends that members of Muslim and Jewish communities, including those attending mosques, synagogues, community centers, and residing in neighborhoods, exercise caution, particularly when displaying visible signs of their faith.

  • CTG recommends that local educational institutes and NGOs engage in community outreach programs and awareness campaigns to foster understanding and cooperation between different religious and cultural groups.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH, given the rising tensions and anti-Semitic and Islamophobic sentiments due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict as well as the recent shooting incident involving three men of Palestinian descent near the University of Vermont campus. The recent shooting in Vermont and the stabbing of a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy and his mother in Illinois last month very likely indicate an increase in hate crimes and a growing sentiment of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, very likely due to the persistent threat of extremism amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. The heightened tensions will likely lead to law enforcement agencies increasing patrolling outside mosques, community centers, synagogues, university campuses, and public spaces due to the increase in hate crimes. Law enforcement agencies are very likely to monitor online traffic on platforms such as 4chan, X, Telegram, Discord, and Gab to limit the online spread of anti-government sentiments, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic content and prevent acts of violence against Jewish and Muslim communities.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that this latest attack will exacerbate the tensions surrounding the Israeli-Hamas conflict. It is LIKELY that other extremist individuals with anti-Palestinian beliefs will be inspired by this violent attack, LIKELY resulting in copycat attacks. Copycats will ALMOST CERTAINLY include further violent attacks but also harassment and vandalism of houses, institutions, and businesses belonging to the Muslim community. The anger felt from this latest Islamophobic attack will LIKELY result in retaliation attacks occurring. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations will LIKELY occur throughout the US in conjunction with this retaliation. With these demonstrations, it is VERY LIKELY that pro-Palestine and pro-Israel supporters will attend in response to one another. As both divisions attend, it is LIKELY that violence will take place.


Unlock the Power of Knowledge with The Counter Threat Center! Elevate your threat detection capabilities with critical intelligence on global threats. Join us for a free trial and equip yourself to safeguard those you've sworn to protect. Click here to learn more: https://www.counterthreatcenter.com/subscriptions

 

[1] Burlington, Vermont via Google Maps by Lydia Baccino

[2] Burlington, Vermont, shooting live updates: 3 Palestinian U.S. college students shot on their way to dinner, NBC News, November 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/live-blog/rcna126704

[3] 3 men of Palestinian descent attending holiday gathering shot, injured near University of Vermont, The Independent, November 2023, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/ap-palestinian-burlington-university-of-vermont-council-on-americanislamic-relations-b2453882.html

[4] Statement on Shooting of Three Palestinian Students in Vermont, Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, November 2023, https://adc.org/statement-on-shooting-of-three-palestinian-students-in-vermont/

[5] Burlington, Vermont, shooting live updates: 3 Palestinian U.S. college students shot on their way to dinner, NBC News, November 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/live-blog/rcna126704

[6] Police Arrest Suspect in Shooting of 3 Palestinian Students in Vermont, New York Times, November 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/26/us/palestinian-students-shootings-burlington.html

[7] 3 men of Palestinian descent attending holiday gathering shot, injured near University of Vermont, The Independent, November 2023, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/ap-palestinian-burlington-university-of-vermont-council-on-americanislamic-relations-b2453882.html

[8] Police arrest suspect in the shooting of 3 men of Palestinian descent near the University of Vermont, AP, November 2023, https://apnews.com/article/shooting-burlington-vermont-palestinian-american-students-ab836d1941e4237b3649353eaceb4092

[9] Burlington, Vermont, shooting live updates: 3 Palestinian U.S. college students shot on their way to dinner, NBC News, November 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/live-blog/rcna126704

[10] Statement of United States Attorney Kerest Regarding Shooting of Three Young Men in Burlington, United States Attorney’s Office District of Vermont, November 2023, https://www.justice.gov/usao-vt/pr/statement-united-states-attorney-kerest-regarding-shooting-three-young-men-burlington

[11] Statement on Shooting of Three Palestinian Students in Vermont, Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, November 2023, https://adc.org/statement-on-shooting-of-three-palestinian-students-in-vermont/

[12] Burlington, Vermont, shooting live updates: 3 Palestinian U.S. college students shot on their way to dinner, NBC News, November 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/live-blog/rcna126704

[13] Ibid

[14] American Jewish Committee from X, via CyberHUMINT

[15] Why the Gaza War Has Sparked a Wave of Antisemitism and Islamophobia in the US?, VOA News, November 2023, https://www.voanews.com/a/why-the-gaza-war-has-sparked-a-wave-of-antisemitism-and-islamophobia-in-the-us-/7358885.html

[17] Why the Gaza War Has Sparked a Wave of Antisemitism and Islamophobia in the US?, VOA News, November 2023, https://www.voanews.com/a/why-the-gaza-war-has-sparked-a-wave-of-antisemitism-and-islamophobia-in-the-us-/7358885.html

[18] TikTok ‘aggressively’ removing content praising Osama bin Laden after letter goes viral, The Hill, November 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/media/4313820-tiktok-aggressively-removing-content-after-bin-laden-letter-viral/

[19] TIKTOK REMOVES CONTENT PRAISING BIN LADEN'S LETTER AND MEXICO DESTROYS "MONSTER" VEHICLES IN REYNOSA by Victoria Valová, Magdalena Breyer, Lydia Baccino, Maria M Laka, Ignacio Minuesa

[20] TikTok to prohibit videos promoting bin Laden's 'Letter to America', Reuters, November 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/tiktok-prohibit-videos-promoting-bin-ladens-letter-america-2023-11-16/

[21] How Osama bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’ reached millions online, The Washington Post, November 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/style/2023/11/16/guardian-osama-bin-laden-letter-to-america/

[22] TikTok ‘aggressively’ removing content praising Osama bin Laden after letter goes viral, The Hill, November 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/media/4313820-tiktok-aggressively-removing-content-after-bin-laden-letter-viral/

[23] CTG Pathway to Violence by Lydia Baccino via Canva

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