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Threat Assessment: ISIS OPERATIVE PLOT TO ASSASSINATE FORMER US PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH IN DALLAS


Savannah Fellows, Jan García, Maria Ruehl, Rhiannon Thomas, Stacey Casas NORTHCOM Team

Jennifer Loy, Chief of Staff

May 24, 2022



Former US President George W. Bush[1]



Summary


Since 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been monitoring a plot to assassinate former president George W. Bush in Dallas, Texas, by an affiliate of ISIS and “Al-Raed,” a unit previously led by Saddam Hussein, operative based in Columbus, Ohio. The FBI collected intelligence from two informants and surveillance of communications on WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging platform. On March 23, 2022, the FBI issued a search-warrant application regarding its monitoring and discovery of the assassination plot, which was revealed the week of April 23, 2022, in the Southern District of Ohio. The plotter conducted surveillance of Bush’s home in Dallas and planned to smuggle as many as six other Al-Raed members, and claimed to have smuggled two individuals linked to Hezbollah, through the Mexican border to aid in the assassination plot. President Bush is very likely being targeted due to the 2003 US intervention in Iraq and subsequent feelings of animosity from those affected by the war. Additionally, social media platforms, particularly encrypted media channels, will almost certainly continue to play a role in terrorist activities. Alternatively, other assassination plots and terrorist attacks have a roughly even chance of being inspired by the failed assassination plot against former President Bush in Dallas, likely also targeting individuals considered to be symbolic such as former Vice President Dick Cheney. Future security implications may involve the continued use of social media platforms by threat actors to plan attacks and recruit individuals to terrorist organizations. US security organizations will almost certainly continue to monitor domestic and foreign threats posed by groups such as ISIS.


Assessments


Despite the group's depleting influence, resources, and operations as a result of recent US intelligence and military operations, federal investigators continue to monitor threats from ISIS.[2] The plot was influenced by negative sentiments towards US involvement in Iraq, with the plotter claiming the US invasion broke apart the country.[3] The threat posed to former President Bush, other US leaders, and military personnel deemed responsible for and involved in the Iraq War is very likely high due to feelings of animosity from ISIS members and Iraqis impacted by the war. The potential for other assassination plots and attempts of US individuals affiliated with the Iraq War is medium-high due to the unresolved tensions with ISIS members and Iraqis impacted by US involvement. This will almost certainly be a motivating factor in potential assassination plots and attempts. Some individuals will likely use previously thwarted assassination plots as guidance for a future attempt, such as tactics similar to smuggling Middle Eastern nationals into the country to carry out a plan, by submitting false identification and immigration documents or using US nationals to help gain significant information on social media for locations of those who have held positions of power in the US. Essentially, it is very likely that future attacks will be elaborately planned out to increase the chances of achieving attack goals, such as conducting surveillance to evade law enforcement, similar to this assassination plan against former president George W. Bush. Plots to assassinate US individuals somehow part of the Iraq War have been a threat for over a decade, almost certainly highlighting the resentment towards the American military and other leaders with involvement in the Iraq War.


The perpetrator used encrypted apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to communicate with other ISIS members to organize the assassination, channels which were being monitored by the FBI. This very likely raises concerns regarding the issue of “going dark,” which explains how law enforcement cannot view content from encrypted applications but can overcome this through the use of undercover operatives.[4] Social media platforms, particularly encrypted media channels, will almost certainly continue to play a role in terrorist activities. Increased use of social media platforms by groups such as ISIS will likely be for anonymity purposes, and their continued use likely indicates terrorist organizations are able to go undetected amongst other accounts on social media platforms. It is likely difficult for security organizations to detect and monitor illicit activities on social media platforms due to privacy legislation. Interactions on social media platforms will likely result in members of terrorist organizations conversing with other groups, with a roughly even chance of groups with an anti-US sentiment creating alliances. Encrypted apps will very likely be used for recruitment and radicalization aimed at expanding ISIS membership. The possibility of sharing knowledge through these apps will likely increase ISIS's chance of planning future attacks. Social media use very likely creates the potential for US citizens to conspire and support ISIS, such as by providing “material support, including personnel and services.”[5] US citizens or operatives in the US aiding terrorist groups likely help these groups gain information and knowledge on potential targets, for example, Jalil Ibn Ameer Aziz, a US-born ISIS propagandist, and an ISIS operative in the US who was sentenced to jail in 2017.[6] Security organizations are likely to work through the encryptions of sites such as those owned by the social media parent company Meta, however, gathering information regarding social media usage by terrorist organizations will almost certainly continue to be strenuous because of the rapidly evolving nature of online platforms.


Alternatively, future assassination attempts and terrorist attacks have a roughly even chance of being influenced by the symbolic nature of the plot to assassinate former President Bush in Dallas. Other terrorist groups will likely be inspired to conduct violent activities in locations that reference previous attacks. Plots will very likely also target individuals considered to be representational. For example, those seeking revenge for the Iraq War will likely target members of the Bush administration in 2003, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, the US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the US general leading the intervention, Tommy Franks. Significant locations, dates, and victims of attacks will likely increase media attention and will likely be used for recruitment purposes by terror organizations in the US. Terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah will likely target these important locations when perpetrating terrorist attacks on US soil.


Future Implications


While domestic terrorism has been on the rise in the US, inter-state terrorism from foreign entities remains a prevalent threat to US national security. Although physically removed from Iraq and Afghanistan, the US still leads the War on Terror, almost certainly making it a target of terrorist groups the US has waged war on, such as ISIS. With tensions from ISIS and Iraqi members remaining, threats toward US individuals affiliated with the Iraq War will very likely continue. ISIS members very likely use the continued animosity from US involvement in the Iraq War for propaganda and recruitment purposes. ISIS likely targets recruitment toward individuals residing in the US to conduct smuggling operations and surveillance of potential attack locations. There is a roughly even chance that other terrorist groups will aid ISIS members with US assassination plots, evidenced by the plotter allegedly smuggling two Hezbollah members into the US. Future assassination plans will very likely be conducted via encrypted media channels despite the FBI's ability to monitor media such as WhatsApp. Plotters will likely seek even more encrypted channels, such as 4Chan, where detection is likely more difficult than on WhatsApp.

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1]President George W. Bush Delivers Inaugural Address” by RandomUserGuy1738 licensed under Public Domain

[2] EXCLUSIVE: ISIS Plotting To Assassinate George W. Bush In Dallas, Forbes, May 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2022/05/24/exclusive-isis-plotting-to-assassinate-george-w-bush-in-dallas/?utm_campaign=forbes&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_term=Gordie&sh=4fac4c06180f

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Jalil Ibn Ameer Aziz Sentenced For Conspiracy To Provide Material Support And Resources To A Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization And Transmitting A Communication Containing A Threat To Injure, United States Department of Justice, December 2017, ​​https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdpa/pr/jalil-ibn-ameer-aziz-sentenced-conspiracy-provide-material-support-and-resources

[6] Ibid

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