By James Hess, Ph.D.
Faculty Director and Associate Professor of Intelligence Studies at American Military University
ISIS’s recently renamed online journal, Rumiyah (which means Rome), mentioned that Donald Trump’s inauguration would be a good target for a terrorist attack. Originally, this journal was named Dabiq, a critical site in Muslim apocalypse mythology where Muslim and Infidel forces will one day clash. But ISIS changed the journal’s name to further downplay its loss of the northern Syrian town of Dabiq.
Since Dabiq has an apocalyptic Hadith (a written record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) associated with it, it is not surprising that ISIS has separated its ideology from its end-of-days rhetoric.
In choosing Rumiyah, the ISIS publication cites an Islamic prophesy predicting the fall of Rome following the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1415.
Trump’s Inauguration: ISIS Wants Another Truck Rampage
With regard to the presidential inauguration, ISIS has called for a truck or other large casualty-producing attack reminiscent of Nice, France. That attack killed 86 people and injured 434 more during Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, 2016.
Multiple media sites are carrying this same story. For instance, the U.K. news organization Daily Express reports that ISIS declared Trump’s inauguration day as “Bloody Friday.” While not all news sources say that a Nice-style attack could occur in D.C., they do mention that ISIS could commit an attack anywhere, from the United States to Western Europe.
ISIS could certainly focus on calling for fighters to commit these attack(s). But it appears that ISIS prefers to write posts about potential targets, hoping to entice ideologically sympathetic followers to respond to ISIS’s calls for violence.
ISIS Calls for Sympathizers to Conduct Attacks
With regard to the more recent terror attacks in the U.S. and Western Europe, little evidence links to ISIS’s direction of these proposed attacks. It seems that sympathizers conduct these attacks after being influenced by ISIS propaganda.
If ISIS’s sympathizers attack based on influential postings and encouragement, then counterterrorism officials face a daunting task. They must try to control the amount of information coming from ISIS publications, not to mention from mainstream media reports.
On a positive note, not all attacks that ISIS calls for occur. In Rumiyah, ISIS called for an attack on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City. That attack did not occur. This lack of action reinforces the point that ISIS counts on sympathizers, who may or may not be capable of adhering to ISIS’s message. This perhaps what makes ISIS especially concerning, sympathizers may attempt to attack targets based on ISIS’s propaganda, or find their own. This reinforces the ideological argument. Ideology serves as the direction, but the nature of sympathizers and lone wolf terrorists conducting attacks broadens that perspective of potential targets. One thing that will always be relevant when looking at potential targets is that terrorist groups need to remain relevant, which is why symbolic events like a presidential inauguration will always be appealing to an organization like ISIS.
About the Author
Dr. James Hess received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, where he studied improving analytical methodologies in counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism environments. He is currently studying the relationship between Islamic jurisprudence and terrorism as an International Relations Research Fellow with the University of Arizona’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
Online Degrees & Certificates In Cybersecurity
American Military University's online cybersecurity programs integrate multiple disciplines to ensure you gain the critical skills and management practices needed to effectively lead cybersecurity missions – from government or private industry. Learn from the leader. American Military University is part of American Public University System, which has been designated by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.