Aaron Travis Daniels, also known as Harun Muhammad and Abu Yusef, was arrested at an airport in Columbus, Ohio yesterday before he could fly to Trinidad. Daniels’ final, intended destination was Libya, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). But instead of making his way to North Africa, Daniels was arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State.
Some of the DOJ’s allegations are noteworthy, especially those pointing to the Islamic State’s external attack network, which seeks to instigate and plot terrorism in both the US and Europe.
The DOJ does not allege that Daniels planned to commit an attack in Ohio or elsewhere inside the United States. Instead, the 20 year-old is charged with planning to join the Islamic State in Libya, after expressing “his interest in violent jihad and traveling overseas” via social media and “in various communications.” But he also communicated with at least one Islamic State external attack planner, according to the complaint.
The Islamic State has repeatedly told followers that they can migrate to any of the so-called caliphate’s lands to support jihad. In addition to Iraq and Syria, jihadi hotspots such as Libya are routinely advertised as acceptable destinations for serving the cause. This is consistent with the Islamic State’s establishment of “provinces” beginning in late 2014. The group tells believers that the caliphate is a truly global enterprise and that they need not make their way to the Levant or the Middle East to do their duty. In his latest audio message, for instance, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi heaped praise on his loyalists in Sirte, Libya, emphasizing that they were just like his “soldiers” elsewhere.
Daniels was allegedly in contact with an Islamic State operative known as Abu Isa Al Amriki, who acted as a “recruiter and external attack planner.” According to the DOJ, Daniels said at one point that it was al Amriki who “suggested” he go to Libya “to support jihad.”
Al Amriki and his wife, an Australian national known as Umm Isa Amriki, were killed in an airstrike near Al Bab, Syria on Apr. 22. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook announced their deaths in early May, saying that Abu Isa al Amriki was a Sudanese national also known as Abu Sa’ad al Sudani. Al Amriki (Al Sudani) “was involved in planning attacks against the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom,” Cook said at the time. “Both al Sudani and his wife were active in recruiting foreign fighters in efforts to inspire attacks against Western interests.”
The death of the couple removes “influential ISIL [Islamic State] recruiters and extremists who actively sought to harm Western interests and further disrupts and degrades ISIL’s ability to plot external attacks,” Cook said. Cook also described al Amriki as an “external attack planner.” Press reporting indicates that Umm Isa Amriki was both active on social media and worked to attract women to the jihadis’ cause.
Federal authorities claim that Daniels “wired money to an intermediary for Abu Isa Al Amriki.” The DOJ’s announcement specifically mentions a sum of $250 that Daniels sent to an Islamic State “operative” in January 2016.
Therefore, if the DOJ’s allegations are proven, then Daniels’ case provides an additional example of how the Islamic State’s external attack network has been able to engage would-be followers online throughout the US and Europe.
In March, another Ohio man, Munir Abdulkader, pleaded guilty to various terrorist charges. Abdulkader communicated with a key Islamic State recruiter, Junaid Hussein, who was killed in an American airstrike in Raqqa, Syria on Aug. 24, 2015. Hussein was also one of the Islamic State’s external attack planners. “Through these communications,” the DOJ announced in July, “Hussein directed and encouraged Abdulkader to plan and execute a violent attack within the United States.” Hussein may have been in contact with the two gunmen who opened fire at an event dedicated to drawing images of the Prophet Mohammed in Garland, Texas in May 2015. British officials also accused Hussein and his comrades of plotting attacks inside the UK. [See LWJ report, Ohio man conspired with Islamic State recruiter, Justice Department says.]
The Islamic State’s external operations arm has planned large-scale attacks such as the assault on Paris in Nov. 2015. But the group’s online planners have also directed small-scale attacks in Europe. Officials have described these plots as being “remote-controlled.” [See LWJ report, Terror plots in Germany, France were ‘remote-controlled’ by Islamic State operatives.]
The US-led military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has repeatedly targeted operatives involved in plotting against the West. US officials have stressed that the external operations arm is integrated with the rest of the organization. Baghdadi’s lieutenants are tasked with defending their turf over there, while also planning terror over here.