Ohio State attack echoes Islamic State group’s brutal calls

Mother texts with daughter during OSU lockdown (WDTN Photo)
Mother texts with daughter during OSU lockdown (WDTN Photo)

NEW YORK (AP) — In chillingly detailed articles in a slick online magazine, Islamic State extremists exhorted English-language readers this fall to carry out attacks with knives and vehicles.

Using those very methods, Somali-born student Abdul Razak Ali Artan injured 11 people Monday at Ohio State University, authorities say.

It isn’t clear whether Artan ever saw or heard about the magazine’s instructions, but in a Facebook post made before the attack, he said that if the U.S. wanted Muslims to stop carrying out “lone wolf attacks,” it should make peace with the Islamic State group. The posts were recounted by a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but wasn’t authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The group has for a few years urged sympathizers to strike out alone with any weapons available. But it has reinvigorated that message in recent weeks in its new propaganda magazine and a video, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. monitoring service that tracks militant postings.

“In recent months, ISIS media has shown a shift in focus toward attack instructions, offering detailed guides for performing knife attacks, vehicular attacks and other acts,” said SITE Intelligence’s executive director, Rita Katz. Monday’s attack in Ohio “consists of the recent instructions from ISIS on what tools should be used for lone-wolf attacks in the West.”

With professional-looking design and graphics and editions in multiple languages, the new magazine, Rumiyah, emerged in September with a call to kill “non-believers” in Australia, including at the Sydney Opera House, according to SITE Intelligence. It keeps copies of the magazine for monitoring.

Days later, an 18-year-old man told security guards at the opera house that he was under the Islamic State group’s instructions to carry out an attack, police said. The teenager, who was carrying canisters of automotive fluid, was charged with threatening to destroy property.

A few days after that, a 22-year-old was charged with committing a terrorist act after authorities said he stabbed and critically wounded a man walking through a Sydney park in an attack inspired by IS. In both cases, the young men had shown signs of mental problems, according to their lawyers or police.

Subsequent issues of Rumiyah include articles devoted to terrorist tactics. October’s was a primer on the features of various knives and where on the body to aim them to kill.

November’s topic was using vehicles as tools of terror, with an approving nod to the truck attack that killed more than 80 people in a holiday crowd in Nice, France, in July. The article expounded on the features an attack truck should have and suggested crowded streets and outdoor gatherings as targets, calling the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade an “excellent” choice. New York police stepped up security in response to the article and the Nice attack, partly by stationing sand-filled dump trucks near the route as barriers.

More instructions on knife attacks came this weekend in a brutal Islamic State video, which also discussed building bombs, according to SITE Intelligence.

The concept of a terrorist magazine isn’t new. One of the Boston Marathon bombers and other terror suspects were found to have copies of al-Qaida’s online publication Inspire, known for an article called “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom,” authorities said.

Islamic State itself has put out a magazine before, but Rumiyah is “shorter, more straightforward,” with less focus on theological discussions, said Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, the research director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

While IS publications can be a factor in guiding terror, Meleagrou-Hitchens cautions against looking to them as a cause of attacks.

“It’s usually not as simple as someone just reading the propaganda and acting,” he said. “The question is: What makes people seek these things out in the first place? And that’s a more complicated question to answer.”

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