After an FBI raid of his home, a 19-year-old man was arrested in Harrisburg, Pa. on Dec. 17 on charges of “conspiring and attempting to provide material support” to the terrorist group ISIS.
The charges against Jalil Ibn Ameer Aziz, as outlined in a release from the Department of Justice, also detailed the use of 57 Twitter accounts by Aziz in attempts to spread propaganda in support of ISIS. One tweet was directed at President Obama, and included a threat to “sever [his] head.”
On Dec. 18, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) held a conference call to commend the FBI and law enforcement, both at the state and local levels in Harrisburg as well as Philadelphia, and to provide insight into briefings he was given on the situation, which is still under further investigation. “I think the case reminds us of the challenge we have when it comes to so called homegrown extremism,” Sen. Casey said, adding that it can lead to “violent” terrorism.
“In this case, you had someone who — from what I can determine based upon the news accounts — was acting alone but we don’t know that for sure. But that’s what appears to have happened,” he continued.
He expressed concern for hot button issues such as gun control as well as being able to properly fund the FBI and law enforcement so they have the tools and training necessary to “combat circumstances where it may not even be a situation of an active shooter but helping apprehend someone who might be a threat like we saw in the arrest yesterday.”
The FBI had previously searched Aziz in November and found in his closet a backpack with “five loaded M4-style high-capacity magazines, a modified kitchen knife, a thumb drive, medication and a balaclava.”
Through his use of social media, Aziz communicated with several “well-known” members of ISIS and passed information, such as names and addresses of 100 reported members of the U.S. military.
The use of social media for this kind of activity was another topic of concern Casey addressed.
“We know that the individual in Harrisburg had more than 50 Twitter accounts and had to keep changing those accounts over the course of time,” he said. “He used those accounts to connect with others who support ISIS ideology and to spread propaganda. I want to highlight what is happening now, but probably a lot more needs to be done.”
He said many social media companies have already begun working to monitor and remove content to make sure their platforms aren’t being used for terrorist propaganda, violence or recruiting.
Casey emphasized that addressing the role of social media in the fight against terrorism is “going to be a continuing challenge.”
“I think what we have to do is work in partnership with social media outlets and experts in the field to further what these outlets have already started,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work with them, and it may be there’s more that the federal government can do to support them.
He also pointed out that Aziz is, from what law enforcement has been able to gather, a U.S. citizen.
As of now, it is unclear if Aziz’s parents — whom he lived with — knew of any of his connections with ISIS. Casey added he does not think law enforcement was aware of him being on any kind of watch list.
And while the magazines previously found in a search were fully loaded, there was no reference to Aziz having used them or planning to use them.
“It’s important to remember this individual — as far as we know — is a U.S. citizen, not a refugee, not someone who came in across our borders to engage in this activity,” Casey said. “This does fit that broad and basic definition of ‘homegrown’ — and that’s why the challenge we confront is so substantial.”
On gun control, Casey stressed the importance of bipartisan participation and his own position that “if you’re too dangerous to get on a plane, you’re too dangerous to have a gun or explosives.”
He referenced one tweet in particular that Aziz sent from one of his accounts, detailed in the formal complaint, which read: “Pennsylvania have” — “which is not the right word,” (Casey interjected) — “very light gun laws its very easy to arm yourself.”
“Folks in both parties need to examine that statement and make a decision about how to respond,” Casey said. “It’s obvious that — I’ll call them bad guys — that bad guys are going to a place where they can be successful in furthering the aims of the terrorists, or participating in furthering those aims.”
In Pennsylvania, he said, “we’ve probably got more guns than we have people. That’s a reality — or challenge — no other country has in the world,” he said.
He detailed his support in screening social media profiles for those applying for visas.
There was a letter signed by a number of senators — including Casey — that the Department of Homeland Security should review social media during the process.
“All the yelling and screaming about Syrian refugees in some corners of Washington should have been focused on visas,” he added.
He also disapproved of the anti-Muslim vocabulary being used on the campaign trail today.
“That kind of rhetoric is 100 percent unhelpful,” he said, “and I think is damaging and we need to urge folks on the campaign trail to be more responsible. This is the national security of the U.S. You’ve got to be thoughtful and careful about what you say. Categorical statements about people are almost always wrong, and we’ve got to be serious, sober and thoughtful. My experience is, when you do that it, leads to a better result — and a safer country.”
For now, while he said the solution may take “generations,” supporting the FBI and local law enforcement is key.
“My gut tells me we’re going to be seeing more of these and the prevention — which is mostly about persuading young people not to go down this path — that prevention effort is going to take many, many years,” he said.
“It’s a newer reality that we weren’t facing 10 years ago. This is becoming such a community-based problem — the solution is going to come with us helping communities to confront this at a very basic level.”
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