Emanuel L. Lutchman was arrested on December 30, 2015, for his support of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and planned attack for New Year’s Eve in Rochester, New York. He planned to attack a local restaurant armed with a machete, knives, and supplies and take hostages.
This marks the 76th Islamist-inspired terrorist attack or plot on the United States since 9/11 and the 13th in 2015, making 2015 the year with the greatest number of attacks or plots over the past 14 years.
Twenty-five-year-old Emanuel Lutchman, a U.S. citizen, has a criminal history that includes a five-year prison term for robbery.
Beginning in November 2015, Lutchman began pledging his allegiance to ISIS online. The planning of the New Year’s Eve attack did not begin until after Lutchman purportedly got in contact with a member of ISIS located in Syria.
In his pledge of allegiance, Lutchman declared his intent to travel to Syria to fight with ISIS. However, because of difficulties involved with crossing into Syria and Lutchman’s current location “behind enemy lines,” the ISIS member advised Lutchman to show his support by killing Americans in the U.S. Lutchman’s acceptance into ISIS hinged on this demonstration of support. The ISIS member suggested New Year’s as a good time for the attack.
According to confidential FBI sources, Lutchman often referred to “brothers” who might be able to assist in his attack. Lutchman sought assistance for he and his “brothers” to travel to Syria after the attack. The ISIS member noted that he would publicize Lutchman’s attack through ISIS media outlets.
Lutchman told confidential sources of his plan to attack a local restaurant with a number of guns or a pressure cooker bomb, referring to an “in-and-out” style of attack. Due to lack of funds, Lutchman ultimately decided to execute his attack with a machete and a dagger.
Two days before the planned attack, Lutchman purchased supplies for the taking of hostages. At a local Walmart, he purchased two black ski masks, zip-ties, two knives, a machete, duct tape, ammonia, and latex gloves. He borrowed $40 from one of the confidential sources to make these purchases.
Just before the planned attack, Lutchman made a video in which he repeated his pledge of allegiance to ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Ongoing Threat of Terrorism
Of the 76 terrorist attacks or plots since 9/11, Lutchman’s is the 65th case of homegrown radicalization, in which radicalization occurred while the individual was in the U.S. It is also the 15th plot to target some sort of public mass gathering, the third most popular target for terrorists after U.S. military installations and New York City.
ISIS continues to be successful in influencing misguided young Americans. The majority of attacks or plots in 2015 were attributed to individuals who were at least partially inspired by ISIS. With the total number of Islamist terrorist plots against the U.S. coming to 13 in 2015, there were more terrorist plots in 2015 than any other year since 2001 and more in 2015 than in 2012, 2013, and 2014 combined.
To effectively combat the growing terrorist threat, Congress should:
- Support stronger action against Islamist terrorist groups. The United States and its allies need to take more effective steps to isolate, undermine, and defeat ISIS and al-Qaeda. Greater intelligence and law enforcement cooperation is needed to uncover and neutralize terrorist plots, curtail the flow of foreign fighters to Syria, and monitor the activities of foreign fighters who have returned to the United States and other countries. Regardless of whether Lutchman’s contact overseas was an actual member of ISIS, the existence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and continued ISIS propaganda across the Internet continues to influence disillusioned individuals to plan or commit acts of violence.
- Continue community outreach. While a lone wolf like Lutchman may not have gained from such programs, community outreach through federal grant funds can help target high-risk communities where young adults may be susceptible to terrorist propaganda. This will likely decrease the number of foreign fighters attempting to travel abroad or prevent other attacks on local law enforcement and businesses. But these funds should not be used for political pork or spread so broadly that they no longer target communities most at risk of radical influence.
- Maintain essential counterterrorism tools.Support for important investigative tools is essential to maintaining the security of the U.S. and combating terrorist threats. Legitimate government surveillance programs are also a vital component of U.S. national security and should be allowed to continue. The need for effective counterterrorism operations does not relieve the government of its obligation to follow the law and respect individual privacy and liberty.
Domestic terrorism continues to rise due to lackluster responses from Congress and the Obama Administration to international terrorism. The rise in terrorism is aggravated by the prevalence of ISIS propaganda successfully reaching Americans. The U.S needs to remain vigilant in countering terrorism and requires concrete leadership in order to succeed.
—Riley Walters is a Research Assistant in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.