On January 26, 2016, Samy Mohamed Hamzeh was charged with possession of machine guns and a silencer. According to the criminal complaint, Hamzeh, a 23-year-old Milwaukee resident, was intent on targeting a nearby Masonic temple to show “nobody can play with Muslims.” This is the third Islamist-inspired domestic terrorist plot or attack in 2016 and the 81st since 9/11.
According to investigators, the FBI was first tipped off to Hamzeh in September 2015 when Hamzeh was planning to travel to the West Bank and attack Israeli soldiers there. He changed his mind, however, and instead began focusing on a Masonic temple in Milwaukee.
Along with two confidential sources (CS-1 and CS-2), Hamzeh took a tour of the temple on January 19, 2016—learning room locations and meeting schedules. He intended to have one attacker keep lookout on the main door while the other two shooters went floor to floor executing anyone they could find. The attack was meant to “eliminate everyone.”
While the plot has yet to be attributed to a single Islamist terrorist organization, Hamzeh stated, “[A]ll the Mujahedeen will be talking and they will be proud of us.” Hamzeh hoped that the attack would provoke an increase in terrorist operations in America. After purchasing three machine guns and silencers from undercover FBI agents, Hamzeh was arrested and charged with illegal possession.
The Threat Continues
There were 15 Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks or plots in 2015, the most of any year and more than 2012, 2013, and 2014 combined. This plot brings the total for 2016 to three before the end of January, indicating a worrying level of activity for 2016. According to the information available, Hamzeh was radicalized in the U.S., bringing the total number of homegrown plots to 70.
To combat the threat of terrorism, Congress and the Administration should:
- Emphasize community outreach. Federal grant funds should be used to create robust community outreach capabilities in higher-risk urban areas. These funds should not be used for political pork or spread so broadly that they no longer target those communities that are at the greatest risk. Such capabilities are key to building trust in these communities. If the U.S. is to thwart lone-wolf terrorist attacks, it needs to place effective community outreach operations at the tip of the spear.
- Support stronger action against Islamist terrorist groups. The U.S. 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. 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.
- 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 challenges continue as a number of Americans have been radicalized by the depraved ideologies of Islamist terrorist organizations. It is important that the U.S. and its friends and allies abroad stay vigilant in countering terrorism, especially as the violent message of terrorism strikes at state and local communities.
—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.