The Hand of ISIS at Ohio State


The Islamic State’s slick online magazine Rumiyah released a special issue on knife attacks last month. The cover illustration was of a blood-drenched blade. “When considering a just terror operation, an ocean of thoughts might pour into one’s mind, clouding the ability to make a final decision,” the authors of the feature article wrote. “Many people are often squeamish at the thought of plunging a sharp object into another person’s flesh. It is a discomfort caused by the untamed, inherent dislike for pain and death, especially after ‘modernization’ distanced males from partaking in the slaughtering of livestock for food and striking the enemy in war.”

The motives behind the rampage at Ohio State University, on Monday, by Abdul Razak Ali Artan, an eighteen-year-old Somali-born student, have yet to be determined, but the event could have come straight out of the Islamic State’s manual—and it appears to have inspired him. On Tuesday, the ISIS news agency, Amaq, claimed Artan was “a soldier of God.” Amaq claimed the Somali youth carried out the operation “in response to appeals to target nationals of the international Coalition,” a reference to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State.

The violence in Ohio follows a similar stabbing attack in September, when a young Somali immigrant named Dahir Adan knifed ten people at a shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The ISIS news agency subsequently claimed that Adan was a “soldier of the Islamic State,” acting on the organization’s “calls to target citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition.” Both Minnesota and Ohio have significant communities of Somali refugees.

Last month, Rumiyah reminded followers of ISIS that throughout history generations of holy warriors, in the name of God, had “struck the necks of the kuffar”—meaning unbelievers—“with their swords, severing limbs and piercing the fleshy meat of those who opposed Islam.” It advised that knives are easily available, easy to conceal, and highly lethal, especially in environments where Muslims might be under suspicion and closely watched.

In voluminous detail, Rumiyah—which means “Rome,” an allusion to an old prophecy foretelling the fall of the infidel West—offered advice on the types of blades that are most deadly and the places on the body that are most vulnerable. It warned against using kitchen knives, which can’t handle the “vigorous application used for assassinations.” It noted, “The more gruesome the attack, the closer one comes to achieving the desired objective,” but cautioned against trying to “fully detach the head,” since the “absence of technique can cause a person to spend a long time attempting to do so.”

The timing of the attack also echoed ISIS instructions. Artan struck on the first day of school after Thanksgiving—but not during the Michigan-Ohio State football game, two days earlier, which brought a hundred thousand people to a central venue in Columbus. When acting alone, ISIS advised, “the target should be a smaller crowd . . . as such attacks are proven to inflict terror.”

The most recent issue of Rumiyah, from November, offers guidance on a different lone-wolf terror tactic, spelling out which vehicles are most effective for ramming into crowds “to leave a trail of carnage.” Artan began his campus attack shortly before 10 A.M. by driving a gray Honda Civic into pedestrians, injuring several. Then he leaped out and began stabbing students and passersby with a butcher knife. Eleven people were injured. It could have been far worse; luckily, a policeman, responding to a call about a gas leak, happened to be nearby and shot Artan shortly after the assault began.

The attack occurred in the same month that the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released his first public comment after spending almost a year in hiding. The Islamic State has taken increasingly heavy losses since the offensive against Mosul, its stronghold in Iraq, began last month. This month, Syrian rebels launched a second offensive against ISIS’s capital, in Raqqa. In an audio message, Baghdadi appealed to the caliphate’s “soldiers,” including Somalis, in fourteen areas outside Iraq and Syria to take actions where and when they can.

In its propaganda, ISIS reminds followers to leave behind evidence of their affiliation with or inspiration from the Islamic State—“lest the operation be mistaken for one of the many random acts of violence that plague the West.” Artan reportedly posted an anti-American rant on Facebook minutes before the attack. “I am sick and tired of seeing my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters being killed and tortured EVERYWHERE,” it said. He specifically cited the torture and rape of Muslims in Burma. “I can’t take it anymore. America! Stop interfering with other countries,” he wrote, and added, “If you want us Muslims to stop carrying lone wolf attacks, then make peace.” He also noted, “Btw, every single Muslim who disapproves of my actions is a sleeper cell, waiting for a signal. I am warning you, Oh America!” The post is no longer available.

In an interview in August, Artan complained to the O.S.U. student newspaper, the Lantern, about the challenges of being a Muslim in the United States. “I wanted to pray in the open, but I was scared with everything going on in the media,” he said. “I’m a Muslim, it’s not what the media portrays me to be. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen.”

In October, Rumiyah made a special appeal to the East African community. “If there are any men of this Muslim community who have not yet taken their stand against non-believers by waging jihad for Allah’s cause and who truly care about fulfilling their duties to their Lord, they must march forth without delay.”



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