The FBI did not alert numerous Americans that they were placed on secret Islamic State kill lists or notify their local police about the potential dangers, a lapse in the government’s efforts to combat the terrorist group’s evolving strategy to target everyday citizens.
To date, the terror group that goes by the acronym ISIS has published on encrypted web sites several hit lists naming more than 15,000 people it would like to see killed by sleeper cells or lone wolves in New York, Texas, Florida and California.
The lists aren’t public but Circa News obtained copies of some and made sample calls to the everyday Americans who appeared on them, from college professors and military personnel to art collectors and homemakers.
In Texas alone, Circa identified 22 people in a sampling of 24 names who did not receive any notification that they were in ISIS’s crosshairs. It also identified two local police departments whose citizens were on the list that also got no alert from the FBI.
“I was terrified. We live in a different world and the Jewish community is a number one target of these radicals,” said a woman in Austin who found out from Circa that she and several of her friends in the Jewish community were on a list. The woman agreed to be interviewed only on condition of anonymity, fearing using her name would only increase her risk.
“I’m very upset that I was not notified by the FBI or local law enforcement,” she said.
Since the hit lists began emerging more frequently earlier this year, FBI officials have said they intended to notify all Americans threatened by ISIS and to work with their local police departments.
FBI officials said they are confident most American on the lists were alerted in some manner but it was possible some people may have fallen through the cracks. They stressed to date no one on the list has actually been attacked.
“The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information. We perform these notifications so potential victims are aware of possible threats and take appropriate steps,” the bureau said. “Those measures may include paying close attention to your surroundings at all times, protecting personally identifiable information, and immediately calling the local authorities if you observe something suspicious. The FBI will continue to work closely with federal, state, and local partners to keep the public informed of potential threats.”
In New York City, citizens reported getting called from the NYPD informing them of being on the ISIS kill list.
In Texas, where ISIS named a hit list in April, the scenario was much different, interviews showed.
Amelia, an Army wife who asked to use a pseudonym during her interview to protect her identity, only knew there was a credible threat on her life but was given no further details when Army officials contacted her May 12.
“I had no idea I was on an ISIS hit list until you called me,” the woman said, referring to a telephone call Circa made in early June to her residence.
“It all made sense to me after you called. The Army didn’t give me any detailed information. I didn’t even get advice on how to protect myself but I took my own precautions, which included removing a lot of information from social media sites, changing my driving patterns and keeping my doors and windows locked,” she explained.
The police department in Corpus Christi, where Amelia lives, also had no idea it had a citizen on the ISIS hit list until a call from Circa News prompted it to call the FBI.
“We were not contacted by the Army or the FBI referencing the threat to our citizen,” Police spokesman Chris Hooper said.
Similarly, when Circa called a college professor in Austin whose name appeared on the list, the man called his local police. The University of Texas police department responded it had received no warnings from anyone in the U.S. government that a member of the college staff was being threatened by ISIS.
Chad Jenkins, a former FBI counterterrorism agent who now runs his own security firm, said he was flabbergasted by the lack of notification from his old agency.
“If we aren’t notifying private citizens that is a disservice,” Jenkins said. “If we’re not then we need to be asking those questions as fellow Americans why that’s not being done right now, especially with the evolving threat that we have seen so recently from ISIS-inspired and ISIS themselves here in America.”
A senior law enforcement official, speaking only on condition of anonymity, told Circa News that the FBI deferred to the Army for notifying service members on the list and that other challenges, like address changes, can create complications. FBI officials, for instance, want to warn people who are living at addresses once occupied by a person on the list, the official said.
“We have found that a lot of these lists and the names on them are re-circulated and sometimes the same name and address are repeats of previous publications,” the official said.
“With regard to the effort to identify and mitigate inspired terrorist attacks in the Homeland by Homegrown Violent Extremists, the undertaking is quite daunting. We’re not only looking for needles in haystacks, we’re looking for small pieces of hay that can possibly turn into needles in the haystack.”
Complications aside, the official said, “our duty to warn is explicit.”
From March 2 through May, ISIS hacking groups released eight kill lists. Within those lists were the names and addresses of 56 New Jersey state police officers, 36 Minnesota state police officers, 11 county board members in Tennessee, along with the New York residents.
Among the names, were 50 federal employees, along with 70 plus military personnel or family members, of which Amelia was one.
Just four days before the Orlando shooting that took the lives of 49 men and women at a gay nightclub by radicalized Muslim American Omar Mateen, another pro ISIS hacking group went further and released the names of 8300 individuals.
The list included names from California, Florida, New York, Texas and various other states. Like previous lists distributed before, it also included the names and home addresses of people living in the U.S. ISIS’s hacking division instructed lone wolf jihadists and radicalized followers to distribute the lists and target these everyday citizens for death.
“I would be very very shocked if the FBI was not taking this seriously,” Jenkins said. “the main purpose of government is to protect the citizens of this country.”