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Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is inspiring Americans online, FBI says

Taliban fighters. (Department of Defense photo by Lt. j. g. Joe Painter)
October 18, 2021

The FBI is seeing evidence of Americans being inspired to potential violence by the Taliban’s recent victory, an agency official said Tuesday.

Charles Spencer, the assistant director of the FBI’s international operations division, said he is seeing more chatter online and on social media from Americans who have not traveled to the Middle East, yet are influenced by the rapid seizure of Afghanistan over the summer.

“There’s a lot of talk about it, and I think that’s the first thing you see. Where there’s talk, there’s more interest,” Spencer said at the Soufan Center’s Global Security Forum in Doha. “That’s where people who are people on the fringes. [who are] potentially not mentally stable, [and] not even affiliated with them, I think that’s where they see this rallying cry and their opportunity. Now ‘it’s time to buy a gun, run people over with a car,’ do whatever they’re going to do.”

The past decade has already seen deadly attacks in the United States by Americans who had never been to the Middle East or had direct contact with terrorist groups. A husband and wife who carried out a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, in 2015, were identified as “supporters” of the Islamic State terrorist group. The following year, another American man killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando after pledging allegiance to ISIS.

With the Taliban now in control of Afghanistan, officials are waiting to see whether the country will once again become a safe haven for terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda to organize, launch attacks, and spread their messages of violence through the internet.

Spencer said Al Qaeda, which organized the Sept. 11 attacks and has maintained a close relationship with the Taliban, is not prepared today to launch large-scale attacks like that against the mainland United States. But it will likely be able to target American personnel or facilities in the region around Afghanistan soon, he predicted.

“It’s much easier to execute than it would be going across the Atlantic…but I definitely think that within a short period of time—a year or less, maybe years—they could easily probably project that kind of attack,” he said.

If the Taliban acts responsibly to stop this terrorist threat from growing in their country in a bid to be recognized on the world stage, as America has called on them to do, that could end up benefiting the Islamic State, said Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator for the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban.

“If they try to arrest people, stop people from organized crime…that’s the risk of ISIL attracting people away, both disillusioned Taliban and hardline foreign extremist elements,” Fitton-Brown said at the forum, using another acronym for the Islamic State. “ISIL has unmistakably positioned itself as the uncompromising rejectionist force in Afghanistan and has the potential to recruit quite a lot of people on that basis.”

The Islamic State also benefited in August when thousands of its prisoners were released from a prison in Afghanistan after the country fell into Taliban control.

“You may see ISIS grow significantly in Afghanistan” because of that, Spencer said.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State is also rapidly growing its presence in Africa, where the terrorist group seized the port city of Palma, Mozambique in March.

“The rapid expansion and the success they’ve had and the capability they’ve shown has probably been the most surprising thing I’ve seen in the last couple years,” Spencer said.

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