After Hurricane Harvey, ISIS Supporters Call for Attacks on Houston Relief Centers

As Texas comes to terms with the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey, supporters of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) are calling on American jihadis to target relief centers for those displaced.

“To all the LM’s (lone mujahids) in the U.S.,” the message posted on Monday begins, using the term for "warrior" in Arabic, “pop down to Houston and drop in at any of the relief centers housing displaced people from the Houston floods, make sure to bring lots of supplies/gadgets/toys to see if you can help put any kuffs out of their misery,” continues the message, which was provided to Newsweek by radical-Islamist monitoring site Jihadoscope.

The term kuffs refers to the Arabic word “kuffar” or disbeliever. The message ends with emoji icons of an explosion, knife, bomb, gun and medical symbols, such as a pill and an injection.

The call for attacks on those left homeless or injured by the natural disaster came from a channel called ‘Lone Mujahid’ on the encrypted app Telegram, a platform popular with jihadists for its privacy and lack of takedowns compared to more public social media platforms such as Twitter.

The hurricane has killed at least 60 people, caused billions of dollars’ worth of structural damage, and left thousands permanently or temporarily homeless across 11 counties in Texas. Many have been forced to leave their homes and evacuate their areas, taking shelter in relief centers.

The FBI did not respond to a Newsweek request for comment about security at the centers and its knowledge of any threat at the time of writing.

Hurricane Harvey Relief Houston Texans fullback Jay Prosch stacks boxes of relief supplies while distributing them to people impacted by Hurricane Harvey, in Houston, on September 3. After Hurricane Harvey, ISIS supporters are calling for attacks on Houston relief centers. Brett Coomer/AFP/Getty

The call for attacks against U.S. civilians is one regularly made by ISIS and its supporters. In November 2016, the group called for the “slaughter” of U.S. voters taking part in the presidential election eventually won by Donald Trump.

Europe has faced greater security problems at the hands of homegrown jihadis and returning foreign fighters, with more ISIS sympathizers and operatives able to travel to the continent from the Middle East or North Africa. The U.S. has also suffered several attacks by homegrown radical Islamists, the deadliest being the shooting at a LGBT nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, and a December 2015 shooting by a couple in San Bernardino. The attacks killed 63 people in total.

U.S. authorities have charged a total of 114 men and women in connection with support or activity for ISIS, convicting 64.

ISIS and its supporters have called for attacks since its rise to prominence in 2014. The late spokesman of the group, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, made calls for jihadis, dubbed “lone wolves” by much of the mainstream media, to attack in their home countries as opposed to attempting to make the journey to the group’s self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Extremism experts point out that rarely are jihadi attackers acting alone or without any help or assistance. Every attack inspired or directed by ISIS in the U.S. and Europe has seen the attacker receive the assistance of a network or a figure who has played a role in their radicalization.

ISIS has had an impact on hurricane situations in more ways than one. In April 2015, the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization said that it had removed ‘ISIS’ from the list of potential names for hurricanes after its rise in Iraq and Syria. The body deemed the group’s name to be too inappropriate because of its brutal atrocities against civilians across the Middle East.

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