Mike Siegel: [O]ur guest is the executive director of the Middle East Forum, one of the most respected think-tank-type groups with regard to the Middle East anywhere in this country and that is Greg Roman. ... Let's start with this type of attack. .... The normal person isn't going to go out and commit that kind of violence. That's lunacy. So, do you think it's correct to say these are lone wolf, radicalized people?"
Gregg Roman: I don't think that it's lone wolf. According to a Reuters report that came out a few months ago, they're more like wolf dens. If we just look at the statistics [for] ISIS-related cases [since] 2014, there have been ninety indictments brought against individuals of the United States before they were able to commit attacks, and [most] of those ninety indictments list at least two to ten other individuals being involved, either here in the United States or overseas ...
MEF director Gregg Roman
[T]he individuals he mentioned in that [Facebook] post, including Anwar al-Awlaki, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including a vague, often used reference to "Daesh" – to ISIS – and also including his general sentiment. It wasn't something that he just picked up by reading the Internet ...
It didn't just happen overnight that he decided to commit this. This was at least a two-month long process according to what we at know. And to not assign blame to individuals and to groups that promote this kind of action against American citizens would be irresponsible on our behalf, as citizens, as experts, and for the US government to say that it was just one individual is categorically false.
Siegel: You're right. I'm listening with great interest to your description, Mr. Roman, because that's my instinct.
Roman: ... The only two lone wolf terrorists that we could potentially identify in the last twenty years, who were insulated, who had their own self-indoctrination, who weren't reading materials that were based on incitement, may have been the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and perhaps Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Every other instance of terrorism that has happened on domestic soil has had some kind of inspiration, has had some kind of network which has backed it.
Ted Kaczynski (left) and Anders Breivik.
Even [Timothy] McVeigh and Terry Nichols, in the Oklahoma City Bombing, they had many other individuals helping them out, including training and whatever else ...
Siegel: ... [I]t would appear that this guy was more influenced by Awlaki. Not that it makes a difference, but for purposes of conversation, did ISIS take this credit incorrectly?"
Roman: ISIS is going to take credit for any US-born Muslim jihadi act that's committed on our soil. It's good propaganda for them. But the origin of his inspiration came from Awlaki and it may have come through ISIS-related materials too. This isn't just one node of a network connecting to one actor. Multiple parties and multiple terror organizations are responsible for the process of indoctrination that eventually culminated in yesterday's attack. ...
Siegel: ... [H]ow do you go about deterring or stopping this? ...
"Multiple terror organizations are responsible for the process of indoctrination."
Roman: ... So we have to first look at the type of individual who's committing this attack. There are individuals who are outside of this country and who are inside of this country who are prone to radicalization.
And if the Department of Homeland Security is not doing its job in terms of pre-screening these individuals when they come into the country, [they should] continue screening them when they're in an absorption center in the United States. This individual was in Dallas for 23 days, two years ago, before he moved to Ohio, continually engaging with [other] individuals ... Immigration must continue its monitoring of new arrivals to the United States for years after they come into this country, not just when they're allowed in. ... President Obama has not been willing to give the tools to federal law enforcement to do that ...
Really bad advice from CAIR.
[G]roups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Islamist organizations in America ... put pressure on public officials to discourage them and to discourage law enforcement from going into the mosque, from going into Muslim community centers, and [from] establish[ing] relationships not just with imams and community leaders, but also with the individuals who are praying there.
There were two campaigns that were launched by CAIR. One a few years ago in Los Angeles was called "Build A Wall of Resistance, Don't Talk to the FBI," and then another one in Minnesota, in St. Paul, where we have the most Somali-Americans per capita in the country, the executive director of CAIR requested that the FBI not go to mosques to speak with prayer goers.
So we have an active effort from a nonprofit organization, a nongovernmental agency, in this country discouraging individuals within these communities from talking with law enforcement.
... [W]ho does mainstream media, and even local media, go to for comments? After this attack, for the Muslim community's response, in this case they went to Roula Allouch, the national board chair of CAIR, who gave a press conference today in Columbus
Islamists "put pressure on public officials ... to discourage law enforcement from going into the mosque."
She said, "We as yet know nothing about the motivation of the attacker, but we do know of his Somali heritage, and that will be enough for some people to falsely link this tragic incident to the faith of Islam and to the Somali and Muslim communities." All she had to do is go to his Facebook post to see what his actual inspiration was.
I don't want to cast a blanket blame on all Muslims in America. I've said this on your program before – most Muslims in America are law abiding citizens. They cooperate with law enforcement. They only have the best of intentions to be American, but then you have the main Muslim advocacy group, as identified by the media, [which] empowers them by going to them for comments, and they're saying that there is no link between a radicalized version of Islam and this individual who committed the attacks. That becomes another way in which to not direct blame at the Islamists and to Islamist fervor ... [T]hat fallacy, the idea that a lone wolf attack is just one individual's culpability, allows there to be a blanket of exceptionalism that will further this kind of attack in this country until we get serious about incitement.
Siegel: ... Tell us about this transition to the singular attacks that we see, emanating kind of like the spokes with the hub being Raqqa and the spokes being these attacks around the world and how much more that's going to increase as Raqqa and Mosul become diminished.
A fleet of ISIS vehicles parades through Benghazi in February 2015.
Roman: So as ISIS' centers of influence in Raqqa and Mosul dissipate, we have to look at the ISIS franchises that exist throughout the rest of the world. They're active in Libya, they patrol part of Syria, they're active in Nigeria, where Boko Haram pledges allegiance to them. They're active in Iran, they're active in Afghanistan. There are ISIS cells in the Sinai Peninsula, with 800 fighting the Egyptian government. They're also active in Yemen. Those are the areas that we may see centers of ISIS coordination existing after they fall in Syria and in Iraq.
... So think of ISIS like an accordion. There's a lot of hot air that's injected into the accordion and their power expands across the Euphrates River. They're in Syria. They're in Iraq. As they contract, all that air that goes out then goes to Europe, the United States, to Asia, and other areas where they are planning attacks. The FBI has actually had an epiphany in the last two years. There was a program that they ran that targeted a twelve-person ISIS English-speaking cell called the Legion ... responsible for communicating with different cells and different individuals in the United States and in Europe.
The FBI was treating it as a law enforcement matter for the first four years they were looking into it, but then they turned to President Obama and asked him for authorization to cooperate with the military to start having drone strikes against these social media provocateurs and the attack planners and they've actually succeeded in taking out eleven of the twelve members of the cell. ... The FBI has taken out their social media capability, [which] has since been replaced, but the FBI now knows how to go after them.
Siegel: ... Now if, [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] Al-Baghdadi is eliminated, does that diminish the effectiveness of ISIS subsequently or do they still operate in the thirty or so countries that they're in and still be a very vibrant, dangerous organization? What's going to happen?
Roman: ... [F]oreign cells that were once fighting on behalf of ISIS in its territory have now returned to the countries where they emanated from. They would not have been dispatched to return to the West without the implicit, or even in this case, explicit understanding that once the principal territory was lost, and if Al-Baghdadi fell, they would have to own it on behalf of his orders that he gave two years ago to start committing ore attacks against the West. So this has been a known plan for two years. They have built the assets and infrastructure for the last three years and they are now encouraging their cells overseas to start perpetuating attacks against Western targets ...
Siegel: ... In other words, we're going to see more of these types of attacks from these disparate groups as part of this ideology and as part of this movement.
Roman: There'll be three kinds of attacks that will take place. One will be just like happened yesterday – an individual who has a certain level of aggression towards the West and is influenced by ISIS-like media assets.
The second [is carried out by] ISIS individuals who received training, whether it be in Raqqa, whether it be in Mosul, or any of the other areas where ISIS has franchises.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Like we see in Libya right now, there are ISIS training camps that exist there. They're getting on boats and landing in Italy and they're finding out that their passport has been illegally forged by Libyan officials in order to be able to enter their cells from their franchises into Europe.
And the third kind of attack that you will see [is done by] ISIS cells that are well organized, that got their training and orders directly from Al-Baghdadi's assets in Raqqa and Mosul and they will be activated and will commit large scale mass atrocities in Western capitals and in Western countries.
So you have the individual that is not directly connected to ISIS, but influenced [by] them; you have the individual who is directly connected and was encouraged by one of their recruiters to do an attack; and the worst kind of attack is the cells that will organize in the land that they hold right now, or in the franchise's land that they control right now, and they were directly ordered to return to Europe, or to America or wherever they came from, to commit these attacks.
Siegel: ... Any thought on your part as to how many, either individuals or cells, we have in this country that are part of ISIS?
Roman: Right now the FBI has over 1,000 open files into ISIS-related terror cases in fifty states and that's just what we know about. So if you use that number and you take the amount of indictments that have been filed in the last two years, around over 97 or 98 right now that we know about. There are hundreds of individuals in this country who are either on the precipice of committing an attack, have been speaking about it – whether it be private in their community or on social media – or other people who are organized and ready to just pull the trigger, or pull the metaphorical trigger ... on an attack.
Siegel: What concerns me, Mr. Roman, is that there are some that you cannot possibly plan for, but certainly Omar Mateen in Orlando was known about. Certainly the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston were known about. Certainly Tashfeen Malik, as I mentioned earlier, was known about and then she got her husband involved when she got here. The fact of the matter is that the FBI does an incredible job. We don't even know how many they've stopped. I'm sure many, but those three that got through arguably could've been stopped and should not have gotten through. Would you agree?
Roman: I would agree that if immigration and customs enforcement were allowed to use all the tools that they had at their disposal, and were not prevented by senior policymakers and politicians in Washington, that there may have been a greater chance of stopping [these attacks], but I will not say with 100% certitude that they would have absolutely been stopped. If there's a will on behalf of these individuals and they're smart enough (and they are), they still have the ability to commit these attacks. Those three instances could have possibly been stopped, but I don't want to say 100%.
Siegel: ... My feeling given what the president-elect has said, the kinds of people he's hiring, like General Flynn and others of that ilk, maybe General Mattas for defense secretary, a very tough guy. I get the feeling that the people will be in place and the policies will be in place to go further than we have been able to under this administration. And therefore acts like those might very well be able to be stopped.
Roman: I think that that hypothesis is correct, but we want to make sure that the administration doesn't go too far. The greatest risk that we have is alienating moderate Muslim communities and discouraging them from cooperating with law enforcement. ... I think they do want to talk to law enforcement ... but also on the other hand [we must] have the ability to go in covertly to centers of high Muslim concentration and have the means to speak to people, to interview them and to try to get confidential informants to cooperate.
Siegel: Great conversation. Very quickly, give us your website. Ten seconds.
Roman: www.meforum.org. You can find all of our articles and such updated daily. Thank you.
Siegel: Fantastic! Mr. Roman, thank you! Great insights, good conversation.