On July 5, the counter-terrorism consulting firm SITE Intelligence Group issued an alert that a pro-ISIS hacker group calling itself the United Cyber Caliphate had published a list of targets in the USA, with calls to independent jihadists to “kill them all”.
According to SITE, some 1700 individuals were named, including members of various “churches and messianic synagogues”, indicating that congregations were also named.
But the Messianic angle of the story never got out. In media coverage, the adjective identifying our community was uniformly deleted.
The hit-list itself was not really news. Writing in mid-June for a high-tech network called Motherboard, SITE director Rita Katz noted that Islamic “kill lists” have been surfacing since March 2015, uploaded by groups with varying ISIS-related names. At first the targets were military personnel, US government staff, Americans working in Muslim countries, US law enforcers, liberal Muslims, and others deemed worthy of death as “infidels”. But between March-May 2016 the trend accelerated, with eight kill-lists appearing in three months. And these included ordinary citizens minding their own business in multiple US cities. In June, a longer list was released, calling for the murder of around 8000 people living in 21 different countries.
SITE identified this evolving selection of “seemingly random” private individuals as peculiar to pro-ISIS hacking groups (not necessarily affiliated with ISIS). On the other hand, analysts perceived a method in the madness: the information was all available in online directories, easily hacked websites, and/or spam mail. This resulted in authentic entries mixed with outdated or fictitious ones.
July was the first time an ISIS-inspired “kill list” was recognized as faith-based, focusing on identifiable followers of Jesus/Yeshua based on their places of worship. According to SITE, it appeared on July 3 and was quickly removed by the server; but like a mutated virus, it reappeared two days later on 25 different servers. The Italian site Velino, which followed these advisories, agreed that this was the first list “linked specifically to representatives of religious faiths: Christians and Jews.” (English translation)
But when the story was relayed by the media, the qualifier “Messianic” was removed; the targets were members of “churches and synagogues“. The sole exception was the International Business Times, which embedded the Twitter message from SITE with its headline: “UCC Posts ‘Kill List’ with 1700 Entries on American Church, Messianic Synagogue Members”. However, in its report the IBT (perhaps unaware of the nuance) changed “Messianic” to “Jewish“. So did every other news outlet that quoted SITE, including Jewish sources like Arutz 7, Israel Matzav, and the Israeli paper Ha’Aretz.
Ha’Aretz, along with Times of Israel, reported that the American Jewish community was initially up in arms, having understood from the media that the hit-list named “American Jewish leaders” [sic]. The US Department of Homeland Security was asked to brief 200 Jewish leaders on the incident in a conference call. No details of that conversation were published. The US Jewish community’s security arm, the Secure Community Network, later informed the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) that the list had been compiled by jihadists “from synagogue websites and other sources”, with no comment on its impact or significance. The SCN did not provide an update of their own, nor did they post any warning from the DHS, reinforcing the impression that the wider Jewish community lost interest after discovering that only Messianic Jews were at risk.
There was also a buzz among American Christians after leaders of an unidentified church were notified by the FBI that their names – in fact, all their church members – were on a similar hit-list (date and location undisclosed). The buzz increased when it became known that the FBI was inconsistent in following up on these threats.
Regarding New York residents appearing on an April 2016 hit-list, the Bureau released a statement to Newsweek: “The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of information collected during the course of an investigation that may be perceived as potentially threatening… in order to sensitize potential victims to the observed threat, and to assist them in taking proper steps to ensure their safety.” The network NBC-NY was told that the feds intended to contact all 3000 affected New Yorkers. The same sense of “moral duty” moved the Bureau to contact all 50 Nashville residents whose names also showed up; “so if your name is on a list, you’ll know.” (WMSV Channel 4) Yet there are claims that the FBI did not contact many of the 1500 Texas residents similarly threatened in May; and one of the rare exceptions interviewed by Circa News said that she was not told who had threatened her life. Moreover, she said that the authorities had promised to notify local police but didn’t do that either. A second Circa report quoted an Austin, Texas resident who was upset to learn from Circa, not the FBI, that “she and several friends from a local Jewish community” were on the hit-list. It’s unknown whether that “Jewish community” was also Messianic, but it is known that Jewish media showed no interest in the story.
The FBI deflected citizen outrage by repeating to the media that no one threatened on any ISIS-related hit-lists has been attacked. That claim, however, ignores other ISIS-media threats which did materialize, including one attack against Detroit churchgoers last February which was pre-announced. It was foiled in its final stage of preparation, not by the FBI agents tracking him, but by the terrorist’s father.
The SITE Intelligence page analyzing the July hit-list of Christian-Messianic targets offers more details to subscribers. Unfortunately, several attempts by KNI staff to subscribe were unsuccessful.
However, an earlier SITE analysis of this trend is accessible to the public. It surveyed the hit-lists discovered between March 2 and May 2, 2016, including those targeting New York and Texas. SITE concluded that the Islamic hackers’ goals were to gain media attention and provoke “FBI visits to startled citizens“, (p.2) in order to “instill widespread fear into governments and the public.” (p.18) This is also the consensus among Western counter-terror strategists – despite the fact that the hit-lists were heavily encrypted in order to hide them from governments and the public.
This inverted logic is just one result of the American decision to dismiss faith-driven declarations of Muslim terrorists as randomized bluffing. Another result is a failure to recognize the recent shift in the Islamic war on the West from politics to spirituality.
Although the July “kill list” was considered the first with an anti-Christian fixation, the SITE display of the May 2 death-threat against Texas residents (p.17) shows them identified as “crusaders“, with the goal of destroying not lives, but faith: “Crush the Cross.” The distinction is heightened when compared with the New York targets (p.12), identified as simply “important citizens“, followed by human-level hatred: “we want them dead.” Reducing the spiritually loaded terms to vague metaphors for “Western civilization” is an American bias that denies their Islamic meaning, thereby missing the emerging focus on American followers of “the Cross“. Far from being a new concept, it’s a time-honored progression confirmed by the ISIS trail of carnage, and indeed all of Islamic history.
But don’t Western authorities know all this? If the massive slaughter of Christians and razing of churches by Muslims across Africa and Asia is not enough to confirm that Islamic threats against American followers of Messiah are not empty rhetoric, the incident in France on July 26 should have settled it.
The church where 84-year-old priest Jacques Hamel was slaughtered was on a 15-month-old hit-list.
According to the UK Daily Mail, a directive from ISIS-Syria specifically targeting this “crusader” church (the Rouen Cathedral in Normandy) had been found by French authorities, after a failed attack on another church in April 2015. Like today’s US authorities, the French presumably regarded the list as a scare-tactic. Although the near-attack prompted them to place 178 Catholic churches under “specific protection”, the doors of this explicitly named target were unguarded. French police weren’t even monitoring known terrorists living nearby, one of whom slit the priest’s throat in that threatened location while wearing an electronic surveillance bracelet (required due to a previous terrorism conviction).
Yes, the authorities know. After the horrific attack in France, the Brits warned their Christian population and increased security around their 47,000 churches. Bluntly put, American priorities are just different. On July 6, one day after the media report on threatened US churches, the FBI described these hit-lists to the US Senate as a current threat against “US military personnel“. Period.
The conclusion? Followers of Messiah in America may not be able to rely on their government to protect them from jihad, much less become a haven for persecuted Christians abroad. For years US immigration has overwhelmingly favored Syrian Muslims fleeing war (95-99%) over Syrian Christians fleeing genocide (1% or less).
Eventually followers of Messiah everywhere will encounter what Yeshua prophesied about the Last Days: “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” (Luke 21:16-17) He also foretold that this persecution will lead to a powerful “testimony” of the Truth, with “wisdom” that will prove irresistible (Luke 21:14-15). Instead of panic or bitterness, we will radiate peace: “But not a hair of your head will be lost. By your patience, you will possess your souls.” (v.18-19)
To seize that prize, we must fix our hope not on democracy, but on Him alone.