On Wednesday, local and federal officials in New York picked up a trio of Central Asian nationals, one of whom was about to board a flight to Turkey. The men – two from Uzbekistan, one from Kazakhstan – are accused of plotting to aid ISIS, as well as offering to abet ISIS’s efforts to sow terror in the United States. This would present the first instance of Central Asians attempting to use ISIS support to attack the United States.
But to understand just how little of a threat these three posed, it’s worth giving the complaint against them a read in full – not only because it helps shine some light on ISIS’s recruiting methods, but because it helps illustrate some of the rank amateurism displayed by the trio. According to the complaint, one of the Uzbekistanis, 24-year-old Abdurasul Juraboev, did little to mask his identity when communicating on a pro-ISIS website, simply identifying himself as “Abdulloh Ibn Hasan.” He also did little to hide his intentions, sounding as much satire as suspect: “Greetings! We too wanted to pledge our allegiance and commit ourselves while not present there. I am in USA now but we don’t have any arms. But is it possible to commit ourselves as dedicated martyrs anyway while here? What I’m saying is, to shoot Obama and then get shot ourselves, will it do? That will strike fear in the hearts of the infidels.
Nineteen-year-old Akhror Saidakhmetov, a Kazakhstani national, followed Juraboev in his open postings. Thirty-year-old Abror Habibov, meanwhile, seemed to be the only one who had any sense of subterfuge – even if he didn’t have a clue as to how to go about deploying it. In a mid-February conversation with Saidakhmetov, Habibov said he was “actually calling over the internet, so not to … um what do you call it … um … so not to leave a trace.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
To be clear, these three apparently made repeated, pointed comments in support of ISIS’s methods and madness. But at this point it should be clear that their eyes were wider than their grasp of means and execution. They fell under the sway of message boards and messianic vision, and blundered straight into the arms of the FBI.
We’ve already seen significant threat inflation about ISIS in Central Asia elsewhere, coming from both Moscow and Washington, allowing both countries to continue ramping their security presence in the region. These arrests will likely add further kindling to the argument. But the myopia, the purely aspirational qualities, of these three should give us pause when assessing the actual threat ISIS poses to and from the region. The arrested men had no means of implementing whatever potential plans they found, and no idea how to proceed. Instead, they helped display how amateurish potential ISIS recruits can be, both in the region and abroad.