US Federal investigators have foiled an extensive conspiracy by Islamist terrorists to assassinate former President George W. Bush. The plotter had arrived in the US on a visitor visa and moved his asylum application while pushing ahead with the plan to assassinate the former president, who ordered the Iraq invasion in 2003.
The Justice Department arrested Shihab Ahmed Shihab, 52, on Tuesday, after months of surveillance. Shihab, who said he is a cousin of former Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, arrived in the US with the intention of putting together a team of assassins. He told an FBI informant that the plan was to smuggle as many as four other Iraqis into the US for executing the plot.
Qatar-Based 'al-Raed' Extremist Group Involved
According to the FBI warrant, Shihab's job was to "to locate and conduct surveillance on former president Bush's residences and/or offices and obtain firearms and vehicles to use in the assassination."
An FBI affidavit filed in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, showed that two of the members of the planned hit group would be former Iraqi intelligence officers, while the remaining would be members of Islamic State and the Qatar-based 'al-Raed' extremist group. Al-Raed means 'Thunder' in Arabic and the terror outfit was founded by a former pilot of Saddam Hussein who lived in Qatar after the Iraqi dictator's overthrow.
Shihab, who is seeking political asylum in the US, was charged with an immigration crime as well as for planning the attempted murder of US officials. The terror-accused is a resident of Columbus, Ohio.
Extensive Surveillance Conducted
According to the Agence France-Presse, the would-be assassin took the FBI informant to locations he had surveyed for the assassination, including those in Dallas, Texas. He also discussed the plan to procure guns, security official uniforms and vehicles that are needed to execute the plot.
In November 2021, the terrorist asked the FBI informant if he could help procure fraudulent 'police and/or FBI identifications and badges" that are to be used in the killing.
The ISIS operative's plan was to get Mexican visitor visas for the would be assassins, who would be arriving in the US from Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and Denmark. All of the members of the hit squad were members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. FBI recovered extensive details of the communication between the conspirator and the informant, including encrypted conversations conducted through WhatsApp.
Sophisticated Counterterrorism Operation
On ground, the would-be assassin and the informant took videos of President Bush's residence and offices. More reconnaissance was planned by the plotter, while he also discussed with the informant the ways to get the killers out of the country once the mission was completed.
"It's clear this was a sophisticated counterterrorism operation with a lot of moving parts. It was both far reaching and unique in its targeting.... Also, we haven't seen a plot of this scale in a number of years. It shows that while domestic terrorism rightly takes a good amount of counterterrorism focus, the threats are not there alone," Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, told Forbes.