At a Glance - February 21

“Blind Sheikh,” Mastermind of the First World Trade Center Attack, Dies in Federal Prison

Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh” and spiritual leader whose followers conducted the first bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993, died on February 18 at age 78 in a federal prison in North Carolina. (See photo, from 1989.) Rahman was a resident of Jersey City (Hudson County) when his followers detonated a truck bomb in the parking garage of the World Trade Center, killing six people and wounding more than 1,000. In 1995, Rahman was sentenced to life in prison on conspiracy charges that grew out of the World Trade Center attack, and which included a failed plot to simultaneously bomb landmarks in the New York City area, including the UN headquarters, the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, and a federal office building. He had been in poor health for many years, and the cause of death was diabetes and heart disease.

In the past, open-source news media reports have indicated concerns over potential retaliatory attacks or protests by extremists in response to Rahman’s death in federal custody. Thus far, no such incidents have occurred.


White Supremacists: South Carolina Man Arrested for Allegedly Planning Attack “in the Spirit of Dylann Roof”

A South Carolina man with ties to white supremacists has been charged with allegedly planning to conduct an attack “in the spirit of Dylann Roof.” Benjamin McDowell, age 29, of Conway, South Carolina (see photo), was arrested in Myrtle Beach on February 16 after purchasing a firearm from an FBI undercover employee. He has been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.

Like Roof, who attacked an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, McDowell indicated that he was frustrated that other white supremacists only talked but did not take action. In a discussion with the undercover employee on January 12, he said he wanted to do something on a “big scale,” so he could say that he personally did it. He said he would write on the building: “In the spirit of Dylann Roof.” He told the undercover employee that he had not yet decided on a place or time to conduct the attack.

In subsequent conversations in January and February, McDowell requested that the undercover employee purchase a .40-caliber handgun and hollow-point ammunition for him. On February 15, McDowell purchased the handgun and the ammunition from the undercover employee, and shortly afterward was arrested.


Friend of San Bernardino Shooter Pleads Guilty to Earlier Terror Plots and Weapons Charges

Enrique Marquez, a friend of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm. According to the plea agreement, while not being charged for the San Bernardino attack, Marquez pleaded guilty to conspiring with Farook in 2012 to conduct attacks at Riverside City College and on a California state highway. At the college, Farook and Marquez planned to throw pipe bombs into the cafeteria area from an elevated position on the second floor. In an attack during rush-hour traffic on California State Route 91, Marquez intended to deploy to the hills south of the freeway as an overwatch for Farook, who would throw pipe bombs into the lanes of traffic, then fire a rifle into stopped vehicles to kill people. Neither plan was ever actually carried out. Marquez also pleaded guilty to purchasing the two rifles that were used in the San Bernardino attack, purportedly for himself, while actually buying them for Farook.


For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Analysis Bureau at analysis@njohsp.gov or 609-584-4000.