The Good Fight
On September 22, a terror plot against Université libre de Bruxelles, in Belgium, was prevented due to intel uncovered by GhostSec, an online counterterrorism unit which has been instrumental in thwarting terror attacks in the past. GhostSec recently merged with BlackOps Cyber (BOC), an intel agency which provides a wide range services including intel collection, darknet operations, threat analysis, monitoring of threat actors and counterterrorism services.
The threat emanated from a jihadist account on Twitter. According to BOC, the threats were discovered in a series of tweets and revealed an imminent plan to carry out an attack on the university in Brussels. From prior intel collected, BOC operatives knew Brussels had a high probability of being attacked again, as the city is often mentioned in jihadist communications.
Prior to last month’s attacks in New York and New Jersey, this particular Twitter account was openly tweeting the easily located and legally purchased components of canister and pipe bombs. The tweets also indicated the bombing would be in retaliation for the US-led coalition bombing of the University of Mosul.
According to Gayle Murray, BOC Public Relations Communicator, there were dozens of photos among which this solitary threat to the university was found. “This was one image in dozens with a very specific threat and even a motive--revenge for the coalition bombing that hit Mosul University. It was a needle in a haystack, in a field of haystacks,” she said.
The Twitter account tweeting the threats was not one that would have stood out to most. It didn’t follow anyone and had no followers.
Gayle went on to say that, “'it was clear that the communication channel was set up to be watched by jihadist operators--it contained coded images--but was intended to remain covert and not be noticed,” by the authorities and others tasked with monitoring terrorism online.
Gayle also explained that this particular Twitter account was “the most uniquely coded and cryptic terror account” she’s ever come across. All the tweets on the user's timeline were in image format. Terrorists are doing this more and more often to accomplish the following:
- Make crawling more difficult for data mining programs
- Make translation more difficult
- Make information easily transferable when an account is suspended
Ed Alcantara, BOC CyberHUMINT specialist and Darknet expert has warned, in regard to Europe in general, that:
The radicalization of Muslim converts, coupled with a traumatic history are threats that needs to be closely monitored. We're seeing more and more female threat-actresses today as well as our young people of similar traumatic life experiences. Additionally, ISIS, has begun to recruit common criminals for convert to Islam, and exploit their "outcast" self-image by promising revenge on the society that cast them aside.”
The Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), founded in 1834, is attended by 21,000 students, 29% of whom come from abroad.
BlackOps Cyber, affiliated with the prominent BlackOps Partners, is a leading developer and provider of special technical intelligence services, lawful intercept monitoring and surveillance capabilities, offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, managed security services, intelligence analysis, and rigorous operational training and subject matter expertise support to corporate security, militaries, federal, state, and local governments, and other government agencies.
BlackOps Cyber’s intelligence portfolios are leveraged by counter-terrorism agencies around the globe. In addition to this recent thwarted attack, the team has also been credited with assisting UK law-enforcement with terror threats in London, having providing UK authorities with key intel.
On March 22, 2016, at Brussels Airport, explosions ripped through the departure hall of the airport killing several people and injuring several more. Another blast was reported at the metro station, located near EU institutions. There were three coordinated attacks: two nail bombings at Brussels Airport, and one bombing at Maalbeek metro station.
Belgium remains on high alert for a terror attack. Please report any suspected terrorism in Belgium or anywhere in the world to BlackOps Cyber.