On May 24, an Ohio-based Iraqi man was charged with the chilling plot to assassinate former U.S. President George W. Bush.
Forbes details the activity, which was mainly conducted using WhatsApp, a free messaging platform known for its end-to-end encryption. Yet, there are ways of getting around this encryption, thanks to traditional investigative methods and tracking metadata. These techniques, combined with two confidential informants, led to the arrest of Shihab Ahmed Shihab Shihab on May 24.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Shihab is an Iraqi national who has been living in the United States since 2020. Per the search warrant application filed by the FBI, his request for asylum is pending. Shihab is suspected of being linked to ISIS operatives. Though this group has been weakened by American forces, federal investigators still monitor for threats, which led to the discovery of this assassination plot.
The FBI sources posed as a human smuggler and one of his customers. The smuggler claimed he could assist in obtaining fraudulent immigration documents complete with identifications. The other posed as someone willing to pay a hefty sum for the smuggler to bring his family into the United States.
Shihab revealed the plans to the primary insider, the smuggler, in November of 2021. He asked the source for information on obtaining fake police or FBI badges and credentials to carry out the assassination and if the assassins could be smuggled out of the country the same way they were brought in. This part of the plan involved obtaining Mexican visitor visas for the ISIS operatives. Shihab was even working with a contact in Egypt to create fake social media profiles for the operatives so they would not draw suspicion.
Shihab claims to be part of a unit called “Al-Raed,” which means “thunder.” A former pilot of Saddam Hussein led this cell, and up to seven members of this group were slated to be dispatched into the United States to kill the former president. Shihab’s role was to conduct surveillance on Bush’s whereabouts and obtain the vehicles and firearms that would be used to carry out the assassination.
Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, commented to Forbes, “This was a sophisticated counterterrorism operation. We have not seen a plan of this magnitude for some time.”