Brief: Pro-Hamas Attackers in North America Remain Haphazard

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 22 Issue: 3

The site of the attack in Chicoutimi, Canada. (Source: La Presse)

Executive Summary

  • Globally, recent alleged Hamas-inspired attacks have lacked sophistication compared to past IS attacks or white nationalist shooters over the past decade. Even so, “lone wolves” motivated by news from Gaza pose an unpredictable threat.
  • Recent examples of this include the several assaults that occurred on Hamas’s “Day of Rage,” as well as a stabbing in Chicoutimi, Canada, and the complicated attack against three Palestinian university students in Vermont.

As the duration of the Israel–Hamas war in Gaza surpasses 100 days with no end in sight, the possibility that Hamas sympathizers take action against Jews, Israelis, or their perceived supporters has increased. Hamas has not explicitly called for such attacks since its “Day of Rage” in October 2023—which notably did lead to several assaults on Israeli and/or Jewish targets in a number of countries, including China (Times of Israel, October 14, 2023). Nevertheless, the pro-Palestinian and often pro-Hamas sentiment shared among many Muslims globally and (somewhat ironically) among the Western far-right and far-left could lead to renewed attacks by lone actors.

In Canada, for example, there was a stabbing of three people at a restaurant on December 20 in Chicoutimi, 120 miles north of Quebec City. Although initially viewed as an incidence of spontaneous violence, subsequent reporting showed that the attacker—an employee of the restaurant—made several pro-Hamas posts online the day before the attack. After the stabbing, the perpetrator stuck his index finger up in the air, a common expression that indicates “monotheism,” or the oneness of God (La Presse [Canada], January 11). While not necessarily so, the gesture is used frequently by Islamic State (IS) and other jihadists, marking it as a potentially pro-jihadist symbol in certain contexts. Reports that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were investigating the incident as a possible terrorist attack only emerged in early January (Montreal Gazette, January 11). Regardless of the motive, the attack was not particularly sophisticated or lethal, at least compared with recent incidences of white nationalist or incel shooters and truck-rammers in Canada (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, June 6, 2023)

Another complicated case of an apparent Hamas supporter conducting an attack occurred in Vermont. Jason Eaton, originally aligned with the anti-government Oathkeepers, shot and seriously injured three Palestinian university students who were wearing traditional keffiyehs on November 25, 2023. While this has generally been taken as an example of violent Islamophobia, Eaton also ostensibly supported Hamas. In justifying the group’s actions, Eaton posted online that “the notion that Hamas is ‘evil’ for defending their state from occupation is absurd,” asking rhetorically, “What if someone occupied your country? Wouldn’t you fight them?” (Seven Days [Vermont], December 6, 2023). Eaton’s attack, like that of the Chicoutimi attacker, was not lethal, and was not associated with a comprehensive propaganda video or manifesto. In that sense, Eaton’s shooting is representative of another disorganized pro-Hamas attack. It should also be noted that Eaton seemed to target three individuals who logic and appearance suggest were likely pro-Palestine themselves.

Eaton also reflects a tendency for anti-government Americans of a wide variety of backgrounds to align with Hamas. For example, in 2020, an LGBTQ+-identifying member of the “Boogaloo Boys” and another individual tried to aid Hamas by supplying the group with firearm suppressors. Their point of contact within “Hamas,” however, was an undercover FBI employee (NBC News, September 5, 2020).

Much like what was seen in Quebec and Vermont, other recent attacks conducted globally in the name of Hamas or in support of Palestine have lacked sophistication (see Terrorism Monitor, December 1, 2023). Taken together, despite government warnings and investigations in Israel and Europe of potential Hamas-organized attacks abroad, to date the main risk has come from sympathizers. These “lone wolves” are motivated by the news coming out of Gaza on television and social media and go on to conduct haphazard attacks (Times of Israel, January 13). Such attacks may be hard for security agencies to prevent. At the same time, their severity also does not resemble those of IS during its heyday or lone-actor white nationalist shooters over the past decade.

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