Minnesota police officers appear on kill list; ISIS connection cited

Story highlights

  • Information includes home and email addresses and personal phone numbers of at least 32 officers
  • The list was reportedly compiled by a group calling itself the Caliphate Cyber Army, a cyberextension of ISIS
  • the FBI in Minneapolis tells CNN it's taking the threat seriously

(CNN)The FBI and multiple police departments in Minnesota are investigating the release of a so-called "kill list" containing the names and personal information of at least 32 police officers from departments throughout the state.

The information includes home and email addresses and personal phone numbers. The list was reportedly compiled by a group calling itself the Caliphate Cyber Army, which is considered to be a cyberextension of ISIS. News of the list was reported this week by the website vocativ.
    None of the officers whose names appear in the list have been hurt or targeted by any specific acts of violence, but the FBI in Minneapolis tells CNN it's taking the threat seriously.
    "Our baseline on matters like this is that we take all threats and perceived threats against law enforcement very seriously," FBI spokesman Kyle Loven says. "As we look into this matter and investigate, hopefully we'll answer some questions as to the legitimacy (of this list)."
    A specific motive for targeting the officers remains unclear.
    However, over the past several years, Minneapolis-St. Paul has seen many young men from the area become recruited by ISIS and travel overseas to join the terror group fighting in the Middle East.
    Last April, a group of six young Minnesota young men conspired to sneak into Syria and join ISIS "by any means necessary," according to federal prosecutors.
    The names of the officers were posted along with a photo of masked ISIS fighters holding automatic weapons and bearing the logo of the CCA.
    CNN affiliate WCCO in Minneapolis claims to have recently obtained an email sent by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, advising its officers that their website had been hacked and that members who had requested information related to auto insurance had personal data stolen.

    Death threats: 'We're used to it'

    CNN law enforcement analyst and former NYPD Detective Harry J. Houck says that while a "kill list" should always be taken seriously, threats against police officers are sadly part of the job.
    "I can tell you myself I've had several death threats against me over the years, and I'm actually dealing with one right now, but it doesn't really matter. We're used to it." Houck says.
    Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the anti-terror monitoring group Memri JTTM, says that the people responsible for releasing the list might not even be in the United States. He says the Caliphate Cyber Army posts kill lists and other forms of communication on the app Telegramm which is available on smartphones and computers. The motive? They're likely hoping to inspire a lone wolf or homegrown terrorist to act.
    Some in law enforcement say those groups are hoping to receive more media attention.
    "What we all can do is figure out a way to do exactly the opposite of what the persons who posted this want us to do. Let's stop talking about it. Let's not sensationalize this, because it gives them power and creates fear," Police Chief Perry Beise of Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, said in a statement.
    Still, Houck cautions "the fact here is that the (release of) addresses and information related to the police officer's family is what's really scary."
    Steve Linders with the St. Paul police confirms that four of its department's officers are among the names released and that his department "is working with the FBI to ensure their safety."

    Not the first kill list

    Memri JTTM, whose mission includes scrutinizing Islamist terrorism and violent extremism worldwide, says the release of "kill lists" has been done before. A similar list released earlier this year contained the names of State Department, FBI and CIA employees.
    "Do I think people from ISIS are in the United States right now trying to attack these officers and their families? No I don't," Houck says. "But the fact is that information is out there and this could inspire one lunatic to go after one of these families."
    Houck remains confident the officers involved will remain safe.
    "I know that the FBI is very, very good at tracking this information down in trying to find out who hacked this site, and the police departments themselves are going to pay close attention to the officers' homes and be extra vigilant. Police officers are going to look out for each other in situations like this."