A plot by an Islamic State sympathizer to assassinate former President George W. Bush was uncovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The suspect, Shihab Ahmed Shihab, who was an Iraqi national, went as far as traveling to Dallas last November to conduct surveillance on the former president’s residence and planned to smuggle a team of compatriots through the border of Mexico.

The FBI was able to foil the scheme with the help of two confidential informants and intelligence on the suspect’s WhatsApp account. The suspect was based in Columbus, Ohio.

The 52-year-old Iraqi said that he was motivated to murder Bush because he believed the former president was responsible for the killings and the collapse that happened to his home country in the aftermath of the 2003 US Iraq War.

The suspect entered the US mainland in September 2020 using a visitor’s visa, which he got with the help of a corrupt Iraqi American contractor in the US Embassy. After six months, he applied for asylum and US citizenship with plans to bring his family over from Iraq.

However, he considered marrying a US citizen for fear of his application being rejected and was reported to have paid for documents that falsely claimed that he divorced his Iraqi wife. Shihab survived in America by taking jobs in markets and restaurants in Columbus and Indianapolis.

Shihab claimed to be part of a group that called themselves “Al-Raed,” which translates to “Thunder” in Arabic. Intel on the group reveals it was led by the former Iraqi pilot of Saddam Hussein, who operated in Qatar before his death.

According to the FBI report, about seven members of Al-Raed would have been sent to the US to take part in the assassination of Bush. It also reported that Shihab’s job was “to locate and conduct surveillance on former president Bush’s residences and/or offices and obtain firearms and vehicles to use in the assassination.”

Shihab told the informant that he “did not care if he died” in the process of killing the former president and would rather see it as a proud moment. The FBI’s application for a warrant described Shihab as a self-proclaimed “soldier waiting for directions from the leadership in Qatar.”

He also said he was eyeing another target – a former Iraqi general who he believes currently lives in the US. The general in question allegedly helped US forces during the Iraq war, according to Shihab, adding that he and his associates intended to kill him.

Shihab faces charges for aiding and abetting a plot to assassinate former President Bush and for committing an immigration crime. These charges may bring the suspect 20 years and 10 years in prison, respectively. The suspect was arrested by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force on the morning of May 24.

Chief of Staff for the Office of George W. Bush, Freddy Ford, said that “President Bush has all the confidence in the world in the United States Secret Service and our law enforcement and intelligence communities.”

How Was Shihab Caught?

Federal agents utilized two confidential sources who were in touch with the suspect to provide surveillance on the plot to kill Bush. One was an individual who offered Shihab assistance to obtain falsified immigration and identification papers. The other was a purported customer of the suspect’s person smuggling services.

In one conversation, Shihab disclosed ‌he had plans to smuggle four Iraqi males from Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and Denmark into the US. He then claimed that one of the men was “the secretary of an ISIS financial minister.”

He also described the four Iraqis as “former Baath Party members in Iraq who did not agree with the current Iraqi government and were political exiles.”

As part of the surveillance operations on the suspect, the FBI got permission from service provider AT&T to acquire Shihab’s mobile location. The suspect thought his WhatsApp account was secure, given it was encrypted, but was unaware that FBI sources were forwarding his messages to the agency.

Shihab was also unaware that the phone he had been using since October 2021 was given to him by the informant upon the request of Federal agents.

Deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, Seamus Hughes, said that “It’s clear this was a sophisticated counterterrorism operation with a lot of moving parts. It was both far-reaching and unique in its targeting.”

“It also shows that while the debate on so-called ‘going dark’ can be overcome through the use of undercover operatives, it’s labor-intensive but possible,” he added. The term “going dark” pertains to law enforcement jargon that describes the inability to access data that has been blocked by encrypted software applications.

“Also, we haven’t seen a plot of this scale in a number of years. It shows that while domestic terrorism rightly takes a good amount of counterterrorism focus, the threats are not there alone,” Hughes noted.