An alleged ISIL "kill list" containing the personal information of dozens of Minnesota law enforcement officers is the focus of an investigation by state and federal agencies.
The list, purportedly created by a group of hackers affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, includes the names, addresses and telephone numbers of officers from across Minnesota. Authorities acknowledge that they are still gauging the seriousness of the threat posed by the group, which calls itself the Caliphate Cyber Army.
The personal information of at least 36 law enforcement officers — apparently including a Sauk Rapids police officer, five St. Paul police officers and a St. Louis County sheriff's deputy — along with instructions to kill were recently posted on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, according to news reports and screenshots of the list obtained by the Star Tribune. The screenshots depict what appears to be an ISIL logo superimposed over a photo of masked fighters. Along with the personal information, the message says "Wanted to be killed."
"It is on our radar and we have been working with the various agencies which have been both named and unnamed," FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said of the list. "We're proceeding forward with this matter and treating it as a serious threat."
Loven said that agents from the FBI's Minneapolis field office began working this week with several local agencies to track down the hackers.
The FBI is "trying to make certain that law enforcement officers have the appropriate information" regarding the activities of the group, Loven said. The group has posted similar threats against security and law enforcement officials.
The state Department of Public Safety said Tuesday that it was conducting its own investigations into the online posts, but referred further questions to the FBI. The list's existence was first reported on Monday by the website Vocativ. According to the Vocativ report, the full list was recently posted on Telegram, which the extremist group frequently uses for propaganda and crowdfunding money for arms.
St. Paul police officials say that five of the officers identified have ties to the department — four are on active duty and one is retired. The department is working closely with the FBI to assess the threat from the group.
"We're doing everything that we can to ensure the safety of the officers," said department spokesman Steve Linders, adding that it's unclear whether any of them have been reassigned since the list was released.
Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University's Program on Extremism, said the group, a "known commodity online," has used similar "doxing tactics" to publish the home addresses of U.S. military personnel "with the implied and explicit calls for violence against them." Hughes said the group also recently targeted New Jersey Transit police. The group of self-identifying ISIL supporters hasn't been publicly linked to any known failed or foiled extremist plots. Little else is known about the group's members, he said.
Loven wouldn't comment on how many names appeared on the list and which law enforcement agencies were included. The Vocativ report suggested that most of the named officers were from the Twin Cities area.
While some local authorities said that they were aggressively investigating the online postings given the seriousness of the threat, they cautioned against reading too much into the list, which some saw as propaganda intended to sow fear and confusion. Several officials pointed to other recent jihadi-linked threats against local targets, including one earlier this year when the extremist group Al-Shabab called for attacks on the Mall of America and other western malls, which never materialized.
Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said the department was aware of the list but declined to comment further since none of its officers appeared to have been targeted. The Hennepin County Sheriff's office declined to comment.