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Apparent ISIS hit list targets Mass. workers

Demonstrators chanted pro-ISIS slogans in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.Associated Press/File

A cyber-affiliate of the Islamic State has compiled what appears to be a hit list naming 264 government employees in Massachusetts, officials confirmed Sunday.

The list, which included the names of mostly rank-and-file employees from across the state, was one of three posted Saturday to social media by the group called the United Cyber Caliphate, according to State Police.

Terror groups have posted similar lists in other cities and states, and none of the people named has been killed, according to extremism experts, who said the release amounted to a tactic designed to scare American citizens.

“At this time we have no intelligence suggesting any immediate threat to Massachusetts citizens in response to this list or for any other reason,” said State Police spokesman David Procopio, who suggested that the list may have been culled from publicly available records.


Nonetheless, government officials say they have to take any such threat seriously. State Police, Boston police, and Governor Charlie Baker’s office all said they were aware of the issue and were working with the FBI, which may notify those named on the list.

Two other lists released Saturday by the group named government employees in Rhode Island and Chicago, officials said Sunday.

A tweet promoting the list said it included people who the group “#Wanted to be killed,” and it urges followers to “#Slay_them.”

The Islamic State has issued 10 such “kill lists” since March of 2015, including one three months ago that named 3,600 New Yorkers, seemingly at random.

“It’s intentional on their part,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a fellow with the George Washington University Program on Extremism. “They want to create the impression that everyone in the West is a potential target. It’s a scare list as opposed to a ‘kill list.’ ”

Groups including the Islamic State have long called for the deaths of military personnel and high-ranking government officials who have been vocal in the fight against terrorism, but the lists posted recently by the Islamic State have turned the focus to everyday citizens.


“It’s a step up from publishing names out of a phone book,” said J. M. Berger, a former journalist, fellow with the George Washington University Program on Extremism, and a coauthor of the book “ISIS: The State of Terror.’’

“The quality of the lists are no good and often out-of-date,’’ Berger said. “The object is to instill fear and fire up law enforcement.”

Berger said the lists end up tying up law enforcement officials who must contact each person named. He said Al Qaeda also used to issue “kill lists,” which were more broadly circulated and did not include regular citizens.

Berger said lists like the Massachusetts release are seeking to inspire attacks against people who have no involvement in efforts to stop the Islamic State.

“It would be difficult for them to motivate someone to carry that out, but that’s not a chance you want to take in law enforcement,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security notified Massachusetts State Police of the release Saturday, Procopio said. The list named government employees with addresses in places such as Boston, Barnstable, Pittsfield, Plymouth, and Worcester.

The governor’s office was working Sunday with law enforcement officials to monitor and address the situation, according to Elizabeth Guyton, a spokeswoman.

“The safety of our employees is paramount and the administration will take any and all steps necessary to cooperate with federal officials and keep our public servants safe,” Guyton said. “At this time, there is no credible threat verified and we will remain in constant contact as this investigation unfolds.”


Procopio said the list included “images with text indicating a coming threat to the two states and that city . . . [and] appear to have been drawn from publicly available, open source sites.”

The Massachusetts posting included mostly work addresses and phone numbers of employees, many of whom work in fiscal or budgetary departments.

Procopio said that suggests that the names probably were taken from an online post or database connected to fiscal affairs or conferences.

“Here in Massachusetts, we have not seen any actual targeting of persons named in prior lists,” Procopio said. “All citizens, whether named on a list or not, at all times are urged to maintain a high level of awareness of their surroundings and personal space.”

“Anyone who feels threatened in any way, or who observes anything or anyone suspicious or out [of] place for their surroundings, should call 911 immediately,” he added.

Boston police spokeswoman Officer Rachel McGuire said the department’s intelligence center is aware of the list and it is being investigated by federal law enforcement.

Kristen Setera, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston office, said Sunday in a statement that it is the agency’s standard practice not to comment on specific investigations, but that “the FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information collected during the course of an investigation.”


“We perform these notifications so potential victims are aware of possible threats and take appropriate steps,” she said.

Setera said the FBI also encourages the public to be more aware and protect personal information.

“The FBI will continue to work closely with federal, state, and local partners to keep the public informed of potential threats,” she said.

Procopio said such lists are “fairly” common within the intelligence community.

He said the Commonwealth Fusion Center, a multiagency office designed to share information about terrorism and public safety, will work with the Joint Terrorist Task Force “to investigate further and provide any public notifications deemed necessary.”

Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.

Clarification: In subsequent reporting, officials said that many of the 264 names counted were duplicates. The final number of individuals on the list was 138.