As territory for the Islamic State shrinks to ribbons around the Euphrates River in Syria, the militant group has repositioned itself in western Africa, Yemen and southwestern Utah.
Wait, back up. Where?
Officers in Hurricane, Utah, said Thursday that an American flag was ripped from a flagpole, desecrated, slashed and replaced with something resembling the notorious black ISIS banner. Authorities also discovered a truncated message scrawled on a wall: “ISIS IS COMI.”
Police said that they referred the criminal act to the FBI, which concluded the incident was probably not connected to anyone in the terrorist group.
Classes at Hurricane High School were held as scheduled Thursday and are expected to continue Friday, with police in the St. George suburb saying they are confident there is no danger to students or teachers.
Ken Thompson, an officer with the Hurricane Police Department, told local media that a school resource officer would be on campus, as on a normal school day, with additional officers on site.
It is unclear whether the extra measures were taken because of the incident alone or out of caution following a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people in a high school.
Authorities said the flag swap and ISIS tagging occurred sometime early Thursday morning, hours after the Florida killings.
The investigation is ongoing, police said.
The ISIS flag’s black background is supposed to represent the black banner believed to have been carried by Mohammed himself during his expeditions and battles, Christopher Anzalone told The Washington Post in 2014. The text in the white circle typically carries the message “Mohammad is the messenger of God,” said Anzalone, a Harvard fellow who closely studies militant Islamist groups.
Since the Islamic State’s lightning campaign across Iraq and Syria in 2014, the banner has flown on battlefields across the Middle East, Africa and the Philippines.
U.S.-backed Iraqi troops dislodged ISIS from its stronghold in Mosul last July, and militia groups expelled ISIS forces from their de facto capital in Raqqa later in the year with support from American warplanes and artillery.
The group has responded by decentralizing its operations, with a focus on inspiring localized attacks. “We are in your home,” one photo was captioned, allegedly depicting an alleged ISIS supporter outside New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and shared widely across Islamist militant networks.
In Hurricane, school district employees removed the graffiti and the ISIS flag. A new U.S. flag replaced it, police said — likely stopping at half-staff. Early Thursday morning, President Trump ordered flags lowered at all public buildings, military installations and embassies in honor of those killed at Parkland.