What it's like to find your name on an ISIS hit list

The World
​Iraqi soldiers reload a weapon during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Makhmour, south of Mosul, Iraq.
Iraqi soldiers reload a weapon during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Makhmour, south of Mosul, March 25, 2016. 

Azad Lashkari/Reuters

Terrorism, some say, is more about the perception of fear than actual threats.

Take the nearly one dozen "hit lists" that ISIS has created and posted online. Security experts don't believe the lists will lead to actual attacks. But face it — if your name shows up on one of those lists, it's scary. A recent one included the names of 3,600 New Yorkers.

Another lists more than 100 government workers right here in Massachusetts.

Boston Globe reporter Jan Ransom interviewed some of the workers as well as the state's security experts for her story, "What Mass. workers on ISIS list are doing to stay safe."

First off, Ransom says the people she interviewed asked not to be identified for their own personal safety. But their responses range from mild concern to real fear. One state worker told Ransom, “How would you feel? Should I be telling my family? Am I at risk walking down the street? Would [authorities] make the connection if something did happen to me?”

Ramsom says many of these individuals are targeted because "they're average American citizens."

"Initially, the ISIS affiliate group [United Cyber Caliphate] would publish lists of military personnel or political officials who have been vocal in the fight against terrorism, but what you're seeing now is this push to target 'average Joes,' to sort of stoke fear among people, people like you and I," says Ransom.

People are reacting to it in different ways. "One woman I spoke to was completely terrified to learn that she had been named," she says. "She didn't know how to react, she didn't know if she should change her routine, if she would cause any problems for other people at her job, and she didn't know how to talk to her family about it, and it was really hard for her to deal with it. ... Other people, a financial officer I spoke to, he notified his local police department who promised to send an extra car around where he lives, but he said he's not too concerned about it."

There have been assurances from the Massachusetts governor's office that "there is no credible threat to anyone" and that no one named in previous ISIS-affiliated hit lists in other states have been killed.

"The safety of the people of Massachusetts and of course the safety of those employed by state and county government is the top priority of the Baker-Polito administration," said an email to state workers from the state's Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. "State Public Safety officials are working with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other federal officials to closely monitor the situation."