The Department of Homeland Security is warning the public that the United States faces a “heightened threat environment” nationwide this holiday season from domestic extremists and foreign terrorist organizations seeking to exploit the pandemic and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued the National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin on Wednesday that emphasizes groups and individuals are seeking to exploit online spaces to spread their violent narratives, promote their activity and inspire others to commit similar violence.
The bulletin, which expires Feb. 8, replaces one that was to end mid-day Thursday.
“The threat stream has not changed significantly; however, this is an important product that keeps the public updated about threats facing the United States and underscores the importance of the public to staying vigilant and reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement,” Mayorkas said in a statement.
While Homeland Security states it is not aware of an imminent and credible threat, the nation “continues to face a diverse and challenging threat environment as we approach several religious holidays and associated mass gatherings that in the past have served as potential targets for acts of violence.”
The bulletin though similar to the one set to expire Thursday adds foreign terrorist organizations will seek to exploit perceived victories following the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to inspire U.S. residents to engage in violent activities.
Domestic, racially motivated terrorists are also attempting to use the relocation of Afghan nationals to the United States to worsen grievances over immigration and the American Muslim community, it said.
The bulletin adds that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to “exacerbate” threats by domestic extremists, in particular those motivated by race or ethnicity who harbor anti-government beliefs.
“If a new COVID-19 variant emerges and new public health restrictions are imposed as a result, anti-government violent extremists could potentially use the new restrictions as a rationale to target government or public health officials or facilities,” the bulletin states.
Law enforcement officials are also warning that the widespread sharing of conspiracy theories that endorse violence online will continue to grow, and small groups or individuals may embrace violent tactics to achieve their ends, it said.
Foreign intelligence services are among those named in the bulletin along with domestic and foreign threat actors who will continue to introduce, amplify and disseminate narratives online that promote violence and calls against elected officials, political representatives, government families, law enforcement and religious communities, among other targets.
The bulletin was issued about a week after Timothy Langan, the FBI’s assistant director of the counterterrorism division, told the House intelligence committee on Nov. 3 that the threat of domestic terrorism has “significantly increased” in the last 18 months.
The number of FBI investigations into domestic violent extremists have more than doubled in the last year and more than 2,700 investigations into such threats have been conducted, he said.
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