Federal authorities extended a national terror warning, citing a "challenging threat environment" in part related to the chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan where there are increasing concerns for the reconstitution of terror groups, including al Qaeda and ISIS.
The new Department of Homeland Security bulletin, which takes effect today, builds on an alert issued in advance of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the looming threat posed by domestic violent extremists as a busy holiday season approaches.
In September, FBI Director Christopher Wray referred to the rising domestic terror threat, telling a Senate committee that domestic terror cases had more than doubled since early 2020.
"The Homeland continues to face a diverse and challenging threat environment as it approaches several religious holidays and associated mass gatherings that in the past have served as potential targets for acts of violence," the bulletin said. "These threats include those posed by individuals and small groups engaged in violence, including domestic violent extremists and those inspired or motivated by foreign terrorists and other malign foreign influences."
Authorities, however, noted that intelligence gathered so far has not identified a "imminent and credible threat to a specific location in the United States."
"The ongoing global pandemic continues to exacerbate these threats, in part due to perceived government overreach in implementation of public health safety measures," the bulletin said. "Further, foreign terrorist organizations and (domestic violent extremists) continue to attempt to inspire potential followers to conduct attacks in the United States, including by exploiting recent events in Afghanistan."
Following the Afghanistan exit, officials said al Qaeda and ISIS have "celebrated perceived victories over the United States and encouraged the use of violence by their followers and supporters to further their objectives."
"These foreign terrorist organizations will likely continue to maintain a highly visible online presence in an attempt to inspire U.S.-based individuals to engage in violent activity," the DHS warning states.
Douglas London, the CIA’s former counterterrorism lead for Afghanistan, said the threat is genuine even if it is too amorphous to specify.
“The holidays offer domestic and foreign terrorist groups alike uniquely accessible crowds that can be targeted through unsophisticated means which warrants reminders about vigilance,” said London, who retired from the CIA in 2019 after 34 years as a senior operations officer, chief of station, and as the agency’s counterterrorism chief for South and Southwest Asia. “ISIS is opportunistic enough to encourage lone actors as it seeks to further gains within Afghanistan.”
London added that the overall DHS warning was welcome, given the broader threat environment. “Domestic threats are more worrisome,” he told USA TODAY, “with foreign, namely Russian amplification of the broad sharing of U.S. generated false narratives and conspiracy theories that endorse the use of violence.”
Late last month, law enforcement authorities in northern Virginia were alerted to a possible threat to busy local shopping centers. Federal officials said they shared information related to possible ISIS-inspired activity out of an abundance of caution.
"The threat stream has not changed significantly; however this (bulletin) 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," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DHS terror threat warning extended amid 'challenging' environment