DHS warns ‘heightened risk’ of violence ahead of 9/11 anniversary

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The agency created to safeguard the American public is warning of a “heightened threat environment” ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“The 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, as well [as] religious holidays we assess could serve as a catalyst for acts of targeted violence,” the Department of Homeland Security cautioned in its latest National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) bulletin.

While domestic violent extremism remains a high threat to the American public, DHS said the anniversary of the attacks next month could inspire violence among foreign terrorist groups. The agency noted that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula recently released its first English-language copy of “Inspire magazine” – the terrorist group’s open-sourced playbook – in over four years.

“[This] demonstrates that foreign terrorist organizations continue efforts to inspire U.S.-based individuals susceptible to violent extremist influences,” DHS said  in its memo.

image2641354x.jpg US DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY seal, on texture, generic

AP

The agency also cautioned that “several dates of religious significance over the next few months could also provide increased targets of opportunity for violence,” but noted there are no credible or imminent threats identified to these locations.

The bulletin also advised that new COVID-19 variants could prompt further violence from domestic actors, including racially motivated and anti-government extremists.

According to the new advisory, “actors are increasingly exploiting online forums to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and promote violent activity,” and are further exacerbated by “grievances over public health safety measures and perceived government restrictions.”

“These extremists may seek to exploit the emergence of COVID-19 variants by viewing the potential re-establishment of public health restrictions across the United States as a rationale to conduct attacks,” the memo stated. 

In its latest threat assessment, DHS indicated that law enforcement have expressed “concerns that the broader sharing of false narratives and conspiracy theories will gain traction in mainstream environments.”

DHS also warned that Americans’ return to public institutions – including schools – could also spur violence.

Friday’s bulletin also referenced attempts by U.S. adversaries to spread disinformation. According to DHS, “Russian, Chinese and Iranian government-linked media outlets have repeatedly amplified conspiracy theories concerning the origins of COVID-19 and effectiveness of vaccines; in some cases, amplifying calls for violence targeting persons of Asian descent.”

NTAS bulletins are designed to illustrate current developments or trends about terrorism threats, and are not to be confused with an elevated alert, which warns of a credible terrorism threat, or an imminent alert, which warns of a credible, specific and impending terrorism threat.

The bulletin follows up on an earlier NTAS release issued in May that is , set to expire Friday.

“Today’s NTAS Bulletin advises the public about the heightened threat landscape we face and how DHS is working with our partners, at every level of government and in the community, to combat domestic terrorism and targeted violence in all its forms,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. 

“We are committed to ensuring every initiative undertaken by DHS in response to the threat is consistent with privacy protections, civil rights and civil liberties, First Amendment-protected rights, and other applicable laws,” the secretary continue. 

Congressman Bennie Thompson called it “troubling” that the nation’s terrorism threat “increasingly is based on grievance-based violence and conspiracy theories, especially related to the election and former President Trump.”

Thompson, the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, added, “With the 20th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks coming up next month – and the January 6th Attack on the Capitol still casting a long shadow on the nation – we must continue to be vigilant as we work together to mitigate these threats.”

The memo comes on the heels of a DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis advisory issued to state and local law enforcement partners warning of “an increasing but modest level of activity online” by individuals promoting violence based on debunked conspiracy theories around the 2020 election and falsely claiming former President Donald Trump will be reinstated as President.

Friday’s NTAS bulletin remains in effect through Veterans Day, November 11. 

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