Americans everywhere are excited to finally be in the holiday season, which is why it came as a sobering surprise to millions when the Department of Homeland Security warned today that the holiday season could present “opportunities for violent extremists” to strike, especially as terror groups are squeezed abroad.
“Though we know of no intelligence that is both specific and credible at this time of a plot by terrorist organizations to attack the homeland, the reality is terrorist-inspired individuals have conducted, or attempted to conduct, attacks in the United States,” read a bulletin released by the DHS, according to ABC News.
The warning added that terrorists may try and target “public events and places where people congregate.” This comes just a few days after an ISIS magazine called on the terrorist group’s followers to use vehicles to attack popular outdoor attractions, such as a New York parade.
“It is very difficult to protect events like large gatherings such as parades from these types of attacks using vehicles, and we saw that last summer in Nice,” said Matt Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center and current ABC News consultant.
Olsen was referring to the July terrorist attack in France in which a man driving a large truck barreled into a packed crowd near the waterfront, killing over 80 people before he was shot dead by police. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, but the ensuing investigation suggested that they were actually not aware of the attack in advance.
John Miller, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism, said his organization has been preparing specifically for vehicle-borne terrorist attacks since what happened in Nice.
“The intelligence bureau identified 181 locations that rent trucks to the public in the metropolitan area. Of that we went to 135 of those locations that rent vehicles under 26,000 pounds, where you wouldn’t require the possession of a commercial driver’s license to operate that. Our Incident Prevention Unit provided them with very useful guidance on how to identify suspicious behavior and characteristics among people who are potential renters of those vehicles,” Miller told reporters.
Miller added that he sees ISIS’s “threat” more as “psychological warfare.”
“What you see is the psychological warfare of printing materials that indicate to be afraid, be very afraid. We never cede to that,” he said. “On the other hand, we have seen instances where [ISIS] has put out the call and people have risen to that call, which is why we have one of the most robust, complicated counter-terrorism programs in the world, and why we invest so many resources into it.”
A counter-terrorism official warned that an ISIS-inspired attacker is their biggest concern because the group may seek to “distract” the world from its battlefield loses in Iraq and Syria.
“As [ISIS] sheds its remaining safe havens, the group’s pretensions of a ‘caliphate’ look increasingly bankrupt and desperation will likely fuel its pleas for action,” the official said.
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