The Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI) along with the Department of Homeland Security on Friday issued a warning to law enforcement agencies across the U.S. warning about possible attacks on churches and holiday gatherings during Christmas Eve. According to a report by The Blaze, the warnings were issued after it became clear that ISIS (Islamic State) sympathizers have openly called for attacks against churches in the U.S. around Christmas. These ISIS sympathizers had recently posted an open list of churches located in all 50 states of the U.S., following which the FBI and other agencies are treating it as a credible threat.
The FBI warning seems to be the result of messages that were reportedly spread online using the secure messaging application Telegram. The app reportedly has several ISIS channels that are reportedly used by ISIS sympathizers to communicate with each other. The list of U.S. churches was uploaded by an user named “Abu Marya al-Iraqi” in a post that was made in Arabic. The message urged “for bloody celebrations in the Christian New Year,” and called on its lone wolf attackers to “turn the Christian New Year into a bloody horror movie.” There are also reports of another message which called for ISIS sympathizers to target hotels, crowded coffee shops, markets and other public places in general.
Following the threat, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security officials reportedly sent out a bulletin to police and other security agencies across the country to be on the alert for any such eventuality. This development was confirmed by FBI spokesman Andrew Ames who said that the agency was aware of the list of churches that ISIS sympathizers had shared on the web. He added that they were still investigating the credibility of the said threat.
“The FBI is aware of the recent link published online that urges attacks against U.S. churches. As with similar threats, the FBI is tracking this matter while we investigate its credibility.”
In the meantime, the FBI doesn’t seem to be in the mood to leave anything to chance and has called agencies to remain extra vigilant at churches. An excerpt from the bulletin issued by the FBI read as follows.
“ISIS sympathizers continue aspirational calls for attacks on holiday gatherings, including targeting churches.”
At this time, there are no specific leads towards any credible threat. The FBI, however, added that the warning is being issued out of an abundance of caution. The warning also comes just days after the Berlin truck attack where shoppers at a Christmas market were targeted by two Islamic State supporters. One of the perpetrators of the attack was recently shot dead. Twelve people lost their lives in the attack and several others were injured. The Berlin truck attack was very similar to another truck attack that was carried out by the ISIS earlier this year in Nice, France, where more than 85 people lost their lives after an ISIS supporter drove a large truck right into a group of revelers. Since 2015, the Islamic State has managed to carry out or inspire several attacks in Europe – including the Brussels suicide bombings in March 2016, the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, the explosion of a plane traveling from Egypt to Russia, and the individual killings of Western hostages in Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, security analysts are of the opinion that the threat from ISIS against civilian targets in the U.S. marks a significant shift in the group’s strategy against the United States. While the ISIS has been in the news for attacking civilian targets in Europe, the group was more focused on attacking military targets and infrastructure in the U.S. This strategy, however, seems to be shifting and the ISIS might as well start attacking civilians in the U.S. In fact, there have been several ISIS-related detentions and arrests across the U.S. where radicalized U.S. citizens were found plotting attacks against civilian targets in the country.
[Featured Image by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Images]