Federal authorities are urging authorities around the country “to remain vigilant for indications of nefarious operational planning this holiday season" after ISIS-affiliated groups have called for attacks on churches across America and elsewhere.
In a joint intelligence bulletin issued today to federal, state and local law enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and National Counterterrorism Center say they want to “remind security planners and first responders” to be on guard.
Just two days ago, members of a pro-ISIS group posted a link online to a list of U.S. churches, including their names and addresses. The group “aspirationally called on its supporters to attack them during the holiday season,” noted today’s bulletin, obtained by ABC News.
“We assess this list may have been published to encourage attacks by homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) or as a means to intimidate or incite fear, but is likely not indicative of a specific, credible threat,” the bulletin said.
The bulletin emphasized, however, that while ISIS and its supporters have repeatedly released lists of potential targets online, including names of U.S. military members and government workers, “the release of these lists have rarely inspired HVEs to conduct plotting — none of which resulted in a successful attack.”
Nevertheless, the bulletin said authorities believe “HVEs pose the most likely near-term threat to the homeland, probably by conducting small-scale and opportunistic attacks against civilian targets using small arms or weapons of opportunity, such as knives or vehicles.”
The bulletin comes just two days after a Tunisian man plowed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and injuring dozens more. The incident launched a global manhunt for 24-year-old Anis Amri, who was killed earlier today in Italy after a shootout with police.
In a video released over social media and apparently recorded before Monday’s attack, Amri pledged his allegiance to ISIS, saying he was avenging the bombing of Muslims. He urged others to launch their own attacks.
Early last week, a man launched a suicide attack on a Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, Egypt, and just yesterday Australian authorities announced they had foiled a “multi-tactic plot in Melbourne, Australia, planned for Christmas Day against St. Paul’s Cathedral and other prominent locations,” according to today’s bulletin from U.S. authorities.
Such incidents “underscore the need for heightened vigilance through the holiday season,” the bulletin added.
In addition to targeting churches, the ISIS-affiliated group’s posting earlier this week called for “aspirational attacks” on hotels, coffee shops, streets, markets, and other public places in the United States, Canada, France, and the Netherlands, according to the bulletin, which was first reported by CNN.