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DHS and FBI warn of "heightened" potential for violence amid Israel-Hamas conflict

Feds warn of potential threats after Hamas attack
Feds issue warning of potential threats to U.S. amid Israel-Hamas war 01:49

The U.S. government warned law enforcement nationwide Wednesday that fighting between Israel and Hamas has "sharpened the focus of potential attacks" in the United States for individuals and institutions with "perceived" ties to the turmoil. An intelligence bulletin issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FBI and National Counterterrorism Center urged law enforcement officials and private sector security partners to "remain vigilant" in the days following Hamas' deadly assault on Israel.

Intelligence analysts have assessed that "lone offenders inspired by, or reacting to, the ongoing Israel–Hamas conflict pose the most likely threat to Americans, especially Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities in the United States," but cautioned that the bulletin reflects "this moment" amid a "fluid and evolving situation."

"We remain very concerned about the lone wolf—the individual incited to violence by an ideology of hate," DHS Secretary Mayorkas said Tuesday while addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.  

"The threat is very much ongoing and, in fact, the threat picture continues to evolve," FBI Director Christopher Wray said this week. "Here in the U.S., we cannot and do not discount the possibility that Hamas or other foreign terrorist organizations could exploit the conflict to call on their supporters to conduct attacks on our own soil."

According to the bulletin, federal law enforcement observed an increase in threats to Jewish and Muslim communities in recent days, noting that "hoax bomb threats have targeted several synagogues across the United States—likely intended to disrupt services and intimidate congregants."

Last week, a 6-year-old boy was killed in an alleged hate crime attack in Illinois near Chicago, prompting a federal investigation. Wadea Al-Fayoume and his mother — who was injured in the stabbing attack — were allegedly targeted by their landlord, Joseph Czuba,  for being Muslim.

U.S. intelligence analysts write that while Hamas "has not conducted or called for attacks in the United States," the "perceived success" of their terrorist attacks may motivate homegrown violent extremists.

Mike Sena, president of the National Fusion Center Association, said, "Although there's no credible threats to the homeland people should be aware of the threat environment. Although traditionally Hamas has not called for any direct violence against the United States, recent events could motivate racially-motivated violent extremists online."

Since Oct. 7, both Al-Qaeda affiliates and Hezbollah have called on supporters to target the U.S. and Israeli interests in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict and President Biden's trip to the region. The U.S. government warned that ISIS supporters online have also encouraged similar attacks targeting Israel and its allies.

"The US government has arrested or issued indictments for several individuals acting on behalf of the Government of Iran or Hizballah," the bulletin noted, adding that actors have previously "plotted lethal attacks against individuals in the United States and conducted preoperational activities, such as surveillance indicative of planning for lethal attacks against Jewish facilities, government facilities, and Iranian dissident groups."

As the conflict trudges on, the U.S. government warned that adversarial foreign actors, including Iran, will try to amplify mis- and disinformation online about the Israel–Hamas conflict to "deepen resentment," with some actors already doctoring images, mislabeling video footage and providing inaccurate translations and false information about the conflict.

The bulletin identifies "possible signposts" that may indicate potential violence, including explicit praise of tactics, techniques and procedures associated with Hamas' attack in online spaces commonly associated with or used by violent extremists.

In a statement to CBS News, the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday's bulletin builds on a previous notification to law enforcement nationwide, issued just hours after Hamas' attack on Israel. "DHS will continue working with partners across the United States to share resources to enhance safety in local communities and adjust our security posture as appropriate to protect the American people," said a DHS spokesperson. 

"The U.S. remains in a heightened threat environment and recent events reinforce that. As the Israel-Hamas conflict continues, we have seen an increase in reports of threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities and institutions," the spokesperson continued. "Lone offenders, motivated by a range of violent ideologies, pose the most likely threat. We urge the public to stay vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activity to local law enforcement." 

Margaret Brennan and Mary Hager contributed to this report. 

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