The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday issued a bulletin warning of the possibility of heightened terrorist activity ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Threats against the homeland are “diverse and challenging” in nature, DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in a statement. They range from homegrown terrorist activity by individuals or groups that perpetuate “grievance-based violence,” to foreign actors motivated by nations hostile to the United States.
"These actors are increasingly exploiting online forums to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and promote violent activity," Mayorkas added. "Such threats are also exacerbated by impacts of the ongoing global pandemic, including grievances over public health safety measures and perceived government restrictions."
Both domestic and foreign terrorists are increasingly using the internet to perpetuate violent ideals, and to recruit more members.
“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,” Mayorkas wrote in part. “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.”
While the bulletin for heightened activity extends through Nov. 11, officials are particularly concerned that the impending anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks could serve as a catalyst for a violent event.
One reason for the concern is the recent release of an English-language copy of Inspire magazine published by Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, the first of its kind in over four years and a sure sign that “foreign terrorist organizations continue efforts to inspire U.S.-based individuals susceptible to violent extremist influences.”
Officials also say the COVID-19 pandemic has emboldened both racially-and-ethnically-motivated violent extremists and anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists. As health restrictions across the United States continue to fluctuate, the DHS warns that terrorists could take advantage of perceived grievances against the government or certain groups.
“The reopening of institutions, including schools, as well as several dates of religious significance over the next few months, could also provide increased targets of opportunity for violence though there are currently no credible or imminent threats identified to these locations,” the department said in part.
The bulletin also pointed specifically to an increase in violence against Americans of Asian descent, saying the rise can be attributed in part to Iran, China and Russia repeatedly amplifying conspiracy theories about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
According to a report released Thursday, the frequency of anti-Asian incidents have skyrocketed in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic.
Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that became the authority on gathering data on racially motivated attacks related to the pandemic, received 9,081 incident reports between March 19, 2020, and this June. Of those, 4,548 occurred last year, and 4,533 this year. Since the coronavirus was first reported in China, people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have been treated as scapegoats solely based on their race.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.