Even before the terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait on Friday, U.S. counterterrorism officials were warning that increased activity by Islamic State sympathizers in the U.S. may foreshadow an attack over the 4th of July weekend.
While it is common for Homeland Security to issue terror advisories in advance of a holiday, two foiled terrorist plots this month as well as the carnage on Friday have given special significance to the efforts of law enforcement to be vigilant over Independence Day weekend.
The warning comes as federal investigators have worked to disrupt a number of Islamic State-inspired plots, including a planned assault earlier this month on police officers in Boston. In that case, authorities fatally shot Usaamah Rahim as he allegedly planned to attack police with military-style knives.
Also this month, a New York suspect in a Islamic State-related terror investigation was arrested after attacking an FBI agent with a kitchen knife during a search of his home.
Fareed Mumuni, 21, was charged with attempted murder, after he emerged as a suspect in alleged plots to use pressure-cooker explosives and knives to attack police.
In a statement Friday following attacks in Tunisia, France and Kuwait, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said local law enforcement was being encouraged to be “vigilant and prepared” in preparation for July 4th celebrations.
“We will also adjust security measures, seen and unseen, as necessary to protect the American people,” Johnson said. “We continue to encourage all Americans to attend public events and celebrate this country during this summer season, but always remain vigilant.”
The FBI has admitted that there are probably hundreds — perhaps thousands — of Islamic State sympathizers in the U.S. who may have been radicalized online. This has led to the FBI beginning a roundup of potential lone wolf terrorists.
Since the thwarted attack on a “Draw Muhammad” conference in Garland, Texas, on May 3, the Justice Department has announced the arrests of 10 individuals it says were inspired by and supporting the Islamic State. The lawmakers say there have been more arrests that have not yet been announced.
They say the FBI has shifted its approach toward arrests rather than keeping suspects under surveillance, and is also targeting individuals thought to be planning attacks in the U.S., unlike the bureau’s past focus on volunteers preparing to join ISIS’s fight abroad.
“Lately, we have seen an uptick in the number of arrests of ISIL followers who were planning violent acts in our homeland,” said John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security. “ISIL, differing from some other foreign terrorist organizations, has demonstrated that they see value in mobilizing sympathizers anywhere in the world.”
The spate of arrests comes in response to what Congressional leaders and the Justice Department say is a mounting threat that radicalized Americans will attempt low-tech, lone wolf attacks in the near future. Lawmakers see the changes as necessary because the Islamic State uses social media so effectively to radicalize Americans and because the group is getting better at using encryption to shield its communications with new recruits.
The two major terror attacks carried out in France this year were by ISIS radicals known to authorities. Could the attacks have been stymied if French authorities had been as proactive as the FBI is apparently getting?
It hardly matters. We are in for a long period where the terrorists are going to be difficult to identify before they strike, making interdicting terrorist attacks extremely problematic.