The upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the reimposition of coronavirus restrictions could spark violent attacks by extremists, the US Department of Homeland Security has warned.
The agency added that the US is in a “heightened threat environment” that has been fuelled by resentment over measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, and extremists motivated by racial and ethnic hatred.
In a terror alert released on Friday, the department said coronavirus-related stress has “contributed to increased societal strains and tensions, driving several plots by domestic violent extremists, and they may contribute to more violence this year”.
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Officials also noted how al Qaeda has released the first English-language edition of its Inspire magazine in four years.
The terror group has apparently released the edition to mark the anniversary of the September 11 attacks it orchestrated in 2001.
The DHS has warned that the anniversary and approaching religious holidays “could serve as a catalyst for acts of targeted violence”.
However, the department did not city any specific threats in its National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin.
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Domestic extremists motivated by religious and ethnic hatred have attacked houses of worship and other gatherings in the past, but the agency said there aren’t any “credible or imminent threats identified to these locations”.
As in previous bulletins, the DHS expressed concern about both domestic extremists motivated by “personal grievances and extremist ideological beliefs” and foreign influences.
The agency said Russian, Chinese and Iranian government-linked media outlets have helped spread conspiracy theories about the origins of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of vaccines and have in some cases amplified calls for violence against people of Asian descent.
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In a bulletin issued in May, the DHS had warned that domestic extremists could take advantage of moves earlier this year to ease COVID-19 restrictions to launch attacks on a broader range of targets.
The warning comes as the UK defence secretary told Sky News al Qaeda “will probably come back” in Afghanistan as the security situation there deteriorates.
Speaking to Kay Burley, Ben Wallace was highly critical of the US decision to withdraw troops from the country.
When asked about the situation in Afghanistan, Mr Wallace said: “I’m absolutely worried that failed states are breeding grounds for those types of people.
“Of course I am worried, it is why I said I felt this was not the right time or decision to make because, of course, al Qaeda will probably come back, certainly would like that type of breeding ground.”