U.S. Army and Air National Guardsmen participate in a Civil Disturbance Unit training event with Capitol Police at the Park Police training grounds in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Hanna Smith)

New NTAS Bulletin Warns of ‘Broader’ Terror Targets as COVID Restrictions Ease

Warning that “the homeland is facing threats that have evolved significantly and become increasingly complex and volatile in 2021,” the Department of Homeland Security issued a new National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin on Friday focused on evolving threats from ideologically motivated violent extremists and potential targets opening up as lockdowns are lifted.

DHS last issued an NTAS bulletin at the end of January focusing on domestic extremists and stating that “extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.”

That bulletin, which is a grade below elevated alert or imminent alert advisories under the NTAS, expired April 30. The new bulletin runs through Aug. 13.

In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called the current terror threat landscape “more complex, more dynamic, and more diversified than it was several years ago.”

“We know that providing timely and useful information to the public is critical as we all work together to secure the homeland,” he said. “With the issuance of today’s NTAS Bulletin, we are advising the public to be vigilant about ongoing threats to the United States, including those posed by domestic terrorism, grievance-based violence, and those inspired or influenced by foreign terrorists and other malign foreign influences.”

“In this evolving threat environment, DHS is redoubling our efforts to detect and disrupt all forms of foreign and domestic terrorism and targeted violence, while safeguarding privacy protections, civil rights, and civil liberties,” Mayorkas added.

The bulletin notes that social media and online forums are “increasingly exploited” by bad actors “to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and activity,” and “such threats also are exacerbated by the impacts from the ongoing global pandemic.”

“Violent extremists may seek to exploit the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions across the United States to conduct attacks against a broader range of targets after previous public capacity limits reduced opportunities for lethal attacks,” the bulletin warns.

“Historically, mass-casualty Domestic Violent Extremist (DVE) attacks linked to racially- or ethnically-motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) have targeted houses of worship and crowded commercial facilities or gatherings. Some RMVEs advocate via social media and online platforms for a race war and have stated that civil disorder provides opportunities to engage in violence in furtherance of ideological objectives.”

During the past year and into this year, “government facilities and personnel have been common targets of DVEs,” the bulletin said, adding that “opportunistic violent criminals are likely to exploit constitutionally protected freedom of speech activity linked to racial justice grievances and police use of force concerns, potentially targeting protestors perceived to be ideological opponents.”

“Ideologically-motivated violent extremists fueled by perceived grievances, false narratives, and conspiracy theories continue to share information online with the intent to incite violence. Online narratives across sites known to be frequented by individuals who hold violent extremist ideologies have called for violence against elected officials, political representatives, government facilities, law enforcement, religious or commercial facilities, and perceived ideologically-opposed individuals.”

Lone offenders and small cells may utilize encrypted communications to “obscure operational indicators that provide specific warning of a pending act of violence.”

“Messaging from foreign terrorist organizations, including al-Qa‘ida and ISIS, intended to inspire U.S.-based homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) continues to amplify narratives related to exploiting protests,” the bulletin noted.

Al-Qaeda’s general command tried last summer to take advantage of protests against the killing of George Floyd in a communique issued to a Western audience that encouraged rebellion within the United States as the government is “subjugating and killing poor, impoverished Christians, the helpers of Jesus.” The terror group called for “all-out revolt” against the government and the “narrow class of capitalists and financiers that holds the reins of the global economy,” claiming that al-Qaeda’s war against the United States “is aimed at bringing an end to injustice and oppression” and is “similar to your reaction” against the killers of George Floyd.

Homegrown violent extremists “who have typically conducted attacks against soft targets, mass gatherings, and law enforcement, remain a threat to the Homeland,” the NTAS bulletin continued.

Nation-state adversaries have also “increased efforts to sow discord,” as Russian, Chinese and Iranian government-linked media outlets “have repeatedly amplified conspiracy theories concerning the origins of COVID-19 and effectiveness of vaccines; in some cases, amplifying calls for violence targeting persons of Asian descent.”

DHS encouraged law enforcement and homeland security partners “to be alert to these developments and prepared for any effects to public safety,” with “situational awareness of online and physical activities that may be related to an evolving threat of violence.”

Using George Floyd Protests, al-Qaeda Makes Play for Christian Supporters

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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