FBI Warns of More Threats Against Religious Groups
WASHINGTON — The FBI and Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to faith-based organizations Monday warning them they remain potential targets of violent extremists.
The letter followed an extremist’s attack this weekend on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The gunman was killed by police who rushed into the building as members of the congregation fled.
“This was an act of terror,” President Joe Biden told the media on Monday. He said the incident showed the need for better gun control.
The letter obtained by CNN said online platforms linked to extremists listed grievances with Jewish groups, the 2020 election and the resettlement of Afghan refugees to the United States. It suggested the religious groups take precautions.
“Faith-based communities have [been] and will likely continue to be targets of violence by both domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists,” the letter said.
It recommended they contact state and local agencies for help in evaluating their security arrangements.
Threats of violence are being intensified by social unrest and frustration with the COVID-19 pandemic, making the stress on individuals pour over into political disputes, the letter said.
“Foreign influence actors have also promoted narratives online intended to sow discord in the U.S., and foreign terrorist groups continue to encourage followers to conduct attacks and use social media to incite violence,” the letter said.
Homeland Security officials describe any increased threats to religious organizations as a continuation of a violent trend they have seen growing since the pandemic started in late 2019, culminating in the Jan. 6 attack last year on the U.S. Capitol.
“This kind of threat did not begin when this attack started yesterday, and it will not end with the hostages free,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a media briefing Sunday.
He said he is working with Congress to increase funding for security at faith-based organizations. The money typically is distributed through the Federal Emergency Management agency to install video cameras, hire security guards or to protect against cyberattacks.
“We need to ensure that we not only protect our houses of worship and all places of assembly, but that we become aware of the signs that someone is going down a path toward violence,” Mayorkas said.
In other recent violent incidents, a gunman in the Denver, Colorado, area killed five people and injured others in a rampage late last month targeted largely at the tattoo parlor community. One of the deceased victims was the policewoman who killed the gunman.
Three weeks ago, police in Iowa who stopped a man driving aggressively found an AR-15-style rifle and a “hit list” in his car. He told police he was traveling to the White House “to kill persons in power.” The list included Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci.
On New Year’s Eve, an arsonist burned down a Planned Parenthood building in Knoxville, Tennessee. A Knoxville Fire Department statement said the fire was “purposely set by an individual or individuals who, at this time, remain unidentified.”
Tom can be reached at [email protected]
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