The FBI director warned Tuesday that the war between Israel and Hamas had raised the potential for an attack on Americans to a new level and intensified threats against Jews and Muslims in the United States.
Christopher A. Wray, director of the FBI, said foreign terrorist organizations had called for violence against Jews after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas raiders led Israel to lay siege and bomb the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is in control.
“We assess that the actions of Hamas and its allies will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we have not seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate several years ago,” Wray told the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs senators. committee during a hearing on global threats to the United States.
“The ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to another level,” he added. The biggest concern for the agency is attacks by violent extremists or lone actors in the United States inspired by hate messages and calls for violence.
The number of anti-Semitic acts in the United States had been on the rise even before the war between Israel and Hamas, led in part by white supremacist propaganda and new nationalist groups across the country. But since the Hamas attack on October 7, the drumbeat of anti-Semitic threats and acts has increased dramatically.
“I will say this is a threat that is in some ways reaching historic levels,” Wray said.
“The Jewish community is targeted by terrorists across the spectrum: homegrown violent extremists; foreign terrorist organizations, both Sunni and Shia; domestic violent extremists,” he added.
Wray cited several foreign terrorist groups that have made calls to attack Americans, and Jews in particular, following the Hamas attacks. On October 7, Hamas gunmen killed more than 1,400 people, including women and children, and kidnapped more than 200 people.
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has called for attacks on Jewish communities in the United States and Europe, and Al Qaeda issued a specific call to attack the United States, Wray said.
Al Qaeda’s call urged “Islamic movements” to form sleeper cells and support “operations against Jews and their interests,” according to a person who saw parts of the message and spoke on condition of anonymity to share sensitive information. Wray said al Qaeda’s message was the most specific call to attack the United States that intelligence officials have seen in five years.
“Having so many foreign terrorist organizations explicitly calling for attacks,” Wray said, significantly raises potential terrorist threats to the United States.
The war has also caused political division in the United States. On some US college campuses, posters of victims kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 are being torn down in protest of Israel’s response to the attack and its long-standing treatment of Palestinians. Private companies, universities and even the Writers Guild of America have come under fire for statements officials have and have not made about the new wave of violence in the Middle East.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, said that since Oct. 7, federal officials have responded to an increase in threats against “Jewish, Muslim and Arab American communities and institutions across our country.”
Jews make up less than 3 percent of the U.S. population, but even before Oct. 7 they were the target of about 60 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes, Wray said, citing statistics from 2022.
Between October 7 and 23, there were 312 anti-Semitic acts in the United States, 190 of which were directly related to the war, according to the Anti-Defamation League. These include an incident on October 15 at New York’s Grand Central Terminal when someone reportedly punched a Jewish woman in the face because she was Jewish.
Wray pointed to a recent arrest in Houston on Oct. 19 of a Palestinian asylum seeker who had been in the United States since June 2019 on a travel visa that expired a few months later. Wray said the man, whom prosecutors identified as Sohaib Abuayyash, 20, had been studying how to build bombs and posted details online about his support for the killing of Jews.
Prosecutors said he was in illegal possession of a firearm and had been in contact with “other individuals who share a radical mindset, has been engaging in physical training, and has trained with weapons to possibly commit an attack,” according to the criminal complaint. , which was mostly redacted.
Biden administration officials have been in regular contact with members of Jewish communities across the country, Wray said, adding that the office had previously created an intelligence fusion cell with agents working on hate crimes and domestic terrorism.” “to make sure we’re looking at the bigger picture and doing everything we can to be proactive in this space.”
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday announced up to $75 million in grants to local police departments and places of worship in response to a rise in anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes against Palestinians in the wake of the Israel-Israel war. and Hamas.
Hate-fueled attacks against Muslims and Arabs in the United States have also increased since October 7. The Council on American Islamic Relations, a civil rights organization, said it received more than 700 complaints, including incidents of bias and threats to shoot and kill American Muslims, between Oct. 7 and Oct. 25. The organization said the number of incidents and threats has not been this high since December 2015, after Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, said he would ban Muslims from traveling to the United States.
The most prominent of these recent attacks is the murder of a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy in Illinois. The owner of the residence where the boy and his mother lived was arrested for stabbing them both, in what is being treated as a hate crime.
In New York, police recently arrested two men and charged them with hate crimes for allegedly being part of a group that shouted anti-Muslim slurs during an attack on three men on October 11. A 2022 FBI report said nearly 8 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes targeted Muslims, which is similar to 2021 levels.
Glenn Zorzal contributed reports.