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Threats to US Jewish, Arab, Muslim Communities on the Rise

FILE - U.S. Capitol Police prepare for expected protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Washington, Oct. 18, 2023.
FILE - U.S. Capitol Police prepare for expected protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Washington, Oct. 18, 2023.

Hostilities in the Middle East are reverberating in the United States, where homeland security and law enforcement officials are tracking a steady increase in threats to Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI issued an updated advisory late Wednesday, warning "the volume and frequency of threats … have increased" in just the past week.

"These threats have included hoax bomb threats targeting houses of worship and violent rhetoric online encouraging attacks against the Jewish, Arab American, and Muslim communities," the advisory said.

It also pointed to the October 14 stabbing attack in Illinois that killed a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy and severely wounded his mother.

Law enforcement agencies across the country, including in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, increased police patrols and other security measures in the days following the October 7 terrorist attack by the Hamas militant group that killed more than 1,400 Israelis.

Additional measures were put in place ahead of calls by a former Hamas official for a day of rage in response to Israel's air campaign against Hamas, which according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry has killed more than 6,500 people.

The latest advisory from DHS and the FBI says the biggest threat continues to come from "violent extremists and lone offenders motivated by or reacting to ongoing events."

"We have no specific information that foreign adversaries are plotting attacks against the homeland," according to the advisory, though it adds, "some are seeking to take advantage of the conflict, calling for violence in furtherance of their respective goals."

Officials, in particular, point to an October 13 call by al-Qaida for people to support Hamas by attacking American military bases, airports and embassies. It also notes a social media post from the Islamic State terror group on October 19 which urged followers to target the Jewish presence all over the world, "especially Jewish neighborhoods in America and Europe."

Additionally, officials have raised concerns about Iran, accusing Iranian-backed media of amplifying mis- and disinformation to English-speaking audiences with what the advisory describes as "verifiably doctored or mislabeled images and video footage, inaccurate translations, and misleading content … to stoke passions, accelerate the process of radicalization, and lead individuals to engage in targeted violence."

Separately, an apparent memo from U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently warned that operatives with links to three U.S.-designated terrorist organizations — Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah — might try to enter the U.S. along its southern border.

The U.S. has designated all three groups as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Officials have declined to confirm the authenticity of the memo but told VOA, "CBP has seen no indication of Hamas-directed foreign fighters seeking to make entry into the United States."