Officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security warned on Monday that houses of worship will likely continue to “targets of violence” by both domestic and foreign terrorists.
According to a letter obtained by CNN and other outlets, both the FBI and DHS are urging state and local partners to assess their current security measures for faith-based communities.
“Faith based communities have and will likely continue to be targets of violence by both domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists,” said the letter from FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate and John D. Cohen, the top DHS intelligence official.
Using online forums, domestic violent extremists have highlighted Jewish targets they claim are linked to COVID-19 conspiracy theories, the 2020 election and “the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and resettlement of Afghans to the United States,” the letter stated.
The letter comes just days after an armed suspect identified as Malik Faisal Akram, 44, held hostages at a Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Akram was fatally shot by authorities during the hostage rescue effort and all four hostages were safely rescued.
The officials said the Colleyville incident’s investigation is in its “initial phases” and “while this appears to be an isolated incident, and there are currently no additional specific and credible threats associated with it, we will continue to monitor all reporting to ensure this incident is not a catalyst for similar attacks.”
The letter said that “foreign influence actors” are promoting certain narratives online, which are “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.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Sunday that the DHS will work toward bolstering security in faith-based communities to help protect against terrorism, hate crimes and violence.
“This kind of threat did not begin when this attack started yesterday, and it will not end with the hostages free,” Mayorkas said, adding that the “harsh reality” is that there is a “rise in the language of hate and its connectivity to violence.”
“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.
After an initially tepid response to the hostage situation in Colleyville, President Joe Biden told reporters on Sunday that the incident “was an act of terror.”