FBI & DHS warn of lone-actor terror attacks during holiday season


Important Takeaways:

  • FBI, DHS warn of ‘threats to public safety’ during holiday season, amplified by Israel-Hamas conflict
  • The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are warning the public of heightened threats to public safety this holiday season and through winter associated with the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
  • The FBI says it is “closely monitoring threats to public safety during the holiday season which may be amplified” by the war
  • The bureau says these targets are likely to remain “attractive to lone actors inspired by a range of ideologies due to their accessibility and symbolic nature.”
  • The bureau points to terrorist media organizations having called for “lone actor attacks in the United States” as well as “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” having called for violence and celebrated attacks on the Jewish community.
  • The FBI says hate crimes have spiked nationwide since Hamas’ deadly assault Oct. 7 on Israel that set off the war.
  • “We have also observed an increase in hoax bomb and active shooter threats targeting synagogues across the United States, likely intended to disrupt services and intimidate congregants. Calls for violence may increase in the days leading up to the holidays and before other notable events this winter,” the FBI said. “We therefore urge everyone to remain vigilant and to report any threats of violence or suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

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Europol warns of IS attacks, says dozens of militants may be in Europe

An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture

THE HAGUE, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Islamic State is likely to launch more attacks in Europe, the EU police agency Europol warned on Friday, with several dozen militants already in place and more possibly arriving as IS faces setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

In a report on the threat the Islamist group poses to the 28-nation bloc, Europol said the most probable forms of attack would be those used in recent years, from the mass shootings and suicide bombings seen in Paris and Brussels to stabbings and other assaults by radicals acting alone.

Car bombs and kidnappings, common in Syria, could emerge as tactics in Europe, it said, while protected sites such as power grids and nuclear power stations were not seen as top targets.

Essentially the entire European Union is under threat as almost all its governments back the U.S.-led coalition in Syria, the agency said, warning that IS was likely to infiltrate Syrian refugee communities in Europe in an effort to inflame hostility to immigrants that has shaken many EU governments.

“If IS is defeated or severely weakened in Syria/Iraq by the coalition forces, there may be an increased rate in the return of foreign fighters and their families from the region to the EU or to other conflict areas,” Europol said in a statement.

It said Islamic State was also likely to start planning attacks and sending militants to Europe from Libya and that other groups, including al Qaeda and its affiliates, also continue to pose a threat to the continent.

Europol Director Rob Wainwright said EU states had stepped up their security cooperation in the wake of IS attacks in the last couple of years, allowing more plots to be thwarted.

“Nevertheless,” he said, “Today’s report shows that the threat is still high and includes diverse components which can be only tackled by even better collaboration.”

(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; Editing by Janet

Europeans turn to weapons in growing numbers after attacks

Handguns and sporting guns are displayed at Wyss Waffen gun shop in Burgdorf

By John Miller and Caroline Copley

ZURICH/BERLIN (Reuters) – Europeans in a number of countries are seeking to arm themselves with guns and self-defense devices in growing numbers following a series of attacks by militants and the mentally ill.

Some weapons sellers also link their increased business to the arrival of huge numbers of migrants in Europe, although a German police report stated that the vast majority do not commit crimes of any kind in the country.

The picture is patchy, with no up-to-date data available at a European level, leaving national and regional authorities to release statistics that are far from comprehensive and not always comparable. Reasons also vary for civilians to own guns legally, including hunting and sport as well as self-protection.

Nevertheless, applications for gun permits are climbing in Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic. Their larger neighbor Germany has not followed the trend in lethal firearms, but permits for carrying devices designed to scare off assailants, such as blank guns and those that fire pepper spray, have risen almost 50 percent.

FACTBOX on trends in weapons permits:

Little research into the reasons for the recent apparent trend has yet been published, but the assumption is that attacks in the past year including in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Munich have stirred fear among some citizens.

“There’s no official explanation for the rise, but in general we see a connection to Europe’s terrorist attacks,” said Hanspeter Kruesi, a police spokesman in the Swiss canton of St. Gallen.

Kruesi advised against buying weapons, saying they did little to improve citizens’ security while presenting problems over safe storage and raising legal questions over their proper use in a conflict. “People could actually make themselves criminally liable,” he said.

After he spoke to Reuters, the canton was the scene of an attack aboard a train this month. The suspect and a woman victim died later, although police said his motive was unclear.

One Swiss resident who has just bought his first ever weapons – a pistol and a pump-action shotgun – pinned his decision on a feeling of insecurity created by the attacks combined with criminality that he blamed on north Africans, as well as concern over recent break-ins in his neighborhood.

“Buying weapons for self-defense won’t protect you from terrorist attacks,” said the 55-year-old who lives in a town near the capital, Bern.

“Nevertheless these attacks are contributing to a subjective sense of threat, as is the rising pressure from migration and the high crime rate among migrants from the Maghreb,” he said, requesting anonymity due to concerns about his safety.

Figures are hard to come by on whether the rate of crime, serious or petty, is higher among migrants than the general population in Europe.

The report from the BKA federal police in Germany – where more than a million people fleeing violence and poverty arrived last year – said migrants committed or tried to commit about 69,000 crimes in the first quarter of 2016. However, it did not say how this compared with the overall number of crimes.


Like Kruesi, authorities in Europe – where levels of gun ownership are comparatively low and controls are often tight – have avoided encouraging their citizens to buy weapons.

But Czech President Milos Zeman broke ranks after an 18-year-old with a history of mental illness killed nine people in Munich in July. “Citizens should be able to arm themselves … in order to be able to act against these terrorists,” he told TV Nova.

Czechs may already be doing so. Gun permit holders grew by almost 6,000 to close to 300,000 in the first five months of 2016 after several years of declines.

In Switzerland, the land of the legendary crossbow marksman William Tell, a rising trend emerged last year. Of the country’s 26 cantons, the 12 that responded to a Reuters inquiry all reported higher 2015 applications for permits entitling people to buy guns. Interim 2016 figures show a further rise.

While those from people with serious criminal convictions or suffering from mental illness are rejected, most are granted.

“Nobody says directly: I’m buying a gun because of the attacks in Nice or Munich,” said Daniel Wyss, president of the Swiss weapons dealers’ association who runs his own gun shop. “But the sum of these events has fostered a general feeling of vulnerability.”

Switzerland’s defense relies heavily on tens of thousands of citizen soldiers who store their automatic rifles at home, but almost no civilians have the right to carry loaded guns in public.

Some people want this changed. Jean-Luc Addor, a parliamentarian and member of the Swiss gun lobby, aims to introduce legislation in September to ease the restrictions.

Addor contends that more armed civilians mean safer streets. “The state is not equipped to guarantee public safety,” he said. “Sometimes citizens – not every citizen, but those who have appropriate training – should be given means to protect themselves and their families.”


Suggestions that governments might be falling short in their duties have also surfaced in Germany.

Ingo Meinhard, head of the German association of gunsmiths and specialist gundealers, said demand for blank guns and pepper spray jumped after sexual assaults on women at New Year in the city of Cologne. These were blamed largely on migrants.

Meinhard said demand subsequently fell off but rose again after three fatal attacks in July, including by an Islamic State sympathizer who detonated a bomb near a German music festival. “We’re now noticing high demand in urban areas,” he added.

Police drew heavy criticism for failing to prevent the Cologne incidents, since which an Iraqi and an Algerian have been convicted of sexual assault.

German permits for firearms possession have fallen marginally in the past year, while those for scare devices jumped 49 percent in the year to June to 402,301.

No permit is required for pepper spray aerosols marketed as a protection against animals such as aggressive dogs, though officials say anyone who uses them on humans could get into trouble with the law.

Dagmar Ellerbock, a history professor at Technische Universitaet Dresden, said the New Year incidents may have prompted Germans to question the authorities’ competence.

“This trend towards self-defense could be a reason to worry if it signals an erosion of trust, that citizens who experienced the assaults in Cologne no longer feel safe or protected by the state,” she said.

Gun sellers said weapons interest grew in Austria after large numbers of migrants arrived in the country at the northern end of the now closed ‘Balkan Route’. “Fear is very much a driving force,” said Robert Siegert, a gunmaker and the weapons trade spokesman at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce “That’s what we keep hearing from salespeople in shops.”


Gun ownership remains low in Europe. According to the Geneva-based group Small Arms Survey, the United States easily surpasses the continent in per capita terms.

There are over 100 guns per 100 U.S. residents, more than twice the figure for Switzerland and three times that for Austria, Germany and France.

France requires background checks for those seeking a weapon for the two purposes it considers legitimate: hunting or joining a shooting club. This scrutiny can take more than a year.

Consequently, it is unlikely that legal French gun ownership has changed much since 2015, said Thierry Coste, secretary general of the Comité Guillaume Tell (William Tell) lobby group.

“Gun ownership is extremely regulated, getting there is like an obstacle course,” he said. “We don’t have the same mindset as Americans.”

Gun control laws in Britain, which has also experienced a number of Islamist militant attacks in recent years, have been strict since a school massacre in 1996. Licensed firearms numbers in England and Wales have remained relatively stable in the past year.

Even in the self-defense business, some doubt the benefits of a personal arsenal. Marco Schnyder, who runs a training center in Zurich, said knowing how to restrain an assailant was better.

“I have people in my shooting classes who want to protect their families or themselves,” he said. “They would be better served getting a watchdog or an alarm system. I tell them that, too.”

(Additional reporting Violette Goarant in Stockholm, Matthias Blamont and Michel Rose in Paris, Jan Lopatka in Prague, Francois Murphy in Vienna and Giles Elgood in London; editing by David Stamp)

Support for Germany’s Merkel plunges after attacks

German Chancellor Merkel leaves a news conference in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) – Popular support for Chancellor Angela Merkel has plunged according to a poll conducted after attacks in Germany, with almost two-thirds of Germans unhappy with her refugee policy.

The survey for public broadcaster ARD showed support for Merkel down 12 points from her July rating to 47 percent. This marked her second-lowest score since she was re-elected in 2013. In April last year, before the migrant crisis erupted she enjoyed backing of 75 percent.

Merkel’s open-door refugee policy has come under attack from critics after five attacks in Germany since July 18 have left 15 people dead, including four assailants, and dozens injured.

Two of the attackers had links to Islamist militancy, officials say.

Support for one of Merkel’s fiercest critics, Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, who has called for restrictions on immigration to increase security, jumped 11 points to 44 percent.

Over a million migrants have entered Germany in the past year, many fleeing war in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

Merkel repeated her claim that Germany could manage to successfully integrate the influx of refugees last week and vowed not to change her refugee policy.

In a poll of 1,003 people conducted Aug. 1-2, just 34 percent of people said they were satisfied or very satisfied with Merkel’s refugee policy. This was the lowest level since the question was first asked last October.

Some 65 percent were dissatisfied with the policy.

The next test of support for Merkel will be state elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on Sept. 4, where her Christian Democrats (CDU) are expected to face a strong challenge from the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

A separate poll this week showed that most Germans do not blame the government’s liberal refugee policy for the two Islamist attacks last month.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley)

French Security warns of Islamic State plans for waves of attacks

French soldiers patrol in front of the Festival Palace before the opening of the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) – Islamic State militants are gearing up for a campaign of bomb attacks on large crowds in France, host to next month’s Euro 2016 soccer championships, its spy chief has said.

Rare remarks by Patrick Calvar, the head of France’s DGSI internal intelligence agency, to the parliament’s defense committee spelled out “a new form of attack … characterized by placing explosive devices in places where there are large crowds and repeating this type of action to create a climate of maximum panic.

“Clearly, France is the most threatened and we know that Daesh (Islamic State) is planning new attacks,” Calvar told the committee on May 10, according to a transcript of his testimony released to the media on Thursday.

The comments came six months after militants killed 130 people in coordinated assaults on cafes, bars, a soccer stadium and a music hall across Paris.

He said the militant group had the numbers to launch the new attacks, including some 645 French citizens or residents currently in Syria or Iraq, of which 400 were fighters. A further 201 were either in transit to or from the region, he said.

Euro 2016 starts on June 10 and runs for a month at 10 stadiums across France. About 2.5 million spectators are expected for 51 soccer matches involving 24 teams. There will also be “fan zones” for crowds watching games on big screens in major cities.

France’s police force is stretched after two militant attacks last year and regular street protests.

However, the government say all measures are in place to ensure it runs smoothly.

“We will not drop our guard,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told RTL radio on Thursday when asked about Calvar’s comments.

In a reminder of the challenges facing security forces, a fake bomb left behind after a training exercise at Manchester United’s stadium in Britain forced the evacuation of the 75,000-seater ground and the abandonment of a match last weekend.

Referring to the Arabic acronym for Islamic State, Calvar said Daesh was still using the same migrant routes through the Balkans to get its fighters into Europe.

However, with the group under pressure from U.S.-led air strikes in Syria it would want to hit back in Europe to show its supporters that it was still strong.

“It’s in a position where it would try to hit as quickly as possible and as hard as possible,” Calvar said.” It is facing military difficulties on the ground and so will want to divert attention and avenge coalition air strikes,” he said.

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Andrew Callus/Jeremy Gaunt)