washington — Unabated anger and tensions over the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas could spill over into the holiday season in the United States, potentially putting large public gatherings at risk, according to law enforcement and homeland security officials.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security late Tuesday issued a public service announcement, warning of a heightened threat to holiday or faith-based events and New Year’s Eve celebrations in the coming weeks.
The announcement further warned of potential dangers to protests, rallies and other First Amendment-protected events.
“Ongoing tensions related to the conflict between Israel and Hamas likely heighten the threat of lone actor violence targeting large public gatherings throughout the winter,” the statement said. “These targets likely remain attractive to lone actors inspired by a range of ideologies due to their accessibility and symbolic nature.”
According to the FBI and DHS, there is no specific or credible intelligence to suggest an attack is in the works, but the statement warns there has been “a spike in reporting on potential hate crimes or other criminal violations” since the October 7 Hamas terror attack in Israel that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, with some 240 people taken hostage.
The Israeli military response has since displaced an estimated 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas-run Health Ministry says nearly 18,000 people have been killed, most of them women and children.
The FBI and DHS warning said any escalation of the conflict could “further exacerbate the threat of violence.”
Just last week, DHS issued a new guide to help faith-based organizations, including churches, synagogues and mosques, take steps to better secure their facilities and their congregations.
The same day, FBI Director Christopher Wray told U.S. lawmakers that the bureau’s hate crime caseload had spiked by 60% since October, with the majority of threats targeting the Jewish community.
The just-released public service announcement noted both the FBI and DHS have also seen a jump in hoax bomb threats and active shooter threats aimed at synagogues “likely intended to disrupt services and intimidate congregants.”
The new advisory updates a previous warning from October 25.
U.S. homeland security officials have previously said the country has been mired for more than a year now in a “heightened threat environment,” with the biggest threat coming from U.S.-based extremists motivated by “enduring racial, ethnic, religious and anti-government ideologies.”