Washington (CBS) — FBI Director Chris Wray warned Congress Tuesday that Hamas’ terror attacks on Israel could motivate threats similar to those posed by ISIS in years past, according to law enforcement assessments, but he cautioned there is no indication Hamas itself intends to or has the capacity to conduct attacks in the U.S.
“We assess that the actions of Hamas and its allies will serve as an inspiration, the likes of which we haven’t seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate several years ago. In just the past few weeks, multiple foreign terrorist organizations have called for attacks against Americans and the West,” Wray told the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee during a hearing on worldwide threats.
“The reality is that the terrorism threat has been elevated throughout 2023, but the ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to a whole ‘nother level,” Wray said.
Wray said of the threat landscape in the U.S., “It is a time to be concerned. We are in a dangerous period.” He said Americans should not alter their lives, but should be watchful.
“This is not a time for panic,” he said. “But it is a time for vigilance.”
In the wake of Hamas’ attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent strikes against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the FBI director has said that the U.S. intelligence community is most concerned about lone-wolf style assailants targeting Western nations.
“Here in the United States, our most immediate concern is that violent extremists — individuals or small groups — will draw inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks against Americans going about their daily lives,” he warned again during his Congressional testimony. In written remarks submitted to Congress, the FBI director clarified, “we have no information to indicate that Hamas has the intent or capability to conduct operations inside the US, though we cannot, and do not, discount that possibility.”
Days after Hamas launched its attacks in Israel, Wray told reporters the threat landscape is ongoing and continues to evolve. Law enforcement, he said, cannot discount the possibility that terrorist groups like Hamas and its allies could use the attacks and Israel’s response to “exploit the conflict” and inspire attacks in the U.S.
According to the FBI director, the potential threat does not just come from Hamas-inspired actors. Iran and Hezbollah, he said, also pose a possible danger to the U.S. for both cyber and kinetic attacks. ISIS and al Qaeda have also issued calls to action, Wray said.
“We’re keeping a close eye on what impact recent events may have on those groups’ intentions here in the United States, and how those intentions might evolve,” Wray said.
Law enforcement officials say they have not yet encountered any specific credible terrorist threats against Americans on U.S. soil, but remain vigilant.
The government warned law enforcement earlier this month that fighting between Israel and Hamas has “sharpened the focus of potential attacks” in the U.S.for individuals and institutions with “perceived” ties to the turmoil, according to an intelligence bulletin issued by the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and National Counterterrorism Center.
Intelligence analysts assessed that “lone offenders inspired by, or reacting to, the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict pose the most likely threat to Americans, especially Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities in the United States,” but cautioned that the bulletin reflected “this moment” amid a “fluid and evolving situation.”
Wray told lawmakers that the threat was in some ways reaching “historic levels.” He said in response to a question by Sen. Jacky Rosen, who has been targeted by antisemitic threats, that the Jewish community is targeted by terrorists across the spectrum. Jews make up just 2.4% of the U.S. population, Wray noted, but they are targeted by 60% of religious-based hate crimes.
Threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities and institutions have increased in recent weeks, according to Attorney General Merrick Garland, as reflected in the killing of a 6-year-old Palestinian boy in Israel and threats to Jewish communities on college campuses. The Justice Department opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the child’s death after he was killed by his landlord, who was allegedly motivated by anti-Muslim hate, police said.
Wray revealed Tuesday that the FBI arrested a man in Houston last week after he was accused of researching how to build bombs and posting support online for killing Jews.
The FBI director said law enforcement across the country treats each potential threat with “urgency,” adding, “Protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism is and remains our number one priority.”
Also on Tuesday, Garland confirmed to a group focused on combatting ransomware attacks that the Justice Department is offering to work with Israel to help disrupt Hamas’ cash flow in the wake of the attacks by identifying where financial support for the terrorist organization comes from, including cryptocurrency.