Violent extremists could take advantage of the easing of Covid restrictions, warns DHS

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security issued a new National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin on Friday, extending the warning it issued at the beginning of the Biden administration in the wake of the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, and warning that extremists could take advantage of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

“Violent extremists may seek to exploit the easing of Covid-19-related restrictions across the United States to conduct attacks against a broader range of targets after previous public capacity limits reduced opportunities for lethal attacks,” the bulletin said.

A senior DHS official said the bulletin is “not linked to a specific credible threat” but is being shared to inform the public about threats and ways they can report suspicious activity.

The bulletin also warned that nation-state adversaries like Russia, China and Iran have “repeatedly amplified conspiracy theories concerning the origins of Covid-19 and effectiveness of vaccines, in some cases, amplifying calls for violence targeting persons of Asian descent.”

“When there are divisive events or divisive issues here in this country, we have seen threat actors like Russia manipulate that. And we have continued to see that occur with — and its unsurprising — the vaccine debate because that has been a divisive issue in this country,” the official said.

Other named threats included the targeting of government buildings, houses of worship and commercial facilities by domestic violent extremists.

“With the issuance of today’s NTAS Bulletin, we are advising the public to be vigilant about ongoing threats to the United States, including those posed by domestic terrorism, grievance-based violence, and those inspired or influenced by foreign terrorists and other malign foreign influences,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

The bulletin warned about ideologically motivated violent extremists who are “fueled by perceived grievances, false narratives and conspiracy theories” and spread false information online to incite violence.

“Online narratives across sites known to be frequented by individuals who hold violent extremist ideologies have called for violence against elected officials, political representatives, government facilities, law enforcement, religious or commercial facilities, and perceived ideologically opposed individuals,” the bulletin said.

It also warned about foreign terrorist organizations who may seek to recruit Americans to their causes.