The FBI director issued a warning on Tuesday, highlighting how the Israel-Hamas conflict has elevated the threat level for potential attacks against Americans and intensified dangers for Jewish and Muslim communities in the United States.
Christopher A. Wray, Director of the FBI, expressed concerns about foreign terrorist organizations inciting violence against Jews in response to the October 7 terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas in Gaza. The conflict led Israel to impose a siege and bombardment of Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.
Wray stated, “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.”
He emphasized that the ongoing Middle East conflict has raised the threat of attacks against Americans within the United States, especially from violent extremists or lone actors influenced by messages promoting hatred and violence.
Before the Israel-Hamas conflict, the United States had already witnessed a surge in antisemitic incidents, partly attributed to white supremacist propaganda and nationalist groups. However, since the October 7 attack by Hamas, the frequency of antisemitic threats and acts has considerably increased. Director Wray described it as “a threat that is reaching in some way sort of historic levels.”
Wray underlined that the Jewish community is a target for various types of terrorists, including homegrown violent extremists, foreign terrorist organizations, and domestic violent extremists.
Foreign terrorist groups, in response to the Hamas attacks, have issued calls to attack Americans, particularly Jews. Notably, the Islamic State (ISIS) has called for attacks on Jewish communities in the United States and Europe, while Al Qaeda issued a specific call to attack the United States, making it the most explicit call to attack the U.S. in the past five years.
Wray emphasized the significance of this unprecedented level of calls for attacks by foreign terrorist organizations, raising the potential terror threats to the United States.
The Israel-Hamas conflict has also sparked division within the United States. Protests against Israel’s response to the attack and its treatment of Palestinians have led to the removal of posters depicting victims kidnapped by Hamas on several college campuses. Private companies, universities, and organizations such as the Writers Guild of America have faced criticism for their statements or lack thereof regarding the violence in the Middle East.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, mentioned that federal officials have witnessed an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab American communities and institutions in the United States since October 7.
While Jews make up less than 3% of the U.S. population, they were already the target of approximately 60% of religious-based hate crimes before the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to Wray, citing 2022 statistics.
Between October 7 and October 23, there were 312 antisemitic incidents in the United States, with 190 directly linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to the Anti-Defamation League. These incidents include a case on October 15 at Grand Central Terminal in New York, where a Jewish woman was reportedly punched in the face due to her Jewish identity.
Wray also mentioned a recent arrest in Houston on October 19 of a Palestinian asylum seeker, Sohaib Abuayyash, who had been in the United States since June 2019 on an expired travel visa. Abuayyash was found to have been studying how to build bombs and had expressed support for violence against Jewish people. He was also illegally in possession of a firearm and had engaged with individuals who shared a radical mindset, according to the criminal complaint.
The Biden administration has maintained regular contact with Jewish communities across the country, with the FBI creating an intelligence fusion cell dedicated to addressing hate crimes and domestic terrorism. This proactive approach aims to comprehensively understand and respond to the evolving threat landscape.
In response to the rising number of antisemitic attacks and hate crimes against Palestinians after the Israel-Hamas conflict, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced grants of up to $75 million for local police departments and houses of worship.
The conflict has not only fueled antisemitic incidents but has also led to an increase in hate-fueled attacks against Muslims and Arabs in the United States since October 7. The Council on American Islamic Relations reported over 700 complaints of bias incidents and threats against American Muslims between October 7 and October 25, reaching levels not seen since December 2015 when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed a ban on Muslim travel to the United States.
One prominent incident involved the murder of a 6-year-old Palestinian American in Illinois, with the landlord arrested for stabbing the boy and his mother in what is being treated as a hate crime.
In New York, two men were arrested and charged with hate crimes for their involvement in an October 11 attack on three men, during which they shouted anti-Muslim slurs. The 2022 FBI report indicated that nearly 8% of religious-based hate crimes targeted Muslims, a level similar to 2021.