By Jack Phillips
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday told members of Congress that the Hamas–Israel war could spark attacks on targets within the United States, saying the Palestinian terrorist group could inspire ISIS-like threats.
Mr. Wray said that since the start of the Israel–Hamas conflict in Gaza earlier this month, multiple foreign terrorist organizations have called for attacks against Americans and the West, significantly raising the threat posed by what he described as homegrown extremists.
“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,” Mr. Wray said, referring to the terrorist organization also known as ISIL that captured swathes of Iraq and Syria in the 2010s before the U.S. deployed troops in the region to combat the group.
The number of attacks on U.S. military bases overseas by Iran-backed militia groups has risen this month, the FBI chief noted. Cyber attacks against the United States by Iran and non-state actors will likely worsen if the conflict expands, he said.
But Mr. Wray told members of the Senate that currently, there is no information to indicate that Hamas “has the intent or capability to conduct operations inside the U.S., though we cannot, and do not, discount that possibility.”
He reiterated previous claims that the most significant terrorism threat domestically is “posed by lone actors or small cells of individuals who typically radicalize violence online and who primarily use easily accessible weapons to attack soft targets.”
“This is not a time for panic, but it is a time for vigilance,” Mr. Wray said, addressing public fears about possible terrorist attacks. “You often hear the expression if you see something, say something … that’s never been more true than now,” he added, referring to a slogan that has often been deployed at U.S. transportation hubs in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“And that’s probably partly why the American people are reporting more tips and leads to us, and we’re pursuing those threats and leads as vigorously and responsibly as we can,” he stated.
The director also said that the bureau believes there has been a rise in anti-Jewish incidents across the United States, while the White House expressed alarm this week at reports of anti-Jewish incidents at American universities as tensions have prompted university officials to tighten security.
“This is a threat that is reaching, in some way, sort of historic levels,” Mr. Wray said during a Senate hearing. He said that it’s because “the Jewish community is targeted by terrorists really across the spectrum,” although the director did not provide specific examples or more details.
The FBI, he said, is tracking what the bureau believes to be a rise in antisemitism via joint terrorism task forces, intelligence gathering efforts, and hate crime investigations.
“In fact, our statistics would indicate that for a group that represents only about 2.4 percent of the American public, they account for something like 60 percent of all religious-based hate crimes,” he said.
Also Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a Senate committee that in the days and weeks after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, “we have responded to an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab-American communities and institutions across our country.”
“We are engaging extensively with faith communities, speaking with them about the steps that they can take to ensure that the individuals who practice, continue to practice, their faith, which is so foundational are able to do so with a sense of security,” Mr. Mayorkas said.Both he and the FBI director reiterated security concerns about the Chinese Communist Party and both made reference to their efforts to combat cyber threats and violent crime.
At a separate ransomware summit organized by the White House on Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland said he had directed the U.S. Justice Department to assist Israeli investigators probing financial flows to Hamas, including those involving cryptocurrency.
It came as Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi group said it launched a “large number” of drones and ballistic missiles towards Israel on Tuesday, after Israel’s military said it downed an approaching “aerial target” off the Red Sea city of Eilat.
The operation was the third targeting Israel and there would be more, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree said in a televised statement, reported Reuters. The spokesman said the attacks would continue until “Israeli aggression” stopped.
The Israeli military said that its “systems identified an aerial target approaching Israeli territory,” reported the newswire service. “There was no threat or risk to civilians,” it added.
Reuters contributed to this report.