- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2014

U.S. authorities say there’s no specific “chatter” indicating an imminent terrorist plot targeting the American homeland, but intelligence and law enforcement officials are staying vigilant around Thanksgiving — which arrives just weeks after the Department of Homeland Security cited an enhanced threat of “lone” wolf attacks in the United States.

One U.S. official, who spoke anonymously with The Washington Times on Wednesday, said that “the lack of chatter or an uptick in chatter is not necessarily an indicator of a threat” one way or another.

At the same time, counterterrorism sources say terrorist chatter — be it murmurings among extremists on social media, video and audio messages released by terrorist leaders around the world, or communications intercepted by U.S. officials — traditionally increases during the weeks leading up to Christmas but not Thanksgiving.

Still, major shifts in the global jihadist landscape over the past year have put U.S. authorities on guard, particularly in light of evidence that Americans and Europeans are among the ranks of foreign fighters who’ve traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State group.

Since June, the terrorist organization has seized a swath of territory and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has accepted oaths of allegiance from lesser jihadist outfits across the Middle East. In mid-November, he circulated an audiotape calling on his followers to “erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere,” according to a translation of the tape reported by Reuters.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told CNN in September that more than 100 U.S. citizens had traveled to the region to join and fight with the Islamic State.

Around the same time, other national security officials testified on Capitol Hill that the group’s ability to attack the U.S. homeland will depend on it’s sophisticated use of social media to radicalize Americans — to either travel to Syria and Iraq, or carry out so-called lone wolf attacks at home.

Then-U.S. National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew G. Olsen testified that another key concern among U.S. officials was that foreign fighters who’ve joined the Islamic State may return to their home countries, “battle-hardened, radicalized and determined to attack us.”

But U.S. authorities have also been on edge since late-October following a lone-wolf-style attack in Canada.

Days after the incident, the Department of Homeland Security suddenly announced a beefing up of security at federal government buildings in Washington and other major American cities.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said a main reason for the action was “continued public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere, including against law enforcement and other government officials.”

Mr. Johnson added that the action was a “precautionary” response to the Oct. 22 terrorist attacks on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada.

The incident featured a lone-wolf attacker shooting a soldier at Canada’s national war memorial before storming the nation’s Parliament building, where he was gunned down by authorities.

The shooter, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian Muslim whose father was from Libya, used a lever-action Winchester rifle to carry out the attacks.

The Associated Press reported that he had drug problems and, during the weeks leading up to the incident, had lived at a homeless shelter, where he spoke of wanting to go to Libya — or Syria — but became agitated when he couldn’t get a passport.

In an Oct. 28 statement, Mr. Johnson said that U.S. state and local governments were being urged to stay “particularly” vigilant in “guarding against potential small-scale attacks by a lone offender or a small group of individuals.”

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