The Department of Homeland Security and FBI are warning faith-based communities of an increasing threat of attacks.
They also urged state and local law enforcement agencies to monitor their security measures for gathering events at houses of worship, sending out the guidance after a weekend hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue.
“Faith-based communities have and will likely continue to be targets of violence by both domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists,” Paul Abbate, FBI deputy director and John D. Cohen, a top intelligence official at DHS, wrote in a letter on Monday obtained by multiple news outlets.
The letter highlighted that the threat of violence was heightened by increasing polarization in the country and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The officials said foreign influence actors used those factors, as well as other social or personal stressors, to promote online narratives that could encourage domestic and foreign terror groups to incite violence on religious places.
The warning follows an 11-hour hostage standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.
Malik Faisal Akram, an armed 44-year-old British citizen, took four members of the congregation hostage during the live-streamed service on Saturday.
One hostage was released during the standoff. After the remaining hostages managed to run out of the building, Mr. Akram was shot and killed in a shootout with police.
Mr. Akram had demanded the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is known as “Lady al Qaeda” and has become a cause celebre for jihadists, from a federal prison in Fort Worth, which is nearby the synagogue.
The FBI is investigating the incident as a potential terrorist attack.