Oct 31, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Hamas attack could inspire "violent extremists" in U.S., FBI director says

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies Tuesday in Washington before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Tuesday of "violent extremists" in the U.S. and abroad drawing inspiration from Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The big picture: Part of Wray's warning includes possible extremist attacks toward Jewish and Muslim populations in the U.S., who have already experienced an increased number of threats since the war began.

What he's saying: "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 years ago," Wray said Tuesday when testifying in front of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

  • Wray said that in just the past few weeks, "multiple foreign terrorist organizations have called for attacks against Americans and the West."
  • The U.S. has also seen an increase in attacks on its military bases overseas, which Wray says have been "carried out by militia groups backed by Iran."

The most immediate concern in the U.S., according to Wray, is "that violent extremists — individuals or small groups — will draw inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks against Americans going about their daily lives."

  • "That includes not just homegrown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization but also domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish or Muslim communities," Wray said.
  • Wray added that "protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism is and remains our number one priority."

Catch up quick: The FBI has already warned the public of increased threats against Muslim and Jewish Americans.

  • An Illinois man was charged earlier this month after a stabbing outside Chicago that left a 6-year-old Muslim boy dead and his mother critically injured in an attack police said was connected to the Israel-Hamas war.
  • Wray also mentioned a person in Houston arrested last week who had "been studying how to build bombs and posted online about his support for killing Jews."

Zoom out: The fighting in Israel and Gaza has sparked concerns about a surge in hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim communities in the U.S., which have soared in recent years.

  • A recent Anti-Defamation League report found that the U.S. is experiencing a significant spike in antisemitic cases following Hamas' attack earlier this month.

Of note: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Tuesday announced $75 million in funding meant to prevent and solve hate crimes and keep communities safe against hate crimes in the state following the Oct. 7 attack.

  • The initiative follows shortly after Cornell University's Jewish community experienced antisemitic threats in the form of online posts Sunday.
  • "Earlier today, a series of horrendous, antisemitic messages threatening violence to our Jewish community and specifically naming 104 West — the home of the Center for Jewish Living — was posted on a website unaffiliated with Cornell," Martha E. Pollack, Cornell's president, said Sunday.

Go deeper: DHS warns Israel-Hamas war may further enflame tensions in U.S.

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