For weeks, the State Department has been ramping up security at overseas diplomatic posts to counter the threat posed by ISIS and affiliated fundamentalist terror groups.
“On a no-bid basis, the State Department nearly doubled the size of a task order to defense contractor Triple Canopy, which had been hired to train Iraqi security forces but was asked to now perform diplomatic security and guard services,” The Washington Times reported in mid-September. The report, based on an internal State Department memo, noted that American diplomatic facilities were going to be hardened in order to combat a “rapidly deteriorating” international threat environment.
Outwardly, however, the State Department has not been displaying excessive caution. A regularly updated worldwide travel warning, which once urged Americans abroad to be wary of a variety of Islamic terror organizations, was, however, updated on Friday to reflect State’s concerns over the threat posed by ISIS.
In April, the only reference to ISIS in the State Department’s worldwide travel warning was relatively generic and did not reflect much urgency.
Iraq is experiencing levels of violence not seen since 2007, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, formerly known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI)), is increasingly resurgent. Although U.S. interests have not been targeted directly, the threat of attacks against U.S. citizens, including kidnapping and terrorist violence, continues, even in Baghdad’s International Zone.
Today, the threat is far more specific.
In a worldwide alert, the State Department warned all travelers that ISIS may be preparing retaliatory attacks in response to collation airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria and could strike virtually anywhere in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. On September 22, 2014, the United States and regional partners commenced military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq. In response to the airstrikes, ISIL called on supporters to attack foreigners wherever they are. Authorities believe there is an increased likelihood of reprisal attacks against U.S., Western and coalition partner interests throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations both in the United States and abroad where U.S. citizens gather in large numbers, including during holidays.
U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Extremists have targeted and attempted attacks on subway and rail systems, aviation, and maritime services. In the past, these types of attacks have occurred in cities such as Moscow, London, Madrid, Glasgow, and New York City.
State’s warning about shopping malls being used as attack sites is particularly relevant. According to a now scrubbed NBC News report, Canadian authorities recently broke up a specific plot which would have been carried out by “ISIS-inspired” militants that included gun and knife attacks at an Ottawa mall.
“In the mall terror plan, the group discussing the attack allegedly did a walk-through of a Canadian mall, scoped out its exits and focused on an attack that would mow down people on crowded escalators,” NBC reported.
Officials in the United State and Canada also fear a lone wolf may attempt to stage a public beheading with the intent of battling with first responders in order to become a “martyr.”
State’s travel worldwide travel warning, however, was not updated to include North America.