WASHINGTON — The Hamas terror attack on Israel that killed about 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and sparked a now weeks-long war has shaken the global terrorism landscape, breathing new life into a variety of groups, according to three top U.S. officials.
Those terror groups — including al-Qaida and the Islamic State — are using the attack as a rallying cry designed to grow their numbers and possibly inspire attacks against the United States, said the officials.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Christine Abizaid shared the assessment Tuesday during testimony before a U.S. Senate oversight committee, warning the Hamas attack on Israel is giving foreign terror groups a sense of momentum at a time when the threat had seemed to be waning.
READ MORE: In Wiretap Recording, Hamas Says Jihadists Caused Gaza Hospital Strike; In Public, Group Blames Israel
“The ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to a whole ‘nother level,” the FBI’s Wray told the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“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 several years ago,” Wray said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
“In just the past few weeks, multiple foreign terrorist organizations have called for attacks against Americans and the West,” he added, noting al-Qaida “issued its most specific call to attack the United States in the last five years.”
The NCTC’s Abizaid warned lawmakers the Hamas attack is now being used as “a feature of messaging and propaganda” from multiple terror organizations.
“We’ve seen it from al-Qaida affiliates, almost every single one. We’ve also seen it from ISIS, which ideologically isn’t aligned with a group like Hamas, but is still leveraging this current conflict,” she said. “They are seeking to capitalize on this moment to galvanize supporters and organize further attacks.”
Extremists see opportunity, say officials
Wray and Abizaid warned that the Hamas attack is also being leveraged by extremist groups without ties to the Middle East but who see this as a chance to further their own goals, while likewise threatening attacks against U.S., Israeli and Jewish interests around the world.
“How this conflict unfolds in the coming days, weeks and months, and the degree to which it helps renew otherwise declining terrorist actors across the globe will require careful monitoring,” Abizaid said.
For now, the U.S. officials emphasized that the greatest dangers still come from individuals or small groups who are consuming the imagery and propaganda and may then quickly escalate to violence.
And while the DHS, the FBI and NCTC have yet to see indications that any established groups are plotting attacks on U.S. soil, they do not rule it out.
“On top of the homegrown violent extremism and domestic violent extremist threat, we also cannot and do not discount the possibility that Hamas or another foreign terrorist organization may exploit the current conflict to conduct attacks here on our own soil,” the FBI’s Wray said.
“We’re continuing to scrutinize our intelligence to assess how the threat may be evolving,” he said, adding that the bureau is conducting multiple investigations into individuals associated with Hamas and other groups.
U.S. keeps eye on Iran
There is also significant suspicion about one of Hamas’ key backers, Iran, described by some U.S. officials as the “poster child” for state-sponsored terrorism.
U.S. officials have previously accused Iran of what they describe as brazen plots to target dissidents and assassinate former U.S. national security adviser Ambassador John Bolton.
But since the October 7 Hamas attack in Israel, Tehran’s plotting in the United States appears to have quieted.
“At this current moment I would not have any indication of an Iranian threat inside the United States that should be a concern,” the NCTC’s Abizaid told lawmakers.
In the Middle East and elsewhere, though, Iran has been bolder, she said, taking note of the repeated attacks by Iranian-backed militias on U.S. forces.
“We assess Iran, Hezbollah and their linked proxies are trying to calibrate their activity, avoiding actions that would open up a concerted second front with the United States or Israel while still exacting costs in the midst of the current conflict,” Abizaid said.
“This is a very fine line to walk,” she added. “Their actions carry the potential for miscalculation.”
And even in the U.S., Iran’s approach could change quickly.
“Iran has a significant escalatory capability,” warned Abizaid.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations has yet to respond to a request for comment.
by Jeff Seldin/VOA