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FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on October 31, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Washington: FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told US lawmakers on Tuesday that the ongoing Israel-Gaza war could inspire violence in the United States, a warning that comes as agents are tracking an increase in threats to Jewish, Muslim and Arab people in this country.

“This is not a time for panic, but it is a time for vigilance,” Wray told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at a hearing about threats to the nation.

Lawmakers peppered Wray with questions about what his agents were doing in the wake of the October 7 multipronged attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians and military outposts, and the subsequent Israeli military strikes in Gaza. He said the FBI has ramped up efforts to share intelligence with local law enforcement.

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“We assess that the actions of Hamas and its allies will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we haven’t seen since Daesh (ISIS) launched its so-called caliphate years ago,” Wray said, noting that in recent weeks, foreign terrorist groups have called for attacks against Americans and the West.

A key area of concern is lone-wolf suspects who are not part of any organisation but may be inspired to lash out in reaction to the conflict. Wray added that the FBI has multiple active investigations into individuals associated with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and others.

“We have kept our sights on Hamas,” Wray said.

Hate crimes

Historically, hate crimes have tended to be underreported, and Wray said some of the increase in threats logged in recent weeks is due to more people contacting authorities when they see or hear something alarming: “The American people are reporting more tips to us.”

On Monday, Justice Department officials announced that a Nevada man had been arrested for making threats to a US senator. Authorities allege that John Anthony Miller, 43, left profanity-laced voice mails railing against Israeli actions in the Middle East and threatening the lawmaker. Court papers did not identify the target of those threats, but it was Senator Jacky Rosen, according to a staffer.

Rosen, who is Jewish, questioned Wray at Tuesday’s hearing but did not specifically mention the case in which she was the alleged victim.

“In part, as you know all too well, the Jewish community is targeted by extremists across the spectrum,” Wray told her. “This is a threat that is reaching in some ways sort of historic levels.”

The director noted that one particularly disturbing element of the threats made against Jewish people is that many types of extremists, from the far left to the far right, exhibit strains of antisemitism. While Jewish people make up about 2.4 percent of the US population, threats to Jewish people account for roughly 60 per cent of religion-based hate crimes.

In an interview with The Washington Post last week, the FBI’s assistant director of partner engagement, Robert J. Contee III, said the agency is intensifying its information-sharing “and making sure that things don’t slip through the cracks.”

On Friday, Contee and other top FBI officials spoke by phone with more than 2,400 local police department heads - including leaders of university police forces - to urge them to take each reported threat seriously.

“This is really an exercise in making sure that, if there are dots out there, that we are able to draw the line between those two dots by convening something where our partners have a chance to hear about the landscape,” he said in the interview. “It is front and center on the minds of folks to just ensure the safety of communities all across America.”