The US homeland security chief said yesterday he takes seriously an apparent threat by Somali-based Islamist militants against prominent shopping sites in the West and urged the public to be careful.
Homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson was reacting to a video attributed to al-Shabaab appearing to call for attacks on western shopping areas, specifically mentioning Mall of America, in Minnesota, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, London’s Oxford Street and sites in Paris.
"This latest statement from al-Shabaab reflects the new phase we've evolved to in the global terrorist threat, in that you have groups such as al Shabaab and ISIL publicly calling for independent actors in their homelands to carry out attacks," Mr Johnson told CNN's State of the Union," using an acronym for the militant group Islamic State.
Asked about the threat to Mall of America, one of the world’s largest shopping areas, Mr Johnson said: “Any time a terrorist organisation calls for an attack on a specific place, we’ve got to take that seriously.” He advised people going to the Mall of America to be particularly careful.
Some US, European and Canadian officials expressed scepticism about the credibility of the threat made in the video.
One US intelligence official said security officials were worried about the risk of an attack on US soil by a solitary militant, but al-Shabaab as a group had not appeared to gain much traction with Somalis in the West, including in Minneapolis.
“In balance, I don’t think this video adds much on top of the ubiquitous ‘lone offender’ threat,” said the official.
Staff Sergeant Brent Meyer of Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police said “there is no evidence at this time of any specific or imminent threat to Canadians”.
In Britain, a spokesman said London police were aware of the video and were assessing it.
Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall issued statements saying they were implementing extra security measures. Minnesota is home to a sizeable Somali-American population.
US law enforcement officials have been concerned about the potential for radicalisation among some of the community.
A Minnesota man was indicted last week on charges of conspiring to support Islamic State and lying to federal agents investigating recruitment by militant groups.
Prosecutors said dozens of people from the Minneapolis-St Paul area, many of them Somali-Americans, had travelled or attempted to travel overseas to support groups such as Islamic State or al- Shabaab since 2007.