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US warns extremists may strike as virus restrictions ease

WASHINGTON (AP) — A national terrorism alert issued Friday warns that violent extremists may take advantage of the easing of pandemic restrictions to conduct attacks.

The alert does not cite any specific threats. But it warns of potential danger from an “increasingly complex and volatile” mix that includes domestic terrorists inspired by various grievances, racial or ethnic hatred and influences from abroad.

It said those threats were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and that the reopening of the economy could create new potential dangers.

“Violent extremists may seek to exploit the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions across the United States to conduct attacks against a broader range of targets after previous public capacity limits reduced opportunities for lethal attacks,” the bulletin said.

Without naming any specific potential targets, it notes that historically extremists motivated by racial and ethnic hatred have targeted religious institutions and crowded businesses or gatherings.

The National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin issued by the Department of Homeland Security is an extension of one issued earlier this year in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. That alert was due to expire Saturday.

The previous bulletin warned of the lingering potential for violence from people motivated by anti-government sentiment after President Joe Biden’s election, suggesting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol may embolden extremists and set the stage for additional attacks.

The department did not cite any specific plots then either, but pointed to “a heightened threat environment across the United States” that it believed would persist for weeks after Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. This new alert expires Aug. 13.

Ben Fox, The Associated Press