Crime & Justice

4 reasons to take the Fourth of July terror threat seriously

File: Smoke rises after a Syrian Rocket launcher shell on Islamic State positions in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra.
File: Smoke rises after a Syrian Rocket launcher shell on Islamic State positions in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra.

A terror warning was recently issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI for the Fourth of July holiday.

"They had no intelligence to indicate a specific action being planned," the Rand Corporation's Brian Michael Jenkins tells KPCC's "AirTalk." However, he says that the holiday weekend is worrisome for four reasons:

  1. It's the one-year anniversary of the creation of the Islamic State by ISIS, which came into being on June 29 of last year. Jenkins says they need something big to celebrate that anniversary.
  2. ISIS has exhorted its followers to do something dramatic and carry out attacks during Ramadan, which is underway. It runs from June 17 until July 17.
  3. The threat has been underscored by recent attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait.
  4. There has been an unprecedented number of arrests of would-be jihadist terrorists in the United States this year, Jenkins says. Some were heading to Syria, while others were planning terrorist attacks Stateside.

"We can't predict what will happen — we look for it with intelligence — but certainly, given the circumstances, it has to be our operative presumption that someone somewhere in the United States may try to do something," Jenkins says.

It's possible there could be a larger attack, Jenkins says, but recent attacks have generally come from small conspiracies of two to three people. In the U.S., more than two-thirds of plots have involved a single individual, Jenkins says. He says the likelihood is that an attack would be small, low-level and operationally unsophisticated.

"One individual, as we've seen so many times, is capable of doing so much," LAPD Commander Andy Smith tells "AirTalk."

For the holiday weekend, Smith says that extra officers will be out. There's a program that is providing officers with more sophisticated police rifles than they were a few years ago.

Smith says that police are still depending on the public to help them stop any potential terror threat.

"If we're going to stop something like this, the first thing is probably going to be a 911 call from somebody telling us that something unusual is happening and we need to get over there," Smith says.

The LAPD always bumps up their staff for the Fourth of July holiday due to big crowds in Venice Beach and parties on Independence Day, including the LAPD's drunk driving task force. They're increasing staffing even further this year due to the potential terrorist threat concerns, Smith says.

Most officers already work in pairs for safety most of the time, Smith says. Sometimes police go solo in a report car or a traffic car, but they'll be working in teams this holiday to make sure they're as safe as possible, Smith says.

Jenkins says that plots have been interrupted by good intelligence work, but that ISIS has a receptive audience and has to be taken seriously. Some attacks have been carried out with everything from a car to a sharp knife, which Jenkins notes are not beyond the capacity of individuals to get their hands on to use for an attack.