Islamic State supporters have threatened to launch a terror attack in Washington, D.C. and New York on Christmas, according to the SITE intelligence group. A propaganda poster carries a picture that shows Washington's National Cathedral erupting in flames while indicating that New York could be their target.
"We meet at Christmas in New York soon," reads the caption of the poster, which otherwise carries an image of Washington's National Cathedral, reveals SITE, which monitors extremist communications online.
The poster was found circulating through a pro-Islamic State encrypted channel, Telegram.
"ISIS is incentivized to make threats like this, which come at no cost to them. ISIS is not dispatching fighters around the world for complex coordinated terrorist attacks, but has largely relied upon individuals and citizens already living in Europe and the United States to commit unsophisticated attacks," Newsweek quotes Harrison Akins, a researcher at the Howard Baker Center, as saying.
"These individuals' affiliations with ISIS are often tenuous and are perhaps better described as 'inspired by' rather than operationally directed. So perhaps somebody within the U.S. will take it upon themselves to commit an attack on Christmas, which falsely bolsters the perceived capabilities and reach of the group."
In October, a 27-year-old man from Virginia, Mohamad Khweis, became the first U.S. citizen to be convicted of successfully joining the Islamic State terror group, also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Over 100 people in the U.S. have been charged with trying to support or join IS, but Khweis succeeded.
IS managed to encourage over 40,000 fighters from more than 110 countries to travel to join their fight before and after the declaration of the "caliphate" in June 2014, according to a report, "Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees."
The report, recently released by the Washington-based security intelligence consultancy Soufan Center, states that there are now at least 5,600 citizens or residents from 33 countries who have returned home — accounting for about 15 percent of the fighters.
The report claims that for the U.S., 129 fighters succeeded in leaving the country and only seven have returned.
While IS has lost its territory in Syria and Iraq, the threat is far from over in the Middle East or elsewhere.
Iraq declared earlier this month that its territory is now "fully liberated" from IS, overlooking warnings by allies that the terror group still poses a threat to the country in the form of guerrilla warfare.
"As ISIS continues to lose land, influence, funding streams and conventional capabilities, we expect them to return to their terrorist roots by conducting high-profile attacks on helpless civilians such as those we've already seen in Nasiriyah, Ramadi, and elsewhere over the past weeks," a spokesperson of the U.S.-led international coalition said at the time.
Iranian influence is now present in Nineveh towns once mostly populated by Christians before IS took over, and has prevented some from returning to their homes.