Australian police this week carried out a massive operation busting what they said was an Islamic State plot to carry out public civilian beheadings in Sydney. Earlier this month, Al Qaeda militants were preparing to hijack a Pakistani navy frigate to attack U.S. Navy ships.
Those plots were foiled among heightened worldwide surveillance of suspected terrorists and as the has Islamic State ratcheted up its threats against the West.
Are similar attacks being planned by terror cells in the United States? Or could supporters — with no direct ties to militant groups — attempt to copy them without warning?
"There is no doubt similar tactics or attacks are being planned by terrorists whose intention is to attack the United States," a federal law enforcement official who has worked on national terror-related cases told TheBlaze.
New York City police officers stand guard in Times Square, Sept. 17, 2014. A blog affiliated with the Islamic State mentioned Times Square as a target for bombing. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Last month, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security sent out a joint intelligence bulletin cautioning that the Islamic State has the capability to attack U.S. targets with "little to no warning." National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen told lawmakers this week that federal authorities have not been able to effectively track Westerners who have traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State.
Adding to the threat is the emergence of another terror group in Syria known as the Khorasan group, comprised of veteran Al Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan, as reported by the Associated Press. Olsen said it appears the militants have been coalescing in Syria to train and focus on attacking the U.S. homeland.
According to the AP, Khorasan fighters are working to develop new ways to get explosives past airport security and recruiting Americans and Europeans to board flights bound for the U.S.
There have been several alarming incidents just this week alone.
The Islamic State released a video Tuesday that featured shaky footage of someone driving past the White House. It was edited as a movie trailer, featuring slow-motion graphics and images of fighting, all intended to give the viewer an ominous feeling of doom. It ended with the title, "Flames of War," and the words, "coming soon."
New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday that the city has entered a “new era" of potential terror threats. The next day, the NYPD announced it was stepping up its presence at landmarks throughout the city.
On Wednesday, a Rochester, New York, man was indicted on charges that he tried to aid the Islamic State and allegedly planned to kill U.S. service members returning home from war zones.
Whether the Islamic State has the ability to pull off an attack in the U.S. is not easily answered. U.S. intelligence picked up an increase in chatter among jihadi channels ahead of this month's 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, though there was no hard information about a specific target.
The Islamic State, which the CIA estimates could have as many as 30,000 members, could very well have supporters living in the U.S., House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said on Fox News Thursday.
McCaul said law enforcement agencies are monitoring suspected terrorist supporters in the United States, though the number of people being watched is classified. The chairman said there have been roughly a dozen arrests of people suspected of attempting to leave for Syria or Iraq.
The "threat environment is very high right now," McCaul said.
In his opening statement on Wednesday before a House Homeland Security Committee hearing, McCaul said the Islamic State is the U.S.' obvious and most immediate concern.
“It should never have taken the beheading of two Americans for our government to wake up the American people to this menace," McCaul said.
McCaul said the latest issue of Al Qaeda's notorious Inspire magazine named the U.S. Open in New York Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas among specific landmarks. The May 2014 issue featured an editorial touting the success of the Boston bombing and proclaimed: "I wonder if they are ready to stop car bombs!"
The editorial claimed there are "many" Faisal Shahzads — referring to the Pakistani-American citizen who confessed to the 2010 Times Square bombing attempt — residing in America, who only need the knowledge of how to make car bombs.
McCaul told Fox that the FBI and DHS are working to mitigate any possible planned attacks.
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