Pro-Hamas extremists are flooding social media platforms with calls for attacks on Jewish communities and other targets in the U.S. and Europe, prompting U.S. law enforcement agencies to step up their readiness postures amid deep concerns about possible violence, American officials and private analysts told NBC News.
Tuesday’s explosion at a hospital in Gaza is threatening to become a flashpoint, they said, with posts on X and other platforms portraying it as an Israeli atrocity using an American-made bomb, despite an assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies that the damage resulted from an errant missile fired by a Palestinian militant group.
Groups linked to Al Qaeda and American neo-Nazis have been seeking to exploit the ongoing war to encourage attacks, according to two separate intelligence products obtained by NBC News.
“You must attack them in their homes, shops, posts and places of amusement … Tear their bodies apart, let their blood flow and take revenge for your martyrs,” said one Al Qaeda post quoted in an intelligence bulletin by the New York Police Department, which has maintained a global intelligence network since 9/11.
The Al Qaeda branch in the Indian subcontinent, known as AQIS, is calling for attacks on Americans, British and French nationals, the bulletin said, while another Al Qaeda-aligned propagandist issued an online call for attacks using silencers, explosives and knives.
A Homeland Security official told NBC News that the DHS is monitoring a “heightened threat environment” in the U.S. and is concerned about attacks on Jewish-Americans, as well as Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans.
“The intensity has gotten worse,” the official said, noting that DHS, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center are “constantly monitoring the threat environment,” including online chatter.
Last Saturday, a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy was stabbed to death in his Illinois home by his landlord in what police described as an anti-Muslim hate crime.
A separate intelligence bulletin by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that monitors extremism on the web and feeds information to law enforcement agencies, said Al Qaeda-linked groups and others posted a series of messages in response to the Gaza hospital incident, calling for attacks on U.S. and Israeli embassies and other targets.
"We are currently in a heightened threat environment," the NYPD said on Wednesday.
The NYPD is requiring all on-duty officers to be in uniform, and is adding patrols – moves designed to deter bad actors and reassure the public, said former NYPD Chief of Counterterrorism James Waters.
“There’s no specific or credible threat to New York City or the homeland,” Waters added. “That being said, New York City has been squarely in the bull's-eye of terrorists for a long time. They would love nothing more than to come back to New York again and make a big statement to cause fear or even worse death or destruction.”
This week, police in Brussels shot dead a man they said was suspected of killing two Swedish nationals “inspired by the Islamic State.” Authorities said he may have been motivated by the erupting Israel-Hamas war, and a series of public Quran burnings by an Iraqi refugee living in Sweden.
Like the NYPD, the FBI and other agencies have continued to say they are detecting no specific and credible threats, but one former counterterrorism official said that language is outmoded.
“When the federal government uses the phrase ‘no specific and credible threat,’ they create the appearance that they are out of touch with the reality of the current threat environment,” the former official said. “For the last decade, the U.S. and Europe have experienced attacks by individuals and groups who were inspired and instructed by online content by terrorist organizations. Our traditional intelligence capabilities, as robust as they are, were not designed to pick up on those threats.
Waters said New York counterterrorism authorities “have never sat back and said, 'OK, no credible threats and everything is OK.' They are constantly running leads to ground, there are many investigations that are ongoing.”
He said that the most common threat now comes from disconnected individuals radicalized online.
“They could stay in their mother’s basement and be on the internet all day and get themselves worked up and listen to the propaganda and be that person who would be influenced to do something in a small group or as a lone actor,” he said.
Extremist content has been growing online since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. An Oct. 12 bulletin from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue called the platform X “an epicenter for content praising the attacks perpetrated by the Hamas-linked al-Qassem Brigades, as well as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and Hezbollah.”
The analysis counted more than 16 million views of 120 pieces of branded terrorist content put out by the groups on the X platform. The content included GoPro footage of fighters desecrating the bodies of Israeli serviceman. Hashtags associated with the content had 1.98 million mentions, the bulletin said.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue also found that U.S.-based neo-Nazis had appropriated the language of Hamas and have been using the conflict in an effort to inspire attacks in the U.S. and on Jewish communities globally. The neo-Nazi accounts are spreading official terrorist content linked to the Qassem Brigades on Telegram, while also linking to "Resistance Axis" groups on the platform.
Several members of extremist groups in the U.S. and Canada — including members of the Proud Boys — have posted on Telegram expressing a desire to kill or harm Jewish people, according to Advance Democracy, which studies far-right rhetoric online.