'Ongoing bomb threats' targeting Jewish, government institutions in Illinois and across US: feds

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones WLS logo
Wednesday, January 17, 2024
'Ongoing bomb threats' targeting Jewish, government institutions: feds
The FBI and other U.S. law enforcement warned of ongoing bomb threats in the past week, including one targeting the state capitol in Springfield, IL.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team has learned that a wave of bomb threats targeting Jewish centers, government agencies, state capitols and public institutions is prompting a new warning in Chicago.

The FBI and other U.S. law enforcement agencies issued the warning of "ongoing bomb threats" in the past week, detailing more than 100 separate threats against 1,000 institutions in 42 states, including Illinois.

A bomb threat targeting Illinois' state capitol in Springfield earlier this month is among the situations prompting the latest federal advisory, according to officials with the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center.

"Illinois communities have experienced several of the situations outlined in the advisory, including the Capitol," a spokesperson for the STIC said in part on Tuesday. "None of the hoax threats have resulted in actual incidents or devices located."

Experts say the longer view is even worse.

Former Cook County Homeland Security Director Michael Masters is now the CEO of the Secure Community Network, headquartered in Chicago. Masters tells the I-Team the number of threats each year continues to grow.

"We have seen the floodgates open since October 7," Masters told the I-Team on Tuesday. "[In] December alone of 2023, we had over 1,200 incidents reported to [the SCN] command center. Across 2023 entirely, over 5,400. That is a record both for a month and for a year."

The level of sophistication behind the threats is what's most alarming to terror experts like Masters.

Masters said the SCN's intelligence belief is that the threats in the U.S. are coming from different organizations, potentially from overseas.

"We have seen calls coming in in a turbo-like fashion to multiple facilities within a very short periods of time," Masters explained. "That would indicate some level of technological sophistication and IP addresses that are going through routers and networks, both domestically and overseas."

While the threats haven't materialized, that offers limited relief for Jewish community leaders.

"The impact on the staff, on students, if it's a school, and on parents remains severe," said Jay Tcath with the Jewish United Fund. "It leads, sometimes, to parents unwilling to send their children to a Jewish institution, precisely because of the awareness that they're at increased risk."

Actual bombs, hidden in computer equipment and boxed up back in 2010 were sent to Chicago synagogues but overseas law enforcement intercepted the devices.

Experts tell the I-Team it is proof that the problem isn't new, it's just getting worse.

"It's a threat until it isn't a threat," Tcath said. "Al Qaeda threatened America many times before 9/11. And there have been attacks against Jewish institutions. And so we know that a threat is not just a threat. It's a warning eventually somewhere, some way, a Jewish institution is going to be attacked."