The United States Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Sunday, that a threat by terrorists to target American shopping malls, including the Mall of America in Minnesota is being taken very seriously and urged shoppers to be careful.
Sunday morning’s comments by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security come after the Somali based, al-Qaeda linked terrorist group, al Shabaab released a video calling for attacks on Western shopping areas, specifically mentioning Mall of America, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and London’s Oxford Street. The FBI has confirmed that least 30 Americans have joined the al-Shabaab terrorist group, and twenty of them came from the Somali community in Minneapolis. International terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann says Minnesota is one of several Midwestern states where there’s been an ‘unusual’ connection to radical groups. Terrorism analyst, Jason Korsower, of the Investigative Project says terrorists find it easier to live in Minnesota’s Muslim population, where it is easier to blend.
The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, is the most visited “‘megamall” in the world. Since the Mall of America opened in 1992, more than 40 million people visit the shopping mall annually, not counting 12,000 mall and store employees – eight times the population of the state of Minnesota. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) partnered with American shopping malls in 2012, to bring the “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign to malls across the country. Shopping malls are considered “soft targets” for terrorist attacks because they are private property, and therefore they are not regulated by the federal government. The vast majority, 85 percent of the nation’s infrastructure is privately owned. In addition to shopping malls, the list of privately owned public space in the U.S. includes airports, public transportation systems, hotels, churches, universities, sports arenas and movie theaters.
In an interview in October 2008, then Bloomington, Minnesota police chief, John Laux provided details about the security measures in place at the Mall of America. The Mall of America security is a private 100 plus force that works closely with the Bloomington police, Hennipin County Sheriff’s office, rail security and Minneapolis Police Department. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson said on Sunday that shoppers in Minnesota, and across the country, should be vigilant.
“If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today (Sunday), they’ve got to be particularly careful,” Johnson said.
Worldwide, shopping malls have long been a favorite target for terrorists. Several plots have been interrupted in the U.S., including Chicago and New York and several plots in cities across America have been discovered in the planning stages in police raids that turned up photographs, maps and architectural plans. In December, 2014, a kindergarten teacher killed inside an Abu Dhabi shopping mall was targeted because she was an American. In a security message issued on October 29, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates warned Americans about an anonymous posting on a jihadist website encouraging attacks against teachers at American schools.
In the video released by al-Shabaab, the terrorists reference the September, 2013 attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya that left 67 innocent victims dead. The video footage includes six minutes of graphic images and the terrorists celebrating the 2013 Westgate Mall attack. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chief’s warning, which specifically named the Mall of America is the first of its kind in U.S. history.