U.S. homeland security chief worried about al Shabaab mall threat

U.S. Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson urges vigilance following a threat made by Somali-based Islamist militants against shopping malls, including the Mall of America in Minnesota.

WASHINGTON D.C., UNITED STATES (FEBRUARY 22, 2015) (NBC) – The U.S. homeland security chief said on Sunday (February 22) he takes seriously a threat made by Somali-based Islamist militants against shopping malls, including the Mall of America in Minnesota, and urged people going there to be careful.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was reacting to a video released by al Shabaab appearing to call for attacks on western shopping areas, specifically mentioning Mall of America, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and London’s Oxford Street.

“We are in a new phase in the global terrorist threat right now which involves core Al Qaeda, but now other groups, the ISIL group being the most prominent example of that, with very effective use of video, publications, social media and the internet that have the ability to reach into communities, to reach into homelands and inspire independent actors to commit acts of violence,” Johnson told the NBC program “Meet The Press,” using an acronym for the militant group Islamic State.

Asked specifically about the threat to Mall of America, one of the world’s largest shopping complexes, he said security measures were being ramped up and urged residents to be alert.

‘We’ve got to be vigilant, so we ramp up security. There was a call for an attack on locations in Canada and Europe and so, in response to that, I ramped up the presence of the Federal Protective Service at federal buildings a couple of months ago. I am sure that security at this particular mall will be enhanced in ways visible and not visible, but it also involves public vigilance and public awareness. If you see something, say something, has to be more than a slogan,” Johnson said.

Minnesota is home to a sizable Somali population. U.S. law enforcement officials have been concerned about the potential for radicalization among some of the community.

A Minnesota man was indicted last week on charges of conspiring to support Islamic State and lying to federal agents investigating recruitment by militant groups

Prosecutors said dozens of people from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, many of them Somali-Americans, have traveled or attempted to travel overseas to support groups such as Islamic State or al Shabaab since 2007.

Mall of America is a large private mall in Bloomington, Minnesota, that has about 40 million visitors a year, and contributes nearly $2 billion in annual economic activity to the state of Minnesota, according to its website.

Mall officials issued a statement about the threat made by the group, saying they are monitoring events with the help of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Security officials in Canada have been on alert in the wake of two attacks by Muslim converts last year including a gunman who attacked Canada’s Parliament in October, fatally shooting a soldier at a nearby war memorial.

The West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, gets about 30.8 million visitors a year and has the world’s largest parking lot, according to its website.

Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack on a high-end Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013 that killed 67 people, raising fears about the safety of malls around the world.