BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – With fear mounting following terror threats against Minnesota’s Mall of America, the Lower Hudson Valley has been on alert for potential threats of their own.
However, while law enforcement personnel remain vigilant toward both larger terror plots and less-sophisticated “lone wolf” attacks which occur without outside support, there are no known, credible threats to shopping centers in the region, according to Sheriff Louis Falco.
“As you know, those lone wolf threat that came over and that the public is aware of at large malls is something that we are concerned about,” Falco said. “Although we do not have any credible threat that is documented, we are concerned about it and therefore we are on high vigilance.”
Falco, who serves Rockland, Orange and Sullivan Counties as Chairman for New York State’s Counterterrorism Zone 4, also explained that he has not heard of any major terror threats to malls in the region in the past, though this is not to say the region is at zero risk.
Concerns about attacks on shopping centers heightened after Al-Shabaab, a Somali terror group connected to Al-Qaeda, released a video calling for strikes on malls in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. The Mall of America in Minnesota, a city with a large Somali community, was mentioned by name.
The threat is particularly alarming given the group’s history, which includes a four-day hostage situation at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya which resulted in over 60 deaths. Both the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI stated they are not aware of any threats to the Mall of America or other shopping centers at the present time.
Due to its close proximity to New York City, its sizable Jewish community and its large shopping centers such as the Palisades Mall and the Shops at Nanuet, Rockland County faces a uniquely-heightened security risk from terror groups.
Consequently, Falco stated Rockland has formed a close relationship with NYC and surrounding counties with its “Securing the Cities” campaign, a partnership which began in 2006 with radiological and biological detection activities. Bomb-sniffing police dogs also regularly patrol sensitive locations such as train stations in the region.
Regional shopping centers largely rely on police presence and surveillance for security purposes, but Falco strongly emphasized the importance of public vigilance and encouraged residents to contact police if they spot suspicious activity.
“We can’t be everywhere and we count on the public to see something and say something,” Falco said.
Gathering places for large groups of people and the relative difficulty of identifying and stopping lone wolf terrorists has created a challenging situation for counter-terror officials and law enforcement.
At the same time, the DHS and FBI reported the Al-Shabaab video paradoxically signals the relative weakness of the group, its seeming inability to engineer attacks in Western nations without appealing to lone wolves and a desire for media attention to boost their own image and compete with better known groups such as ISIS.