ISIS warning has state, federal agencies on heightened alert
The terror group ISIS has issued a new warning, stating "trained soldiers are positioned in 15 states across the U.S. ready to launch new attacks."
New Jersey hasn't been specifically mentioned, but state and federal law enforcement officials are on a heightened alert.
"The FBI takes the threat from extremism very seriously, regardless of what state they claim to be in or not," said Bill Gale, supervisory special agent for the FBI in Newark.
Agent Gale said ISIS, which is also known as ISIL, has a particular allure to homegrown violent extremists.
"When they successfully recruit somebody the public will notice a change in an individual," he said. "I think when the public does see that change, that's when they need to say something to somebody."
Gale said it's understandable someone might be hesitant to call law enforcement, but they can always talk with a teacher, a counselor or some community or religious leader.
Chris Rodriguez, the director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said his office and other law enforcement agencies are working closely together, sharing information to do everything possible to stop ISIS from carrying out an attack, but more help is needed.
"If members of the public see something, they should say something, and not be embarrassed or unwilling to report suspicious activity," Rodriguez said. "We would rather investigate many cases and be overly cautious than miss something that could be problematic."
His suggestion is "go to our website, njohsp.gov, New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and if you do see something, say something and report it on our website."
Rodriguez pointed out community outreach is very important.
"(Our office is) spearheading those relationships, getting into communities to build relationships and trust that are important and in many ways critical to counter the messages propagated by ISIS through its media outlets," he said.
Rodriguez said the Office of Homeland Security is hoping to build relationships with communities in New Jersey in order to make residents comfortable enough to report suspicious activity.
"We want to build relationships with communities all over New Jersey, and build the trust, so people will come forward and tell us when they think someone may be going down the wrong path or if they see something suspicious, such as photographing certain landmarks, military facilities, law enforcement offices," he said. "The public has to be vigilant, because in many ways they are our first line of defense."
Special Agent Gale agreed that community outreach is a very important element in stopping ISIS from getting new recruits.
"ISIL does a wonderful job of using social media to attract young people - we particularly see young men and women who are looking for some sort of higher purpose in their life. Their use of social media allows ISIL to reach out into these people's homes to talk one on one with them and convince them ISIL has what they're looking for in their life," Gale said.
He added another critical component to stopping this terror threat is awareness.
"I think it really starts with the family, I think the family needs to know what their young people are doing on the computer," Gale said. "The family and our communities need to be able to offer an alternative to these extremist groups. An alternative that gives these young people an avenue for significance in their life, adventure and glory or something else to get involved in that gives them a unified purpose."
He also said the FBI is working closely with many state and local agencies that make up the Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the State Police.