Homeland Security chief: Be 'vigilant' at malls

David Jackson and John Bacon, USA TODAY
The secretary of Homeland Security on Sunday warned shoppers at Minnesota's Mall of America and similar venues to be vigilant in the wake of new terrorist threats.

"I'm not telling people to not go to the mall," Secretary Jeh Johnson said on NBC's Meet The Press. "I think that there needs to be an awareness."

He also said, "I'm saying that the public needs to be particularly vigilant."

Mall of America says it has heightened security after a video threatening a terror attack was apparently released by a Somali militant group with ties to al-Qaeda. The group, al-Shabaab, previously took responsibility for the 2013 attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that left more than 60 people dead.

The video released online focused mostly on the conflict between Kenya and Somalia and the Westgate shopping mall attack. The video calls for similar attacks at the Mall of America and elsewhere.

"If just a handful of mujahideen fighters could bring Kenya to a complete standstill for nearly a week, imagine what a dedicated mujahedeen in the West could do to the American or Jewish-owned 
shopping centers across the world," an unidentified man says on the video.

"What if such an attack was to occur in the Mall of America in Minnesota? Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London's Oxford Street?" the man says, encouraging supporters to "hurry up, hasten towards heaven and do not hesitate."

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a statement Sunday saying U.S. officials were aware of the call for "Westgate style" attacks against shopping malls in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The statement said Homeland Security and the FBI has been working closely with state and local authorities in recent months to "prevent and mitigate these types of threats."

 The Mall of America, among the largest shopping malls in the world with more than 500 stores and 50 restaurants, employs more than 12,000 people. It generally is considered the world's busiest mall, with more than 40 million visitors annually.

Mall officials issued a statement saying it takes any potential threat seriously.

"Mall of America has implemented extra security precautions. Some may be noticeable to guests, and others won't be," the statement said, adding, "The safety and security of our guests, employees and tenants remains our top priority."

Al-Shabaab, based in southern Somalia, was declared a terror organization under U.S. law in 2008. 

The group, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012, took responsibility for an attack Friday at a Mogadishu hotel targeting government ministers that killed 25.

Johnson, who made appearances on five Sunday shows, said the video threat reflects the militant effort to encourage supporters to conduct attacks in their homelands.

"We're in a new phase now, and I'm afraid that this most recent video release reflects that," Johnson said on ABC's This Week.

Contributing: KARE-TV, Minneapolis-St. Paul

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