Nebraska counterterrorism experts warn of extremists targeting critical infrastructure

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Counterterrorism experts in Nebraska are calling attention to a report about extremists planning attacks across the U.S.

On Monday, the National Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology, and Education Center, or NCITE for short, shared a report from September that looks at a number of extremist groups that target critical infrastructure.

The report that NCITE is calling attention to comes from the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

Researchers tracked a dramatic jump in plots from 2016 to 2022.

The report also says that U.S.-based violent extremists have developed “credible, specific plans” for attacking critical infrastructure such as electrical grids, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The researchers note that “this type of attack plotting is not the sole purview of any single individual, group, or extremist movement.”

Previous studies have found that transnational Islamist terrorist groups, domestic right-wing extremist organizations, and radical environmentalists are the most likely to commit attacks in the U.S.

September’s report says 35 extremists have tried to attack our nation’s critical infrastructure over the last six years.

Nineteen of these cases are associated with the Salafi jihadist movement, a radical sect of Sunni Islam, and 16 of them were associated with white supremacist groups.

Of those cases, the Salafis were more likely to target commercial facilities, government buildings and emergency services sectors, while the white supremacists predominantly focused on the energy sector.

The energy systems they’re targeting are vital to the U.S., and disabling them even temporarily would have a debilitating impact on national security, public health and safety.

Gina Ligon, the director of NCITE, said these types of plans have been used before by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group.

“That was sort of their plan for how they would take territories, is first they would make the lights go dark and take away the telecommunications of the populace,” Ligon said. “And we’re seeing a lot of those manuals of how to do that show up on different types of extremist blogs.”

The spike in attacks on energy systems is associated with the growing number of radical white supremacists who have embraced accelerationism within the past few years, according to the report.

The Anti-Defamation League says accelerationism is extremists’ belief that they must go to any lengths necessary to speed up the collapse of society as we know it.

Researchers say the rise in accelerationist ideology and doctrine is likely what fueled the increase in plots targeting critical infrastructure and the energy sector specifically.

“There’s lots of different groups who have picked up on this particular motivation of looking for signs that the world is ending or America as we know it is changing,” Ligon said. “And they’re using that to motivate people and say that if you can help accelerate that change, what comes after will be better.”

Ligon says the average American shouldn’t worry too much about an imminent terrorist attack but should be aware of these groups and what’s happening to stay prepared.

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