Shoppers heading to the famed Mall of America in Minnesota – one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country – need to be especially cautious this weekend, said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, responding to a terror group’s call for attacks on U.S. malls.
“If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they’ve got to be particularly careful,” Johnson said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “There will be enhanced security there, but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important.” On NBC's "Meet The Press," Johnson elaborated, saying, "I'm not telling people to not go to the mall. I think that there needs to be an awareness."
Johnson’s remarks come a day after the terrorist group al-Shabaab, which has links to al-Qaeda, released an online video calling for attacks on Western shopping centers, specifically naming the Mall of America in Minnesota, in addition to the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta and London’s Oxford Street.
The video focused on its 2013 attack on a mall in Kenya, which killed more than 60 people. Al-Shabaab has also claimed responsibility for Friday’s recent attacks at a Mogadishu mall, which left more than 25 people dead.
The Mall of America said in response to the video it has “implemented extra security precautions” – some “which may be noticeable to guests and others won’t be.” The West Edmonton Mall issued a similar statement on Sunday that it too was increasing security. "We will continue to follow the situation, along with law enforcement, and will remain vigilant as we always do in similar situations. The safety and security of our guests, employees and tenants remains our top priority," the statement said.
Johnson said the latest threat “reflects the phase we’ve evolved to in the global threat” in that independent actors are calling on those living in America to carry out attacks. Al-Shabbab has recently focused on the Minneapolis area, which has the largest Somali population in the country.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said on Sunday that “sadly” Al-Shabbab has targeted young men in the Minnesota community.
“We have seen these slick videos before,” Klobuchar said on msnbc’s “UP with Steve Kornacki.” “It’s one of the tools of their trade and our FBI and our law enforcement is ready to respond … This is what this group does and that is why we have not only been focused on the evil of ISIS overseas but also the homegrown terrorism.”
Johnson on CNN said the latest threat emphasize exactly why he needs Congress to pass a budget. Funding to DHS will expire on Feb. 27, resulting in a shutdown of partial agency shutdown, unless lawmakers can hammer out a deal. Republicans are using the spending bill to rollback Obama’s recent actions on immigration, something Democrats say they won’t support.
"It's absurd that we're even having this conversation about Congress's inability to fund Homeland Security in these challenging times," said Johnson.