The United States is struggling to trace the cause of mysterious black-clad extremists who appeared on recent trips to the United States from Europe, the FBI said Sunday.
Investigators have concluded “some type of biological agent or weapon” was used in the use of the suspects in Tennessee and Vermont, Agent Rob Lasky said.
The two most recent suspects appeared in France and Belgium during August and September, and have been linked to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Their appearance caused alarm, particularly in Washington, D.C., where some flights were diverted at the Vermont tip during August.
An outbreak of black henbane — a “disintegrating insecticide” — on a plane over Wyoming prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to warn pilots to take extra precautions.
Black men appear to have been identified as the source of the outbreak of black henbane, a “disintegrating insecticide” that’s used in the beauty industry, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Anytime a person of color travels alone, anytime somebody goes on a trip, there’s going to be curiosity and interest in where they come from, what they are doing there,” said Marc Lamont Hill, a Washington, D.C.-based political commentator and professor at Wake Forest University.
The FBI said it was unable to trace those travel experiences or link the infections with the alleged threat of biological terrorism.
Black henbane, a “disintegrating insecticide” that’s used in the beauty industry, has been blamed for the recent outbreak. Bralogan / Alamy Stock Photo
The scare has come at a delicate time for the U.S. travel industry. Sept. 11 has long been seen as a particularly difficult time to travel because of a negative public opinion of foreigners.
For people who suffer from allergies and other health issues, flight delays or delays due to aviation security or threats will be a major source of concern.
The TSA has tightened security measures since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and been working under constraints by court order to conduct random checks on all carry-on bags through two major U.S. airports.
The U.S. has not officially increased the terror threat level to the highest level, “yellow,” although agencies have been hearing media accounts of plots against the United States.
A New York resident was arrested last week in a plot to detonate a fake bomb aboard a flight to Lubbock, Texas, to drive its passengers to collapse in a mass suicide attack at a gay bar in the United States. He was arrested before his actions could be carried out.
The threat on Britain came two days later, according to the Ministry of Defense (MoD).
It said a double agent intercepted an ISIS contract fighter plot that could have “made mass casualties possible” if it had been carried out.
London police have not disclosed the identity of the double agent, who they say posed as a Russian militant to infiltrate the group and expose their plot. The MoD said he was not a British citizen.
But news reports have referred to the man as Algerian, prompting fears that other potential terrorists are using people from the north African nation as fall guys.
“It is not surprising given the right circumstances that people come up with craziness, that some do go mad,” Lasky said.
He said there is “no evidence of a credible threat of an imminent attack inside the United States.”
The timing of the travel warning, which was issued Aug. 26 but didn’t appear in English media until Friday, was timed to give the traveling public a chance to review security policies before departing.
The bombings at Brussels’ Zaventem Airport and the metro there on March 22, 2016, shook the sense of security that had been developing in Belgium and elsewhere, and the security concerns are likely to linger.
“I think we’re very much in a period of increased scrutiny of security threats,” said Paul Cruickshank, a terrorism expert at the Atlantic Council, a global security research institute.
But many people tend to forget that Americans already travel with a certain amount of security in place and might not be worried about a possible attack, he said.
The AP contributed to this report.
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