Two months before Colorado shootings, feds warned that theaters may be targets - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Two months before Colorado shootings, feds warned that theaters may be targets

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Posted: Saturday, July 28, 2012 2:12 pm

WASHINGTON - The FBI and local law enforcement say they have found no indication that the recent shootings at a suburban Denver movie theater were anything but the acts of a lone wolf without any apparent political or terrorist ties.

But that doesn't mean the July 20 rampage that killed 12 and injured dozens more during a midnight screening of the new Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises," is a scenario foreign to terrorists.

The relative ease of carrying out an attack in a packed, darkened theater, where security is all but nonexistent, is something U.S. anti-terrorism authorities already had worried about. Such a venue could accomplish two of the goals of al-Qaida and affiliated terror groups: A high body count and an economic blow.

In fact, two months before the killings in Aurora, Colo., allegedly carried out by former doctoral student James Holmes, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent out a warning to police, fire, emergency-management and security personnel nationwide that theaters were a potentially attractive target for terrorists.

"Although we have no specific or credible information indicating that terrorists plan to attack theaters in the United States, terrorists may seek to emulate overseas attacks on theaters here in the United States because they have the potential to inflict mass casualties and cause local economic damage," the unclassified May 17 memo said.

It highlighted an April 4 bombing at a theater in Somalia, and, described a chilling entreaty three days later from an "al-Qaida-linked violent extremist" calling on his fellow travelers to emulate a 2002 terror attack on a Moscow theater.

Authorities said the April attack at Somalia's national theater in Mogadishu was carried out by a female suicide bomber affiliated with al-Shabab, a militant Islamic group fighting for control of Somalia. The blast detonated as Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali was at the podium to deliver a speech. He was unharmed, but at least 10 died, including the country's Olympics committee chief.

The 2002 Moscow attack was carried out by Chechen terrorists, who seized the Dubrovka Theater and held more than 800 people captive for three days. At least 129 hostages died.

The "violent extremist" cited in the May Homeland Security warning urged others to seize crowded facilities in the United States, including movie theaters, take hostages and demand the release of captured al-Qaida-linked or -inspired violent extremists.

The May warning was prepared by the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Cyber, Infrastructure and Science Division of the DHS, in cooperation with the FBI and other agencies.

"Mass gatherings such as those associated with theaters likely remain attractive terrorist targets," the warning said. "We encourage facility owners and operators, security personnel and first responders to remain vigilant and report suspicious activities."

After the Aurora theater attack last week, movie theaters across the country said they were increasing security at showings of "The Dark Knight Rises."

Contact Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl@shns.com.

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