New York City police issue warning ahead of Rockefeller Center tree lighting event

(NEW YORK) — With thousands of people expected to converge on Rockefeller Center for Wednesday evening’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony, New York City police counterterrorism officials have issued a confidential warning that protests prompted by the Israel-Hamas war could disrupt the annual event.

The threat assessment advisory was issued by the NYPD Intelligence and Counterterrorism Bureau (ICB) to law enforcement and government agencies and says there is currently no specific or credible threat reporting regarding the tree lighting ceremony, but noted the United States “continues to face a heightened and dynamic risk environment from a variety of extremists.”

“Malicious actors may view mass gatherings, iconic locations and high-profile events as targets of opportunity during the holiday season,” the threat assessment warns.

The document, obtained by ABC News, comes in the wake of a disruption by demonstrators at last week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the weekend shooting incident in Vermont of three college students of Palestinian descent that is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

The bulletin states there is considerable chatter from entities trying to incite followers from different points on the political and ideological spectrum to act out violently, but it also notes that such online content is typical during the holiday season.

“The ICB continues to observe numerous propaganda graphics from FTOs [foreign terrorist organizations] and their supporters calling for violence against US interests, ostensibly in retribution for US support of Israel,” the bulletin states. “For example, on November 24, al-Qa’ida’s as-Sahab Media Foundation released a publication in which it incited attacks against military targets in both the Middle East and the West, as well as broadly against those who ‘support the Jews in their war on Gaza."”

The document also says that in December 2022, pro-ISIS online users redistributed propaganda urging followers to attack crowds at Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, displaying images of people surrounding a Christmas tree with a truck driving toward them.

The document stresses that demonstrators could use the Rockefeller tree lighting ceremony, which will be televised nationally, “as an opportunity to draw attention to their own causes.”

“While many of these actions would likely constitute First Amendment protected activity, they could prove disruptive to the event and potentially pose a security risk,” according to the assessment.

During the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, demonstrators dressed in white jumpsuits splashed fake blood and attempted to glue their hands to the pavement in order to disrupt the parade, the bulletin states. The NYPD arrested 34 individuals in connection with the incident on charges including harassment, obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest, trespass and disorderly conduct, according to the document.

The assessment also notes that on Nov. 24, individuals protesting Israeli operations in Gaza disrupted a tree-lighting ceremony in Seattle.

 

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