Authorities in the Northern Virginia region are on alert going into the Halloween weekend after suburban DC authorities were alerted to a potential threat, possibly linked to ISIS, to retail centers, a law enforcement official said Saturday.
The credibility of the threat was still being assessed, but local authorities were notified out of an abundance of caution, said the official who is not authorized to comment publicly.
One senior law enforcement official with access to the intelligence reporting said that it was considered a very real threat to Virginia, specifically shopping malls in the Fredericksburg, Virginia, area, about 50 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.
“We are all over that,” in terms of alerting local, state and federal authorities in order to take appropriate cautions, he said.
But the law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the ongoing investigation, said new intelligence that came in on Saturday indicated that the threat was not as significant or concrete as the initial information suggested.
“What I’m getting now is that it was a legitimate threat to Virginia specifically Fredericksburg, but that as of late this morning some of the higher side reporting is tamping down that threat,” the official said, explaining that the “higher side” reporting is what comes from super-secret sources and methods that cannot be shared with anyone without a top security clearance who is in a secure location to receive it.
“The especially sensitive reporting that the public wouldn’t hear is dampening down the threat. So it is not as concerning today as it was yesterday or two days before,” he said.
A Fredericksburg police department dispatcher had no comment on the threat intelligence and referred calls to the department’s spokesperson, who did not immediately return a message requesting comment.
The operations manager for the largest mall in the Fredericksburg area, Spotsylvania Towne Centre, declined to give his name but said mall personnel had been made aware of the threat and were responding accordingly.
On Friday, several police departments in the Northern Virginia region – which include some of the most densely populated communities in the Washington suburbs – said they were increasing police presence around shopping centers.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said he could not offer specifics about the threat in a press conference Friday regarding where it originated, but said he had been made aware of the potential threat on Thursday.
“As we work to corroborate it, we have increased our police presence throughout the county to include major thoroughfares, transit hubs, shopping plazas and shopping malls,” Davis said at the press conference.
He said his department was already preparing for a long weekend with Halloween on Sunday, schools in Fairfax out on Monday and Virginia elections on Tuesday.
“While we have not received any credible information of a threat, we do ask our community to remain vigilant while we continue working with our law enforcement partners to ensure everyone remains safe,” the Prince William County Police Department said in a statement.
The Arlington County Police Department said in a statement the threat is unspecified and unconfirmed, but there would be stepped up police presence around the county. “There is no specific or identified threat to our region,” the police department said.
In a brief written statement, the FBI declined comment. “However, we would remind you the FBI takes all potential threats to public safety seriously and we take all appropriate steps to determine the credibility of any information we receive,” the FBI said.
The Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory late this summer about possible terrorism threats leading up to the Sept. 11 anniversary and holidays surrounding it. The agency occasionally issues bulletins about nonspecific potential threats.
The agency said in a statement to USA TODAY that it will continue to work closely with local agencies to share information about any potential threats, but did not comment specifically about any threats to the Northern Virginia region.
Contributing: Rebecca Morin