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.
Although the credibility of the threat is still under evaluation, local authorities were informed out of an abundance caution by the official, who was not authorized to speak 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.
Spotsylvania Towne Centre is the Fredericksburg’s largest mall. He declined to name his manager, but said the mall employees were aware of the threat, and that they had responded appropriately.
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 stated that he couldn’t give details about the threat at a Friday press conference regarding its origin, but that he was made aware on Thursday of the possibility.
Davis stated at the press conference, “As it works to corroborate that, we have increased police presence throughout county to include major thoroughfares and transit hubs and shopping plazas or shopping malls.”
According to him, his department was already planning for long weekends with Halloween on Sunday and Fairfax Schools out Monday and Virginia Elections on Tuesday.
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Prince William County Police Department: “While we don’t have any credible information about a threat to our safety, we ask that our community remain alert while we work with our law enforcement partners in order to ensure everybody remains safe.” In a statement
Arlington County Police Department In a statementThe threat has not been confirmed or specified, however there will be an increase in police presence throughout the county. According to the police, there is not a specific threat in our area.
FBI made no comment in a short written statement. “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.
Late this summer, the Department of Homeland Security published an advisory about potential terrorist threats that could arise in the days leading up to and during holidays related to Sept. 11. Sometimes, bulletins are issued by the agency about potential non-specific threats.
USA TODAY was informed by the agency that they will work with other agencies in order to exchange information on any possible threats. However, no specific comments were made about threats to Northern Virginia.
Contributing: Rebecca Morin