LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Despite a terrorist group video calling for attacks on shopping malls in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, there is no credible threat to malls in the Southland, officials said Monday, Feb. 23, while encouraging residents as always to remain vigilant and be aware of their surroundings.
“We have to not be paranoid or over-anxious about this,” Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Michael Downing told City News Service.
Downing, head of the LAPD’s counter-terrorism unit, said the video from a Somalia-based terror group appears to be a “motivational” type of message, perhaps in an attempt to encourage homegrown terror groups or individuals.
“It’s not like there’s any imminent attack,” he said.
Regardless, the LAPD has reached out to shopping mall operators to provide them with basic information and ensure security is in place.
“We’ve also trained in this area in terms of a mall attack,” Downing said.
Nicole Nishida of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department also stressed there is “no known specific, credible threat to the Los Angeles area malls.”
“Our sheriff’s stations work collaboratively with our mall partners, and regularly train with them on active shooter exercises and other threats relating to mall security,” she said. “We remain vigilant when patrolling commercial retail space within sheriff’s jurisdiction, and urge the public to remain aware, and if they see something suspicious to contact local law enforcement.”
Westfield Corp., which operates various malls in the Southland, issued a statement saying it “will take every available step to keep our shopping centers safe for staff, retailers and customers.”
“Westfield Corporation’s policy is to not publicly disclose security procedures, however our heads of security in the U.S. and U.K. continue to coordinate their activities with police and government agencies,” according to the company. “As usual, significant resources continue to be devoted to security arrangements in our shopping centers and they continue to operate as normal.”
Downing said residents, as always, should have their “attention cycle raised a little bit” and be on the lookout for suspicious activity. The department has a special hotline for reporting possible terror threats at (877) A-THREAT, or (877) 284-7328.
Orange County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said his department was unaware of any specific threats, but deputies “remain vigilant.”
Hallock noted that local law enforcement, paramedics and the FBI did training exercises at local malls as recently as six months ago.
“We work on an ongoing basis with the FBI and participate in the Joint Terrorism Task Force to prepare and assess threats” in Orange County, Hallock said. “There have not been any direct threats to malls in (Orange County), however, we will remain vigilant in our ongoing assessments and evaluations of any potential terrorist threats.”
Newport Beach Assistant Police Chief David McGill said patrols have been beefed up around Fashion Island since the videotaped threat surfaced.
“We’ve got officers doing a little extra patrol over the next couple of days,” McGill said, while stressing that his department has not received “any credible threat specific to Fashion Island.”
But in law enforcement circles, “this has been the chatter all over the past several days since the video came out, so all law enforcement is ramping up a little bit,” McGill said. “Whenever these things happen, we take it seriously and redouble our efforts.”
He encouraged the public to keep in mind the law enforcement mantra, “If you see something, say something.”
The primary fear of law enforcement is that the video would inspire a “lone wolf” attacker, McGill said.
The terrorist video mentioned the 2013 attack at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and it made specific reference to the Mall of America in Minnesota.