Federal investigators are speaking out after an online publication claimed threats were made by an ISIS supporter against a popular Charlotte mall.
An online publication claimed that an ISIS terrorism supporter issued threats against the SouthPark Mall in Charlotte on Twitter.
The article said a Twitter user, who appeared to be pushing ISIS propaganda, such as beheadings, began talking about SouthPark Mall.
The man who reported the tweets, John Osborne, told WBTV that he found the tweets while doing research on the James Foley beheading story. He says when he came across a user that had the actual video, he became concerned.
"I saw it and I made the mistake of clicking the video and I just became enraged. I mean, as an American citizen... you don't want to see things like that. So I just decided I was going to report everybody I could find," Osborne said.
He said the user who issued the threat against SouthPark Mall responded to him.
"I found he was an interesting story because he just kept responding," Osborne said. "He would continuously egg me on by sending me different versions of the video. And going, 'Steven... it's your job to protect Steven... Talk to Obama and get him to change the direction and don't bomb Iraq'. It was creepy."
He said that he could not find any information identifying the tweeter. "When you translate that page only thing it says is Investigative Journalist, which I know he's not," Osborne said.
"What he did was he tried to say at first he lived in Raleigh. And before that he said where he lived there were Heels. And that after that he said he lived in Virginia," Osborne said, "He was trying to invoke fear or some kind of reaction out of me that he was looking for, and that's what he was after."
The user also tweeted out photos of a bombing, saying he prayed he died this way, suggesting that a car bombing would be the quickest way.
Osborne says he's just a concerned citizen, and in no way works for the government or law enforcement. He says that no one from the CIA, FBI, or any other government agency responded back to him about any of the tweets.
However, mall officials said they were aware of the article, which has gotten lots of attention in Charlotte. They said they contacted the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the FBI to ensure they were informed.
"The FBI has relayed that there are no credible threats to SouthPark, and the tweets are part of a known propaganda campaign," mall officials said. "The safety and security of our customers and tenants is the mall's top priority."
Mall officials say they have 24-hour security patrols and take proactive measures to improve public safety including routine emergency preparedness drills conducted with our mall tenants, local law enforcement agencies, and emergency responders.
WBTV contacted the FBI about the threats.
"The FBI is unaware of any specific, credible threats to the U.S or the Charlotte area at this time," officials said when asked about the online story and threat against the mall.
"The FBI works around the clock with our partners in the law enforcement community to share and assess information," FBI officials continued. "As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activities to your local police or the FBI."
The incident shows a growing social media visibility for ISIS and its supporters. "Social media and the internet are a tremendous recruiting tool for these violent, radical organizations; and they're looking for the right person," said Chris Swecker, a former FBI assistant director in the criminal investigations divisions. Swecker was also the Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte field office and investigated suicide bombings during his service in Iraq.
He said ISIS is looking for sympathizers, someone who speaks English, blends in with the culture and can carry out their tasks. Social media allows ISIS to "go fishing" and see who latches on.
As the ISIS social media network grows in visibility, so does the opportunity for counter-terrorism officials to track it. Swecker said tools like the Patriot Act allow federal investigators to assess rhetoric, like in this case, and open an investigation when free speech crosses the line.
"ISIS is the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world right now, it appears to me, when it comes to a threat against the west and U.S.," he said.
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