A threat to fly a plane into the US Capitol building made through an air traffic control system on Tuesday doesn’t appear to be credible, but the FBI is still planning to investigate how the aviation frequency was hacked.
According to CBS News, the threatening broadcast picked up by air traffic controllers in New York claimed: “We are flying a plane into the Capitol on Wednesday. Soleimani will be avenged.”
Soleimani appears to refer to Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general assassinated by a U.S. drone strike on January 3, 2020. Although the U.S. government justified the attack at the time by saying that it had been carried out as a preventative measure to “end Iran’s strategic escalation of attacks,” the move sharply escalated tensions between the two countries, stoking fears of a large-scale retaliation.
Although tensions between the U.S. and Iran have become increasingly fraught in the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency — and despite speculation that the Iranians might try to use the anniversary of the assassination to carry out a retaliatory strike against the US — Trump administration officials told CNN that the threat appears to be an isolated incident and does not match any known chatter or intelligence on Iran.
Although it’s not yet clear who sent the threatening digitized voice recording, sources suggested to CBS News that it was suspicious that the message appeared to suggest hitting the Capitol on the same day Congress is set to tabulate the Electoral College results.
As CNN notes, making such threats over aviation frequencies is a felony offense, chiefly because it could affect the instructions pilots get about how and where planes fly. Air traffic controllers reportedly received a message on Tuesday warning them to immediately report any further threats or signs of planes veering from their prescheduled flight paths
While the FBI declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation, the agency said that it takes “all threats of violence to public safety seriously,” and the Federal Aviation Administration said that it planned to work closely with federal law enforcement.