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FBI chief labels US Capitol riot 'domestic terrorism', refutes claims of Antifa involvement in attack

FBI Director Christopher Wray looks on while testifying on Capitol Hill, in Washington, before a Senate Judiciary Committee on the January 6 riots. Source: AAP

FBI Director Chris Wray has condemned the 6 January riot at the US Capitol as "domestic terrorism" as he defended the bureau's handling of intelligence.

The FBI director on Tuesday local time defended his bureau's role in providing intelligence ahead of the 6 January US Capitol riot, as he faced a grilling from lawmakers over whether agents underestimated the danger.

Christopher Wray, in his first testimony since the deadly insurrection by supporters of then-president Donald Trump, also said the Federal Bureau of Investigation has dramatically increased its probes of domestic extremist groups including those advocating white supremacy.

And he stressed there was no evidence that Antifa members were part of the violence, which the FBI has branded domestic terrorism.

He stood by his agency's handling of raw intelligence gathered on the eve of the Capitol unrest, after law enforcement personnel testified to Congress last month that they were not sufficiently briefed by the intelligence community of the 6 January threat.

"The way in which it was handled at least as I understand it strikes me as consistent with our normal process," Mr Wray told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Mr Wray was referring to a report of raw, unverified intelligence compiled by the FBI's Norfolk, Virginia field office on 5 January and emailed to US Capitol Police and other security offices.

The intelligence report cited social media chatter warning that Trump supporters were planning to storm the Capitol, with extremists "ready for war."

Mr Wray said police were also verbally briefed about the threat, and it was posted on a portal made available to law enforcement personnel in the national capital region and around the country.

He said the email went to multiple US Capitol Police task force officers.

Donald Trump supporters try to storm the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.
Su[porters of Donald Trump clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January 2021.

When asked why the report did not flow up to police leadership ahead of the riot, "I don't have a good answer for that," Mr Wray said, acknowledging that he himself did not see the report until days after 6 January.

"We are focused very, very hard on how can we get better sources, better information, better analysis, so that we can make sure that something like what happened on 6 January never happens again," he said.

Mr Wray assumed the top FBI job in August 2017. He had a challenging relationship with Mr Trump, who chastised Mr Wray's approach to election security and the bureau's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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Several Republicans have insinuated that it was not Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, but left-wing groups including Antifa.

Mr Wray shot that theory down. "We have not to date seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection with the 6th," he said.

Militant violent extremism, Mr Wray stressed, has grown in the United States, and "racially motivated violent extremism is the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio overall."

Domestic terrorism investigations have doubled from 1,000 when he took over as FBI director to 2,000 today, he said.

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