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Official: Man who made synagogue threat has been identified

Public warnings about nonspecific threats against Jewish institutions, made by a variety of groups including Christian supremacists and Islamist extremists, aren’t unusual in the New York City metropolitan area, and many turn out to be false alarms.

(AP) — Federal agents have identified the man they believe posted a broad online threat against synagogues in New Jersey but do not think he was planning to carry out a specific plot, a law enforcement official said Friday.

The man, whose identity was not immediately released, was questioned by law enforcement and told agents he had been bullied in the past and harbored anger toward Jewish people, the official said. But investigators do not believe the man had the means or motive to carry out any specific attack, the official added.

The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The source of the threat “no longer poses a danger to the community," the FBI in Newark tweeted.

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New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin did not say whether there had been an arrest, telling the AP that he couldn't comment on an ongoing investigation.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in an emailed statement Friday that the threat had been “mitigated,” but the Democrat did not offer details.

“We will not be indifferent. We will remain vigilant. We will take any and every threat with the utmost seriousness and we will stand up and stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish congregations,” Murphy said.

The FBI said Thursday that it had received credible information about a “broad” threat to synagogues in New Jersey, a warning that prompted some municipalities to send extra police officers to guard houses of worship.

The nature of the threat was vague. The Newark FBI released a statement urging synagogues to “take all security precautions to protect your community and facility” but wouldn’t say anything about who made the threat or why.

“It raises the anxiety level,” said Jason Shames, leader of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. “This one for us was about vigilance. We keep having to say: See something, say something.”

Public warnings about nonspecific threats against Jewish institutions, made by a variety of groups including Christian supremacists and Islamist extremists, aren’t unusual in the New York City metropolitan area, and many turn out to be false alarms. But the area has also seen deadly attacks.

Five years ago, two New Jersey men were sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of a series of attacks in 2012 that included the firebombings of two synagogues. They also threw a Molotov cocktail into the home of a rabbi as he slept with his wife and children.

In 2019, a man stabbed five people at a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City, fatally wounding one person.

Chabad Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, director of Chabad of Hoboken and Jersey City, helped the community deal with an antisemitic shooting rampage in Jersey City in December 2019 that killed three people in a Jewish grocery store and a police officer in a nearby cemetery.

“Jewish people all over, and particularly identifiable Jewish people, are concerned and worried,” he said. “We recognize that it’s not only, God forbid, if someone wants to or does something terrible. It comes back to saying something antisemitic. It has that trickle-down effect.”

Additional security will remain in place in Hoboken and Jersey City during weekend services beginning Friday, including private security and uniformed police officers, Schapiro said.

The heightened state of vigilance called for on Thursday by an organization that advises Jewish communities on safety and security does not need to be maintained now that a suspect has been identified and questioned, said Craig Fifer, a spokesperson for the group, Secure Community Network.

But, he added, individual Jewish communities need to decide what level of security is right for them.

“We encourage that people go ahead and live their Jewish lives,” he said. “This really is a bigger conversation not tied to any one particular threat.”

Platkin said the state has been recording bias and hate incidents since 1994 and last year saw a record high of nearly 1,900 incidents. Through August of this year, there have been more than 1,400. Jewish people are the targets of more hate crimes than any other religious community, he said.

Platkin, a Democrat, more broadly voiced concern about the impact of recent comments by Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and a social media post shared by NBA star Kyrie Irving.

“Look bias and hate are on the rise. Antisemitism is on the rise. White nationalism is on the rise, and a big reason why they’re on the rise is because people in positions of power and positions of status who have platforms are using those platforms to at a minimum condone, tolerate, accept statements and positions that are antisemitic,” he said.

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By MICHAEL BALSAMO and MIKE CATALINI Associated Press

Associated Press writer Wayne Parry contributed to this report.

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