FBI says threat to New Jersey synagogues ‘mitigated’ after suspect nabbed

During interview with law enforcement, suspect speaks of anger toward Jewish people but insists he didn’t plan to act on it for fear of getting into trouble

A man stands outside Temple Beth El synagogue in Jersey City, New Jersey, Nov. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
A man stands outside Temple Beth El synagogue in Jersey City, New Jersey, Nov. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation informed local Jewish leaders on Friday that the threats to New Jersey synagogues, which sparked a rare public warning a day earlier, had been “mitigated” and a suspect was in custody.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Attorney General Matt Platkin and FBI representatives held a call with Jewish leaders informing them that the suspect had been apprehended late Thursday night.

Once in custody, the suspect expressed his anger toward Jewish people but claimed he hadn’t been planning on acting on that sentiment, as he didn’t want to get into trouble, NBC News reported, citing multiple law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.

The FBI did not immediately issue a statement on the suspect’s apprehension.

The American Jewish Committee thanked the FBI for its efforts, tweeting that “in the face of rising antisemitism, it is imperative threats against the Jewish community are taken seriously and quickly acted upon.”

Just hours earlier, the FBI warned of a “broad threat” to synagogues across New Jersey in a statement that sparked alarm and promises of increased police protection at Jewish places of worship.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy visits the scene of the December 10, 2019, shooting at a Jewish deli, on December 11, 2019 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

“The FBI has received credible information of a broad threat to synagogues in NJ,” the security agency tweeted. “We ask at this time that you take all security precautions to protect your community and facility. We will share more information as soon as we can. Stay alert.”

The law enforcement agency added that it was “taking a proactive measure with this warning while investigative processes are carried out.”

The FBI alert was posted after officials discovered an online threat directed broadly at synagogues in New Jersey, a law enforcement official said. The posting, though, did not target any specific synagogue by name, the official said. The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

New Jersey is home to an estimated 500,000 Jews, with major Orthodox population hubs in Lakewood, Passaic, Toms River and Teaneck, and congregations of all denominations in most cities and towns across the state.

In April, an antisemitic attacker went on a rampage in Lakewood, stabbing and running over several Jews, putting the community on edge. The suspect has since been charged with federal hate crimes.

In 2019, New Jersey saw one of the worst antisemitic attacks in recent years when two attackers opened fire in a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, killing the Jewish owner and a Jewish customer as well as a store employee.

The attacker was a member of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group that espouses antisemitic ideas and believes Jewish people are imposters who have attempted to replace Black people as the real Israelites.

Many local synagogues across the state sent out messages of warning to their members urging them to remain vigilant during prayers and daily activities and to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

Police were stationed outside some synagogues in neighboring New York on Thursday night, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams held a call with Jewish leaders on Friday to discuss threats against the community.

Antisemitism has been once again in the headlines in the United States in recent weeks, in particular after a series of antisemitic statements by rapper Kanye West.

Some of West’s statements have mirrored ideas that are common among Black Hebrew Israelites. While the rapper has been widely condemned and dropped by most of his sponsors and collaborators, some individuals mounted public defenses in Los Angeles and Florida, worrying local Jewish groups.

There have been multiple attacks on synagogues in the United States in recent years, including the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which killed 11 people — the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States.

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