Jewish groups urge vigilance after Toledo synagogue plot uncovered

Law enforcement praised for arrest of Ohio man accused of planning to attack two synagogues, inspired by Islamic State and Pittsburgh shooting

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

An "Erase the Hate" sign stands in the front lawn of a home, Monday, Oct. 17, 2005, in Toledo, Ohio, near where a mob looted and burned a neighborhood bar, smashed the windows of a gas station, and hurling rocks and bottles at police on Saturday. (AP/J.D. Pooley)
An "Erase the Hate" sign stands in the front lawn of a home, Monday, Oct. 17, 2005, in Toledo, Ohio, near where a mob looted and burned a neighborhood bar, smashed the windows of a gas station, and hurling rocks and bottles at police on Saturday. (AP/J.D. Pooley)

Jewish groups urged increased vigilance Monday after the FBI arrested and charged an Ohio man, accused of a plot to attack synagogues in Toledo.

Groups also thanked the FBI and other law enforcement agencies for working to capture Damon Joseph, 21, who had planned to target synagogues in the city after being inspired by a deadly shooting at a Jewish house of worship in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the country’s history.

“Events like this remind us that we must always be vigilant, but we will not be intimidated from living our lives as Jews,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo said in a statement.

“Keeping people safe is our highest priority. All threats to our community are taken very seriously and we continue to coordinate with law enforcement diligently to keep us safe,” the federation said.

Damon Joseph, arrested on December 7, 2018, faces federal terrorism charges for plotting to attack a synagogue in Toledo, Ohio. (US Department of Justice)

Joseph, of Holland, a Toledo suburb, spent months posting photos of weapons, praising the Islamic State group and talking about carrying out a violent attack before he eventually settled on targeting a synagogue in the Toledo area, said Justin Herdman, the US attorney for northern Ohio.

His plans for a synagogue shooting came together after a gunman killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, Herdman said. Authorities said he told an undercover agent: “I admire what the guy did with the shooting actually.”

“That tragedy and today’s announcement are a reminder of the various threats confronting the Jewish community, as well as the critical role we all play in ensuring the safety and security of our community,” said Michael Masters, national director of the Secure Community Network, a national Jewish community safety initiative.

Each of Toledo’s four synagogues had reviewed and updated security procedures in the wake of the Pittsburgh attack, according to The Blade, a local newspaper.

“We continue beefing up our security, there’s nothing new about that,” said Chuck Traugott, administrator at Congregation B’nai Israel.

In this Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018 photo, Stars of David hang from bushes outside the post office in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (AP/Gene J. Puskar)

SCN praised the FBI “for their ongoing and thorough work on behalf of the safety and security of the Jewish community,” noting that Joseph had been under surveillance for nearly a year before his arrest.

Masters said in a statement that there is “no known ongoing threat against the Jewish community” related to Joseph’s actions. He called Joseph’s plans “highly calculated and inspired by hatred.”

The attacks were never carried out, and there was never an immediate threat to the public, the FBI and Department of Justice said in a news conference announcing the charges.

“SCN encourages organizations and members within the Jewish community to remain situationally aware, and to work to proactively implement policies, procedures and plans to ensure the safety and security of our community and its institutions,” the statement read.

Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said Monday in a statement: “We cannot tolerate hate directed toward people of Jewish faith, or of any other religion, and last month’s mass-killing at a Pittsburgh synagogue is a reminder of just how real this threat is.”

“As Hanukkah concludes this evening, all Toledoans should reflect on the holiday’s themes of liberation, identity, and most importantly, freedom from religious persecution,” he added.

The Etz Chayim synagogue in Toledo, Ohio. (screen capture; Google Street View)

According to an affidavit, Joseph wanted to kill as many people as possible, including a rabbi, and make sure no one escaped, the Justice Department said.

Joseph said his decision about which synagogue to attack would come down to “which one will have the most people, what time and what day. Go big or go home,” according to court documents.

He was arrested Friday after he received two AR-15 rifles from an undercover agent and was charged with attempting to provide material support to IS.

He appeared in court Monday and waived a preliminary hearing, The Blade reported. There was no telephone listing for Joseph and a message seeking comment was left with his attorney.

FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Jeff Fortunato said it did not appear Joseph was working with anyone else.

Howie Beigelman, a lobbyist for Ohio’s eight Jewish federations, hailed law enforcement authorities for their “hours of work to disrupt this horrific plot.”


The Anti-Defamation League praised law enforcement for “working so diligently to prevent terror from hitting our community.”

“We are tremendously grateful to law enforcement at both the federal and local levels for apprehending the suspect. The Jewish community is still grieving following the October attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We can never let that happen again,” ADL Cleveland regional head Jeremy Pappas said in a statement.

“This attempted attack is another sad reminder that we must always be vigilant against those who seek to do us harm,” Orthodox Union President Mark Bane. “We are deeply grateful to law enforcement for their thorough and persistent efforts to ensure this heinous act was not carried out and to keep the Jewish community safe.”

JTA and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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