Man held after propane tank wrapped in burning clothes left near Alabama synagogue

‘Person of interest’ suspected of arson; no damage caused at Temple Beth-El in Birmingham; synagogue was targeted in 1958 attempted bombing

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screen capture from video of police outside Temple Beth-El Synagogue in Birmingham, Alabama, November 4, 2022. (WBRC. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of police outside Temple Beth-El Synagogue in Birmingham, Alabama, November 4, 2022. (WBRC. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A man was detained on suspicion of arson after a propane gas tank wrapped in burning clothes was found near the Temple Beth-El Synagogue in Birmingham, Alabama, police said Friday.

Birmingham Police Department said in a statement that a “person of interest” was detained by the FBI for questioning, and subsequently detained for a further 48 hours over the arson attack.

Police and firefighters had responded hours earlier to a call from the synagogue.

“Officers observed a propane tank and clothing which had been set on fire in the area; however, there was no damage to the synagogue,” the statement said.

In a statement to its members, the synagogue said the propane tank was wrapped in burning clothes.

“While we are all hurt, frightened, and angry that this happened, we will not be intimidated by these actions,” the statement said, and reassured congregants that Shabbat services would be held as scheduled, with extra security provided “as deemed appropriate.”

Around three hours after the propane tank was found, the security director for the Jewish Federation Birmingham Division was notified of a suspicious-looking backpack also left near the synagogue.

Police and the FBI were notified and the premises were evacuated.

Bomb squad technicians determined the bag was not an explosive device, but police and the FBI were looking into whether it was connected to the arson attack.

When discussing the incidents at the Alabama synagogue, a spokesperson for the Birmingham Police Department Truman Fitzgerald noted that a day earlier, New Jersey federal law enforcement had warned local synagogues of a general threat to Jewish institutions, CBS42 reported.

“Our Jewish community has always been targeted, and it makes you just want to wrap your arms around them and do what you can to protect them,” Fitzgerald said, according to the report.

Larry Brook, editor of the Southern Jewish Life Magazine, told the network the incident “highlights how we’ve always had to be vigilant.”

“People don’t realize the amount of security we have every time we open our doors. Being Jewish in this society, unfortunately, we have to take all sorts of necessary precautions,” he said.

In 1958, 54 sticks of dynamite were set outside the same synagogue but did not detonate after the fuse burnt out.

The attempted bombing of Temple Beth-El was thought to be retaliation for Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement.

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