New York police arrest 2 men, seize weapons over ‘threat to Jewish community’

NYPD, FBI recover illegal pistol, 30-round magazine, large knife and Nazi armband as suspects detained at Penn Station

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Police stationed outside a synagogue after threats to the Jewish community, in New York City, November 4, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Police stationed outside a synagogue after threats to the Jewish community, in New York City, November 4, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — Law enforcement in New York City on Saturday arrested two men and seized weapons over what the police called a “developing threat to the Jewish community.”

The authorities seized a large hunting knife, an illegal Glock 17 handgun and a 30-round magazine, police said.

A Nazi armband was reportedly found with the weapons.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority said two of its officers had apprehended the suspects late Friday night after having been notified of the threat.

The authority said in a statement the officers had found the knife on the suspects, and that an investigation into one of the individuals following the arrest turned up the other weapons and “several other items.”

The suspects were apprehended at Penn Station, a central transportation hub in Manhattan. They were caught close to midnight and formally arrested on Saturday.

Following the arrest, police said they were “deploying assets at sensitive locations” in the city.

The New York Police Department’s counter-terror unit and the FBI had identified the threat on Friday, police said.

Christopher Brown, 21, was charged with making terrorist threats, aggravated harassment and criminal possession of a weapon, the NYPD told The Times of Israel.

Matthew Mahrer, 22, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon.

Brown is from Long Island and Mahrer is from New York City, police said.

Authorities said Brown had a history of mental illness and had recently made threats to synagogues in the area.

After being apprehended, the suspects were turned over to the NYPD and FBI.

“We’re extremely grateful to NYPD investigators and our law enforcement partners who uncovered and stopped a threat to our Jewish community,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in a statement.

Illustrative: Jewish New Yorkers in front of a police car in Brooklyn, New York City, September 15, 2021. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The Community Security Service, a Jewish security organization, said it had been in contact with federal and local law enforcement over the past 24 hours over “a specific threat to the New York-area Jewish community.”

The group said Jewish groups including the Anti-Defamation League, the Community Security Initiative and the Secure Community Network were also involved in the response.

Evan Bernstein, the head of the CSS, said the Community Security Trust in the UK first picked up on the threat on Twitter and informed its partners in the US.

The suspect was identified by his social media posts and investigators were able to determine that he was on his way to Manhattan.

Investigators sent out a security alert, took photos of the suspect from social media, distributed the images to security groups on the ground and the suspect was apprehended around midnight, Bernstein told The Times of Israel.

He said he was not aware of a threat against a specific location, but a general threat against Jews.

The ADL’s Center on Extremism said one of the suspects had posted hundreds of tweets in the past week, “including posts marked by antisemitism, misogyny, racism and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.”

“His tweets also included veiled threats,” the ADL said.

The arrests come amid a wave of threats and attacks against Jews in New York and the US.

“The threat levels just keep going up and up and up,” Bernstein said.

“You’re seeing it from the far right, you’re seeing it from the left, and the Jews are the ones that are caught in the middle,” he said.

The New York Police Department has confirmed 195 antisemitic hate crimes in the city between the start of the year and September 30, representing an attack every 33 hours. Many more incidents likely go unreported. The attacks range from assaults to racist graffiti, property damage and verbal harassment.

Jews are consistently the group most targeted in hate crimes in the city on an annual basis, in per capita and absolute terms.

Last month, the NYPD reported 20 anti-Jewish hate crimes, four times more than against any other group.

Illustrative: New York police secure a Jewish community event in New York City, May 19, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

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.

In 2019, an attacker wielding a machete killed an elderly man at a rabbi’s home during a holiday celebration in Monsey, north of New York City.

Earlier this month, federal prosecutors in New Jersey arrested a teenager with extremist Islamist views for making threats that led to a sweeping FBI warning for the state’s synagogues. The threat prompted police in neighboring New York to also increase guards and patrols at synagogues.

“They’re very different ideologies coming from very different places,” Bernstein said. “Jews are finding themselves in the crosshairs from these various different groups but the common denominator is that they hate Jews.”

In April, an antisemitic attacker went on a rampage in New Jersey, 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, a Jewish customer and a store employee.

A report released by the ADL earlier this year found the highest levels of reported antisemitic events in the US during 2021 since the organization started tracking the issue in the 1970s.

Kanye West’s antisemitic tirades and NBA player Kyrie Irving’s promotion of an antisemitic film have stoked the flames further and sparked a national conversation about antisemitism in the US.

The director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, said Thursday that the US Jewish community was “getting hit from all sides” and “desperately” needs further support from the agency amid an apparent uptick in antisemitic attacks.

He said that some 63 percent of religious hate crimes were motivated by antisemitism, “and that’s targeting a group that makes up about 2.4% of the American population.”

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