US interfaith leaders gather at FBI HQ to beef up security for houses of worship
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US interfaith leaders gather at FBI HQ to beef up security for houses of worship

First-of-its-kind confab with Jews, Muslims and Christians held at FBI headquarters in Washington amid spate of attacks on religious institutions in US, New Zealand, Sri Lanka

Tributes are left near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019, after a deadly shooting. (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images/via JTA)
Tributes are left near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019, after a deadly shooting. (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images/via JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The FBI convened a round table meeting of leaders of Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups to discuss means of preventing bias-based attacks on religious institutions.

The event Tuesday at FBI headquarters in Washington DC appeared to be the first of its kind; the FBI has in the past convened similar forums for Jewish groups. There has been broader awareness of the danger facing faith groups with the deadly attacks over the last year on synagogues in the United States, mosques in New Zealand and churches in Sri Lanka.

A session was dedicated to identifying potential attackers in one’s midst. A special agent broke down data analyzing 63 recent active shooting incidents.

There was no single warning sign, although a number of factors were shared by a majority of the attackers, including being male (94 percent), single (57%) and having mental health issues (62%).

Howard Kaye, center, husband of Lori Kaye, carries the new Torah as Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, right, and other members of the Chabad of Poway synagogue celebrate on May 22, 2019, the completion of the new scroll dedicated to Lori, who was killed when a gunman attacked the synagogue on April 27, 2019, in Poway, California. (Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)

In the session where participants shared tips, differences of approach emerged. Whereas Michael Masters, who heads the Secure Community Network, the security umbrella for national and regional Jewish groups, emphasized the benefits of information sharing with police, Salam Al-Marayati, the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said Muslims tended to still be wary of law enforcement because of perceptions that police profiled Muslims after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Kerry Sleeper, the FBI’s assistant director for partner engagement, advised participants to watch the news for developments that could portend threats.

He noted, for instance, with rising tensions in the Persian Gulf between the United States and Iran, the likelihood of attacks stateside by Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist group aligned with Iran, was increasing.

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