Official: Man who made synagogue threat has been identified

Federal agents have identified the man they believe posted a broad online threat against synagogues in New Jersey but do not think he was planning to carry out a specific plot, a law enforcement official said Friday.

The man, whose identity was not immediately released, was questioned by law enforcement and told agents he had been bullied in the past and harbored anger toward Jewish people, the official said. But investigators do not believe the man had the means or motive to carry out any specific attack, the official added.

The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The source of the threat “no longer poses a danger to the community,” the FBI in Newark tweeted.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in an emailed statement Friday that the threat had been “mitigated,” but the Democrat did not offer details.

“We will not be indifferent. We will remain vigilant. We will take any and every threat with the utmost seriousness and we will stand up and stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish congregations,” Murphy said.

The FBI said Thursday that it had received credible information about a “broad” threat to synagogues in New Jersey, a warning that prompted some municipalities to send extra police officers to guard houses of worship.

The nature of the threat was vague. The Newark FBI released a statement urging synagogues to “take all security precautions to protect your community and facility” but wouldn’t say anything about who made the threat or why.

“It raises the anxiety level,” said Jason Shames, leader of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. “This one for us was about vigilance. We keep having to say: See something, say something.”

Public warnings about nonspecific threats against Jewish institutions, made by a variety of groups including Christian supremacists and Islamist extremists, aren’t unusual in the New York City metropolitan area, and many turn out to be false alarms. But the area has also seen deadly attacks.

Five years ago, two New Jersey men were sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of a series of attacks in 2012 that included the firebombings of two synagogues. They also threw a Molotov cocktail into the home of a rabbi as he slept with his wife and children.

In 2019, a man stabbed five people at a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City, fatally wounding one person.

Chabad Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, director of Chabad of Hoboken and Jersey City, helped the community deal with an antisemitic shooting rampage in Jersey City in December 2019 that killed three people in a Jewish grocery and a police officer in a nearby cemetery.

“Jewish people all over, and particularly identifiable Jewish people, are concerned and worried,” he said. “We recognize that it’s not only, God forbid, if someone wants to or does something terrible. It comes back to saying something antisemitic. It has that trickle-down effect.”

The heightened state of vigilance called for on Thursday by an organization that advises Jewish communities on safety and security does not need to be maintained now that a suspect has been identified and questioned, said Craig Fifer, a spokesperson for the group, Secure Community Network.

But, he added, individual Jewish communities need to decide what level of security is right for them.

“We encourage that people go ahead and live their Jewish lives,” he said. “This really is a bigger conversation not tied to any one particular threat.”

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Associated Press writer Wayne Parry contributed to this report.

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