As we prepare to celebrate Passover we should remember that the upcoming religious holidays (not only Pesach, but Easter and Ramadan) may provide increased symbolic interest to homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) and domestic extremists—including some perpetrators of hate crimes inspired by or adhering to domestic extremist ideologies—aspiring to target faith-based communities here in the United States. While security experts are not aware of any credible threats surrounding the upcoming religious holiday season, we suggest — out of an abundance of caution — that all synagogues maintain heightened vigilance during Passover. See our suggestions below.
While there have been no recent attacks or plots in the United States specifically targeting a religious holiday celebration, there have been successful and disrupted plots targeting faith-based communities here. Most HVEs and domestic extremists attempting any near-term attacks likely would use simplistic tactics and relatively easily obtainable weapons such as firearms, knives, and vehicles—although some violent extremists have sought to use explosive devices.
Recent incidents targeting houses of worship
- On 15 March 2019, an Australian national allegedly used firearms to attack the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, resulting in 50 fatalities and at least 50 non-fatal injuries. Police also discovered two improvised explosive devices in vehicles in connection with the attack.
- On 10 December 2018, an Ohio-based individual was arrested for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) for allegedly planning a mass-casualty attack on a synagogue in Toledo, Ohio. When researching a location, time, and weapons for the attack, the individual allegedly expressed a desire to attack the greatest number of people and inflict mass casualties.
- On 27 October 2018, a Pennsylvania-based individual, who has been indicted for multiple federal charges including violations of civil rights, allegedly shot and killed 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wounding two other congregants and four responding law enforcement officers. He is currently awaiting trial for hate crimes and other federal charges.
- On 13 June 2018, a Wisconsin-based individual was arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS. The individual allegedly used a pro-ISIS social media account to suggest potential targets for bombing attacks, including churches.
- On 22 December 2017, a California-based individual was arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to ISIS for a planned attack on a shopping center in San Francisco, California. Investigative reporting indicates the attack was intended to take place on Christmas Day and inflict mass causalities.
Recent statements and media from foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) and FTO supporters online continue calls for attacks against places of worship and specific religious groups. Although HVEs generally do not respond to specific events with violence, we remain concerned that FTO media condemning the New Zealand mosque attacks, coupled with the possibility of repeated calls from FTOs encouraging supporters to attack during Ramadan, could lead to the increased possibility of retaliatory attacks by HVEs in the United States.
Religious holiday gatherings are an attractive target for HVEs and domestic extremists because they offer an opportunity to capitalize on large crowds and increased symbolism of the target; however, most violent extremists are unlikely to act on specific days or in response to calls for action, and are instead influenced by a variety of factors to mobilize to violence.
- Report. Anyone who observes any suspicious behavior is encouraged to contact law enforcement immediately at 888-NYC-SAFE. If you see something, say something.
- Overview. Look at the recent DHS publication, Mass Gatherings: Security Awareness for Soft Targets and Crowded Places, can be a great template for your security planning process. Virtually every suggestion in the document can be applied to your planning process. Organizations should “Connect, Plan, Train, and Report”. Applying these four steps in advance of a possible incident or attack can help better prepare us to proactively think about the role that our whole community plays in the safety and security of our organizations.
- Connect. The first step in the process is to “Connect”. You should have an ongoing relationship with your local police precinct. They should know when your services and programs are scheduled. If you don’t know your local police officials, the JCRC can help. Click here to contact us.
- Plan. Download Potential Indicators, Common Vulnerabilities, and Protective Measures: Religious Facilities and Hometown Security Report Series: Houses of Worship for suggestions and ideas.
- Active Shooter response. Many of our contacts attended active shooter trainings offered in the New York area last week. If you could not attend either session or another training, click here for the JCRC-NY dedicated Active Shooter Resources webpage that includes resources from many sources. If you want to arrange a training the JCRC can help, based on available resources. Click here to contact us.
- Access control. If an attacker can walk into a building unchallenged bad things will happen. No unauthorized person should be able to enter your building at any time. The first step is to develop a feasible access control policy (see our Sample Building Access Policies & Procedures) and to keep any door that cannot be monitored and controlled locked.
- Security personnel. Guards at synagogues vary in quality, but generally, almost anything is better than nothing. Volunteers are good, trained volunteers are better. Uniformed guards (e.g., identifiable shirts, vests, blazers) can be deterrents. Guards who are off-duty or retired police or corrections officers bring experience, training and judgement. To be effective, any guard has to have clear instructions and procedures (see below). NYPD does have a Paid Detail Unit which provides officers to perform off-duty, uniformed security work within New York City for approximately $45/hour. Click here for more information and contact details. For a discussion of armed vs. unarmed guards see our post Armed or unarmed security, what’s best? and a guest post here.
Best wishes for a happy and safe Pesach.
|Quick tips: What should your guard(s) be doing?|
|Guards should not be merely uniformed potted plants adorning your lobby. Rather, they should be an important and active component of your overall security plan.If you have a single guard, his/her logical priority is access control (see our suggestions on how to develop an access control policy here). At the same time, don’t lose sight of other important functions, including:
The security management industry calls instructions for guards, “post orders” which clearly outline the duties, responsibilities, and expectations of security guards. For example, your post orders should clearly set forth your access control policies and define the areas of your property that should be included in a walk-around and their time and frequency (e.g., upon arrival and upon returning from lunch).
See the links below for information about today’s arrest of a suspect believed to be responsible for the majority of the bomb threats over the past months. Remember, another individual was already arrested and law enforcement authorities believe that there are other copycats.
- Daily Beast: The Slip-Up That Caught the Jewish Center Bomb Caller
- JTA: JCC bomb threat suspect, named Michael Kaydar, reportedly used Bitcoin, Google Voice
- JTA: Jeff Sessions: JCC bomb threat probe spanned multiple continents
- JTA: Israeli-American teen arrested in Israel for over 100 JCC bomb threats
- WCBS TV
- NY Times
- NY Daily News
- Fox News
- Washington Post
- Israeli National Police Video Statement
- JCCA Association
New York | September 18, 2014 – Over the first half of 2014, an average of eight incidents were reported to the NYPD and classified as possible hate crimes. In July and August the number more than doubled, averaging 18 incidents per month. The increase is concurrent with the Israeli “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza and the firing of over 4,382 rockets at Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza.
According to the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, the number of anti-Semitic/Jewish incidents rose 39% during the first 8½ months of 2014. Most of the rise in reports occurred during July and August. So far in 2014 Jews were targets of 40% of the reported hate crimes in New York City, compared to 33% in 2013. Reported anti-Semitic/Muslim attacks also rose dramatically over the same period, which coincides with ISIS becoming a major news story during July and August. Anti-Muslim incidents made up 8% of the reported hate crimes in 2014.Deputy Chief Michael Osgood reported the figures at a NYPD High Holiday Briefing yesterday. He attributed the increase to intense media coverage leading to two factors: a person who normally would not offend becomes an offender; an people are more likely to report hate crimes during such periods.
The good news is that the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force analysis of the anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim incidents indicated that:
- The crimes were random, without a discernable pattern;
- The perpetrators did not engage in pre-planning;
- The attacks were simplistic;
- The perpetrators were not members of an organized hate group; and
- The crimes could be categorized as impulsive street thuggery.
We of the JCRC-NY conclude that the spike in anti-Jewish hate crimes is bad news and good news:
- First, the bad news is that the reported anti-Semitic incidents increased dramatically while Gaza was in the news. This pattern was not a new phenomenon; the NYPD recorded similar spikes in anti-Jewish hate crimes during previous Israeli responses to Palestinian violence. We believe that one hate crime is one too many, condemn those who commit them and urge that they be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
- Second, the good news. People are reporting hate crimes to the police. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is without peer. Their sophisticated and serious response to hate crimes of all descriptions sends a clarion-clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in New York City. We strongly urge anyone who is a victim of a hate crime to immediately report it to the police.
- Third, more good news. The number of reported anti-Jewish hate crimes is dropping over the past month. This seems to indicate that the pattern of past spikes holds.
- Finally, modified good news. The NYPD analysis of the reported possible hate crimes occurring during the spike shows them to be mostly disorganized, low-level, impulsive street thuggery; with no indication that the offenders are members of any active, organized hate group. The New York City incidents stand in stark contrast to the disturbing and violent anti-Jewish attacks in Europe.
As the Jewish High Holidays approach, we strongly recommend that Jewish organizations review their security and access control measures. We are mindful that eight of 18 plots to attack the city in the past 22 years targeted Jewish institutions or Jewish people. Whether the concern is terrorism or hate crimes we can rest assured that the NYPD is there to protect New York’s Jewish community and all New Yorkers and are deeply grateful.
Click here for a PDF version of this post.
Mayor Bloomberg explained in his opening remarks:
“Yesterday, detectives from the NYPD arrested two men who said they wanted to destroy a major synagogue in Manhattan, and then purchased several weapons and a hand grenade from an undercover officer.
“Fortunately, long before their aspirations could take hold, New York City police officers were watching them and were in a position to take them into custody, before they could maim and murder innocent New Yorkers.
Read Mayor Bloomberg’s full remarks here.
Ahmed Ferhani, 26, and Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, are charged with multiple felony counts and hate crimes carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. In the course of the investigation Mr. Ferhani expressed clear anti-Semitism and asked an undercover officer whether he would join him in a plan to bomb a synagogue.
Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance, Jr., noted:
“The defendants plotted and took concrete steps to bomb synagogues and kill Jewish New Y orkers as an act of terrorism”
Read DA Vance’s statement here. Read the full criminal complaint providing more details here.
NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly described the police activities leading to the arrests and commended NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen and his team for their outstanding work. He also commented that:
“While there are no specific plots targeting New York City in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, this latest case reminds us that we must remain vigilant every day.
Read Commissioner Kelly’s account of the investigation here.
When the news of the arrests broke this morning the JCRC called for heightened vigilance and tighter access policies in a security alert to synagogues, yeshivot and other Jewish institutions. Read the recommendations here.
Organizations wishing to apply for Nonprofit Security Grants will find more information at www.jcrcny.org/securitygrants and can reserve for the JCRC May 23rd Grants Webinar here. Find guidance and practical suggestions on how to increase the security of your Jewish institution at: www.jcrcny.org/securityresources.
Alan Jaffe, President and Michael S. Miller, Executive Vice President and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York commended the actions of the NYPD and the Williamsburg Shomrim Patrol, saying: “The arrests of two individuals show what can happen when the NYPD and the community work together. It was great teamwork.”
Monday night, a man leaving a synagogue was assaulted. The Williamsburg Shomrim Patrol responded, identified the perpetrators and held them until officers from the 90th Precinct arrived to arrest them.
Detectives from the 90th Precinct and the Hate Crimes Task Force jointly questioned the suspects, who admitted to last week’s brutal Thanksgiving assault in the same neighborhood.
The suspects, who are 14 and 15 years old, have been charged with several counts of assault and hate crimes. “While these individuals are technically minors,” explained Jaffe and Miller, “we call on the District Attorney of Kings County to petition that they be tried in Supreme Court. These individuals admitted to multiple felonies with bias motivation and this was not the first attack. They should be held accountable for their actions to the full extent of the law.”