The organized Jewish community sent out a "security briefing update" Tuesday amid reports that the Lebanese-based Hezbollah terrorist organization has sleeper cells in New York and other major American cities that may be activated in the event of an American-Iranian confrontation over Iran’s nuclear efforts.
"There is no specific threat or credible information regarding a threat to the Jewish community," stressed Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
But he said in phone calls between Jewish leaders and officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it was made clear that "the FBI and the U.S. government are aware of the current state of US-Iranian relations" and that authorities "continue to focus on Hezbollah activities, particularly on those activities in the United States."
"The FBI tells us that Hezbollah is an ongoing concern," Hoenlein said.
He added that the FBI’s briefing to Jewish leaders was confirmed in similar briefings by officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the New York City Police Department, which has its own counterterrorism operation.
The New York Post reported Monday that authorities had detected increased activity of late by Hezbollah agents, including more heated rhetoric by its leaders and in Internet chat rooms. A U.S. counterterrorism official was quoted as saying that American authorities were engaged in a "major undertaking" to neutralize Hezbollah sleeper cells in the U.S. The paper said American officials had no reason to believe an attack here was imminent.
The heightened monitoring came after reports that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met in Syria last January with Imad Mugniyeh, the Lebanese commander of Hezbollah’s overseas operations. It is believed that Mugniyeh was given command of Iran’s retaliatory response against western nations should they mount a military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Mugniyeh reportedly lives in Iran and has eluded capture for more than 20 years despite a $5 million American price tag on his head. One of the world’s most wanted terrorists, he is said to be responsible for the hijacking of a TWA jetliner and the murder of one of its passengers, a U.S. Navy diver. In addition, he is sought for his involvement in the kidnapping, torture and murder of William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut in 1984.
Hoenlein said that following media reports that the FBI and Justice Department had launched what were described as "urgent new probes" of Hezbollah (the New York Post reported that about a dozen Hezbollah supporters have been found operating in the New York area) the Jewish community’s new Secure Community Network (SCN) was "activated in the sense that we are looking into [those reports] and trying to get all the facts."
He said leaders of SCN were reaching out to law enforcement authorities "at the same time they reached out to inform us."
SCN was created last September as part of the Jewish community’s response to heightened security concerns in the United States. It is designed to provide rapid sharing of information in crisis situations and to enhance security at Jewish organizations and institutions to protect against terrorism and other threats.
Hoenlein said that e-mails were sent to his members and to the e-mail list of the United Jewish Communities, the other organizations that created SCN. He said the message was sent as a "security briefing update" and nothing more.
"There is nothing that [the Jewish community has] to do at this time except to be vigilant, as always," he said.
Meanwhile, evidence was on display in Brooklyn Federal Court in recent weeks of the New York City Police Department’s efforts in working undercover to infiltrate the Muslim community here and arrest Islamic extremists bent on carrying out terrorist attacks. The setting was the trial of Shahawar Matin Siraj, 23, a Pakistani immigrant who was charged with planning to blow up the Herald Square subway station in 2004.
During the trial, an undercover detective, a Muslim who emigrated from Bangladesh when he was 7, described how he regularly attended mosques, bookstores and other places frequented by Muslims in the city. He was the final witness in Siraj’s trial, which was expected to go to the jury this week.