In the wake of the shooting spree at the Seattle Jewish federation last Friday that killed one and wounded five, New York City police officers have been posted at more than 100 locations, including prominent synagogues, community centers and the headquarters of UJA-Federation of New York.
“The New York City Police Department understands the threat level and has increased patrols in many Jewish neighborhoods,” said David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
The city police assigned officers to the key Jewish sites on Saturday morning, Pollock said, after learning that a Muslim man who said he was “angry at Israel” forced his way into the Seattle federation building Friday afternoon by putting a gun to the head of a 13-year-old girl. Once inside, he began shooting. The slain woman was Pam Waechter, 58, a Federation official and convert to Judaism who became president of her temple, B’nai Torah, in Seattle. The mother of two was recalled Monday at funeral services, attended by 1,300 mourners, as a warm, generous and upbeat woman who volunteered at a food bank and women’s shelter and raised funds to fight breast cancer. Five of her co-workers, all female, were shot but are expected to recover.
In a security alert issued to local synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions Saturday night, the JCRC said that its earlier recommendation to maintain “enhanced vigilance” was brought into sharp focus by the Seattle attack.
The suspected gunman, Naveed Afzal Haq, 30, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, was said to have a history of mental illness. The security alert described him as a “lone wolf,” but cautioned: “Sadly, those with similar profiles and wishing to act against Jews and Jewish organizations can be found anywhere, including the New York area.”
“The police can not be everywhere and institutions should carefully review their security measures,” it added. “No one should enter a Jewish building unchallenged. In other words, anyone entering should be identified and their stated business in the building verified. Bags and packages should be checked as appropriate.” Pollock said any unusual incident should be reported to the New York City Police Counterterrorism Hotline at (888) NYC-SAFE. He said those outside the city should also use the number because the police will direct the call to the appropriate authorities.
The New York Post reported Tuesday that a Molotov cocktail was thrown at Temple Beth Sholom in Queens Friday, causing a rubbish fire.
The Seattle shooting activated for the first time the Secure Community Network, which was created 18 months ago by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to notify Jewish organizations of specific incidents of concern to the Jewish community.
Paul Goldenberg, SCN’s national director, said he recorded a four-minute message explaining what happened and that it appeared the man had acted alone. The message was sent Friday night through an automated phone system to more than 200 Jewish leaders nationwide.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents’ Conference, said there was a concern that the Seattle shooting may prompt copy-cat attacks and that Jewish communities, camps and others were calling SCN headquarters in New York to learn how to protect themselves.
Perhaps because of heightened vigilance, police in the city were called because of a suspicious package left at a synagogue. “It turned out to be nothing, but it caused a huge traffic jam,” Hoenlein said.
Goldenberg, who has 20 years experience in law enforcement, including serving as chief of the attorney general’s hate crimes unit in New Jersey, said he had been in contact with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies throughout the country since the shooting.
“People may say it’s just one person, and I am not saying that Hezbollah or al Qaeda are coming after Jewish institutions, but there are people out there influenced by what they see and hear, who act on it,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It’s very difficult to track these people.”
The Seattle gunman reportedly told authorities he was angry over the war in Iraq and America’s cooperation with Israel. Haq’s parents extended their condolences to the victims of the shooting and said that what happened was contrary to their Islamic values.
U.S. Attorney John McKay said federal hate crime charges could accompany state murder charges.
Just a day before the Seattle attack, SCN held a conference call with the heads of security for every major Jewish federation and senior representatives of eight law enforcement agencies to discuss concerns in light of the conflict in the Middle East. Pollock noted that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the mentor and right-hand man of Osama bin Laden, was quoted recently as saying: “Muslim brothers everywhere, we must target Jewish and American interests everywhere.”
Although Pollock stressed that there is no intelligence of any imminent threat to the Jewish community here, authorities remember attacks at Jewish institutions and individuals in recent years that were carried out by lone gunmen. Among them: The 1994 shooting of 16-year-old rabbinical student Ari Halberstam on the Brooklyn Bridge.
# The 1997 shootings at the Empire State Building by a man who said he was looking to shoot Jews.
# The 1999 attack on the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center, in which a white supremacist opened fire, wounding three children, a teen and an adult before killing a postal carrier.
# The 2002 fatal killing of two workers at an El Al counter at Los Angeles International Airport by an Egyptian terrorist.
# The 2005 conviction in Nashville of an Iraqi national found guilty of buying weapons that he wanted to use to kill Jews.
Sens. Barbara Mikulsky, a Maryland Democrat, and Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, are leading the effort to get the Department of Homeland Security to release $25 million to Jewish institutions to beef up security. About $6 million of that money would go to Jewish groups here. Although Congress has authorized the money, it must be allocated by Homeland Security.