At a time when U.S. authorities are warning Americans about the potential danger for Y2K terrorism, Jewish leaders said there was no indication that Jews are being singled out for attack.
“Sources in law enforcement have not indicated to us that there are any credible threats against Jewish targets in New York,” said Michael Miller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in New York.
But a terrorist expert at the American Jewish Committee, Yehudit Barsky, warned that Jewish institutions need to be on heightened alert. “There are organizations and individuals who very well may target Jewish institutions or people who are outspoken on issues that extremists find disconcerting to them,” she said.
Although she gave no specifics, the Anti-Defamation League said one group, the Christian Defense League, believes Y2K is “actually a Jewish plot to take over the world.”
Authorities insist they know of no specific threats of domestic terrorism, but there were a series of high-level meetings in Washington this week — including one at the White House — to discuss how to respond to terrorist concerns.
This followed the arrest last week in Washington State of an Algerian national on charges of trying to smuggle explosives into the United States from Canada. Ahmed Ressam, 32, was charged with bringing nitroglycerin into the U.S. and having a false ID. His arrest came at a time of a heightened nationwide alert for terrorist activities in connection with millennial celebrations.
After the arrest, authorities combed out across Canada and the U.S. in search of possible accomplices. They were also seeking to learn if there was a connection between Ressam and an Algerian man arrested Sunday night in Vermont as he tried to enter the U.S. from Canada with a falsified Canadian passport. No weapons or bomb-making equipment were found in the car in which he was traveling with an American woman, who was charged with trying to smuggle him into the country.
Meanwhile, the communications director for the Jewish Community Centers of North America, Jason Black, pointed out that New Year’s Eve falls out on the Sabbath and that the new millennium “is not a Jewish event.”
“Our buildings, for the most part, will be closed,” he said. “If a lunatic has his or her sights on a Jewish target on the eve of the millennium, they are going to blow up an empty building.”
Another Jewish leader, who asked not to be identified, said the objective of terrorists is to gain the attention of the world, and that they would get “more bang for the buck” targeting large gatherings rather than a Jewish institution.
Jewish institutions were on heightened alert during the High Holy Days in September following shootings at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles and an arson attack on a synagogue in Hauppauge, L.I. But Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said he does not sense the “same sense of fear and apprehension” now.
“Obviously people get nervous when you arrest a guy at the Canadian border who is bringing in explosives and he is an Arab,” he said. “So we have to take precautions. … I would wager that some synagogues are hiring plainclothes police [over the New Year].”
Kenneth Jacobson, assistant national director of the ADL, said “one cannot rule out a threat because there is a volatile mix of ideology going around — a combination of apocalyptic thinking, Y2K computer thinking, lone-wolf thinking and new order thinking that all seems to be coming together. But absent any specific threat, one hesitates to even hint that people shouldn’t go about their business.”
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he did not believe “people should allow themselves to get over-excited” about terrorist attacks, but that he could not offer a “guarantee of absolute safety” for the anticipated 2 million revelers expected to gather in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. He told CBS News that he himself would be in a specially designed subterranean bunker, which he calls his “emergency command center.”
His comments came as the FBI’s former top man in New York, James Kallstrom, said he would not want to risk being in Times Square on New Year’s Eve because any terrorist strike would be “in a large gathering.”
Police Commissioner Howard Safir said he and his family would be “standing right under the ball” on Times Square when it falls, ringing in 2000.
In other developments, security at U.S. airports was tightened to look out for any trace amounts of explosives entering the country. It came as the State Department issued a worldwide warning to Americans traveling abroad to be extra cautious during the holiday season because of threats and fears of terrorist attacks organized by Osama Bin-Laden, said to be hiding in Afghanistan.
As a result, a number of cancellations have been reported by hotel owners in Jerusalem. At the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, about 15 percent of Americans have canceled in the last week.
Security was heightened around major holy sites in Jerusalem to guard against religious fanatics. The city will deploy a record 12,000 police on New Year’s Eve, Police Commissioner Yehuda Wilk said.
“In the last few months, we have encountered weirdos and all kinds of strange people … in the Temple Mount area,” Police Commander Yair Yitzhaki told Israel’s army radio.
Israel has deported about 60 Christian cultists, fearing their messianic delusions could lead to violence.