Police officials are assessing whether pro-Iran groups might retaliate against Jewish targets here in the event of a U.S. or Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear sites, the NYPD’s top intelligence analyst announced on Tuesday.
Mitchell Silber told Jewish leaders at a pre-High Holy Days security briefing at police headquarters that a team of NYPD detectives and analysts has been sent to Argentina as part of that assessment.
“They have a lot of expertise about this,” said Silber of Argentine officials, referring to the deadly1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center there.
“We want to assess whether [a strike against Iran] would be a red line,” said Silber. “In Argentina they had to figure out whether [the bombings] were a response to Israeli assassinations of Hezbollah leaders or to Argentina walking away from nuclear cooperation with Iran.”
The ‘92 attack killed 29 people, while the ‘94 blast at the AMIA community center killed 85. Argentine officials have formally accused the Iranian government of ordering the AMIA attack and the pro-Iran terrorist group Hezbollah of carrying it out. Islamic Jihad, also pro-Iran, claimed responsibility for the embassy attack.
The briefing comes as Jewish organizations prepare for a mass rally to protest the appearance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Monday at the United Nations. Silber said that there was no indication of a specific or immediate threat against the Jewish community or any other segment of the city, but cautioned that vigilance was high, with Islamic fundamentalism remaining the most serious security threat facing the city.
He cited several recent foiled terror plots, including one in 2004 that led to the conviction of one man for planning to bomb the Herald Square subway hub.
Citing data from a detailed intelligence report by the police department, Silber said analysts were concerned about potential activity from al Qaeda’s central command, as well as al Qaeda-inspired, “homegrown radicals” and Hezbollah or Iran agents.
While al Qaeda’s operations have largely been disrupted by the U.S., top leaders, including Osama bin Laden, remain at large and some leaders have found sanctuary among the Pakistani Taliban, he said. Their ideology continues to spread among Islamic youth via the Internet.
Silber said the NYPD is constantly watching events around the world and anticipating whether they could have ripple effects in New York. After the assassination of Hezbollah leader Imad Mugniyeh in February, 2008, ostensibly by Israel, “at 6 a.m. the next day we had a plan on the shelf” in case of local reaction, he said.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told several hundred Jewish leaders and community affairs workers that there have been half a dozen foiled plots since 9/11. “If anything, the threat is just as potent as it was seven years ago,” said Kelly.
In a reminder of more banal crime closer to home, Kelly and a police honor guard formally returned eight Torah scrolls to the president of the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills three weeks after they were stolen from the Queens shul’s sanctuary. A custodian and an accomplice were charged with their theft and attempted sale.
“Because there were no signs of forced entry and no physical evidence, detectives immediately turned to those who had access to the Torahs,” Kelly said.
The Jewish Community Relations Council presented awards to the detectives who cracked the case, Henry Szachacz and Robert Godberson as well as their supervisor, Lt. Dennis Klein, commanding officer of the 107th Precinct Detective Squad.
“This is the first [case] in 100 years [in which] all the Torahs that were stolen were recovered,” said Sally Goodgold, chair of the JCRC’s Commission on Security.
The mood at the security briefing, an annual event at One Police Plaza organized by JCRC, was festive and warm with several chasidic representatives praising Kelly for the level of attention and courtesy paid to their communities by police brass. There was no sign of the tension that erupted last spring when some Crown Heights Jewish leaders complained that a rash of violent attacks on Jews was not being handled properly.
A Crown Heights Jewish activist, Barry Sugar, said on Tuesday that that situation had “stabilized” in recent months.
“The NYPD has given us the necessary resources over the summer in terms of manpower,” Sugar told The Jewish Week. “Hopefully the NYPD will continue doing right by us in terms of adequately protecting us.”