While there are no reports indicating a specific threat to New York City or Jewish institutions during the Passover holiday, religious institutions and religious figures remain attractive targets for multiple terrorist groups—to include al-Qa’ida and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash Sham(ISIS)—and their adherents. Al-Qa’ida and ISIS have consistently called for attacks against Israel and Jewish interests and recent propaganda from both groups have urged sympathizers to carry out attacks using a range of tactics, including vehicle ramming, edged weapons, improvised explosive devices, and Molotov cocktails.
Terrorist groups and their sympathizers have targeted synagogues and other Jewish locations in the past, both abroad and here in the United States. In December 2016, Austrian authorities disrupted an alleged plot to target a synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah. Two individuals, one of whom was known to authorities, were questioned by police and found to be carrying knives intended for use against the rabbi and his congregants. In May of 2014, ISIL-linked French operative Mehdi Nemmouche opened fire with an assault rifle on a Jewish museum in Brussels, Belgium, resulting in the deaths of four people. In 2016, there were several foiled attack attempts at Jewish institutions in the United States. On April 29, James Gonzalo Medina, a convert to Islam, was arrested by the FBI for attempting to bomb the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Florida during services on the seventh day of Passover. The FBI also foiled the plot of Mahin Khan, a self-described “American jihadist,” after he sought to build pipe and pressure cooker bombs.
Khan considered several targets, including the JCC in Tucson, Arizona. He was arrested in July 2016 after he contacted an individual he believed to be an ISIS fighter.
In addition to the threat from foreign terrorist organizations, domestic terrorism increasingly threatens minority groups and institutions in the United States. In February 2017, a South Carolina white supremacist was arrested after an undercover investigation indicated that he was planning to attack minorities in the local area, and had by that point purchased a weapon to do so. The suspect, Benjamin McDowell, allegedly wanted to replicate Dylann Roof’s mass casualty attack and made a number of online threats against a local synagogue. He further made public statements in support of violent white supremacist ideology, according to press reports.
Hate crimes continue to rise around the United States, a number of which have been anti-Semitic in nature. In addition to the desecration of grave sites at cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis, the Anti-Defamation League stated that there have been at least 166 bomb threats made to Jewish institutions across 38 states in the U.S. and three Canadian provinces since January 2017, none of which resulted in the discovery of explosives. On March 23, 2017, 18-year-old Michael Ron David Kadar, a dual US-Israeli citizens, was arrested by Israel on suspicion of making more than 100 bomb threats against JCCs in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand over the past six months. Kadar’s motive remains unknown. In St. Louis, Juan Thompson was arrested for making at least eight threats to Jewish institutions around the country, including the Jewish History Museum in Manhattan, and Jewish schools and a local JCC.
Despite the arrests of two individuals associated with the multiple, unfounded bomb threats, it is probable that other like-minded individuals may seek to carry out similar threats against Jewish locations given the extensive high-profile media coverage these threats received.
The series of anonymous, unfounded bomb threats against multiple targets was likely intended to spread fear, create considerable disruptions to business and people’s lives, and generate financial costs. Bomb threats can also create soft targets; evacuations of large groups of people into the open offer possible attackers a large, predictable target in a desired location vulnerable to a variety of attacks, to include active shooters, improved explosive devices, edged weapons, and vehicle-ramming assaults.
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