Feds Investigate Threats to Jewish Centers as Hate Crimes

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -

Federal authorities said on Wednesday that recent threats to two Jewish community centers in Minnesota are being investigated as hate crimes as part of a broader probe into similar threats made nationwide.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Rick Thornton said that since Jan. 3, more than 140 telephone threats had been made to Jewish centers, groups or other facilities in 43 states and overseas. That includes threats made Jan. 18 to the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park and Feb. 20 to the St. Paul Jewish Community Center.

In each case, the caller’s voice is altered and the threats referenced a bomb or explosive material in the facility. Thornton said no bombs or explosives have been found.

“We will not tolerate this sort of … criminal activity,” Thornton said.

While one man was arrested in Missouri for eight of the threats outside Minnesota, Thornton said, “We do not consider him to be the perpetrator of these, the broader events.” The investigation continues.

In addition to the telephone threats, Thornton said that between March 6 and Wednesday, more than 20 email threats have been received by Jewish community centers in multiple states and Canada and by the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Thornton said that federal authorities are treating the threats as a hate crime based on religious bias, and resolving the incidents is a top priority.

Thornton made his comments before federal and local authorities met privately with roughly 70 leaders of Minnesota’s Jewish community. The goal was to give community leaders a chance to ask questions and discuss recent incidents of anti-Semitism, as well as hear about the resources being devoted to the issue.

Greg Brooker, acting U.S. attorney for Minnesota, said that everyone must take bomb threats seriously and report them immediately.

“A bomb threat against a Jewish Community Center is a threat against each and every one of us,” Brooker said.

He and the leaders of his office’s criminal and civil divisions were also participating in the community discussion and planned to explain their work in pursuing criminal charges and protecting the rights of everyone to express their religion freely.

According to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, there were 12 incidents of anti-Semitism reported in Minnesota in 2015, 21 such incidents in 2016 and eight so far this year.