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Bomb Threats Reported at 16 Jewish Centers in Nine U.S. States

The threats have been reported in Florida, Tennessee, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. All alerts are false, Jewish community security official says.

Police blocking the street in front of the Miami Beach JCC, January 9, 2016.
Police blocking the street in front of the Miami Beach JCC, January 9, 2016. Courtesy of Christine Dundas

Bomb threats were reported in Jewish centers in nine U.S. states on Monday, local media reported, but authorities said it wasn't immediately clear whether the threats were linked.

The threats were reported against Jewish institutions in Florida, Tennessee, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In London, U.K., bomb threats were also called in Monday to three Jewish schools, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

The U.S. calls were prerecorded in some cases and live in others, with the caller using voice disguising technology, and likely came from a single source, said Paul Goldenberg, the director of Secure Community Network, the group affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America that coordinates security for the Jewish community.

The states were spread across the South and the Northeast. Only some of the JCCs were evacuated.

All the alerts were false, Goldenberg said, and designed to produce maximum disruption.

In South Carolina, the threat was directed against the Katie and Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center in Columbia, the state capital. 

"It was a trying morning," Barry Ables, an official with JCC Columbia, told Haaretz. "This is new to our community. Someone chose a day and pulled off a coordinated scare tactic. We evacuated the building very quickly and notified the authorities, they came very quickly and with dogs.

"Most people are relieved that it was just a scare, But people are also thinking about the changing climate. Perhaps a bit more boldness on the part of people, to try and disrupt people's lives, scare other people or promote acts of hate."

In Florida, bomb threats were phoned in at JCCs in Miami Beach, Alper (Miami), North Orlando, Tampa and Boca Raton.

"Now, more than ever, it's important that we join in solidarity as a community to stand firm against hatred of all kinds. We must remain strong in facing these shared experiences as united citizens," Andy Brennan, security director with the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, said in a Facebook post.

In the Miami area, two institutions in Miami Beach and Kendall were evacuated, according to the Miami Herald. After a police sweep, the centers were reopened. 

Christine Dundas, who works out at the Miami Beach JCC gym, said the bomb threats made her think of the recent attack at the Fort Lauderdale airport and the shooting of police officers in Orlando. "I'm kind of wondering about all the violence going on. What's prompting it?" she told Haaretz. "The incident today drove home the memory that Jewish people are often singled out for terrorism."

In Jacksonville, in the northern part of Florida, the city's Channel 4 news website reported that the Jewish Community Alliance in the city was given an all-clear about an hour after a bomb threat was phoned in to that institution.

In Maryland, a bomb threat was called into the Bender Jewish Community Center in Rockville, a suburb of the District of Columbia. The building was reportedly evacuated. A notice on the JCC's website later on Monday stated: "The Bender JCC is now open."

The Wilmington News Journal website in Delaware reported that a bomb threat was called into the Siegel Jewish Community Center north of Wilmington as well on Monday. Jewish Federation of Delaware CEO Seth J. Katzen told the website all four Jewish institutions on the site, which includes the Jewish Federation, a Jewish school and Jewish Family Services of Delaware were evacuated.

Reporting on a bomb threat in Tenafly, New Jersey, the website of the NBC affiliate in New York, Channel 4, stated: "The JCC on Palisades in Tenafly sent out a text alert saying it received a bomb threat shortly after noon, and that it evacuated the entire building, including a preschool, senior center and adult daycare facility for people with disabilities, as a precaution."  An all clear was issued a short time later. 

In Tennessee, Nashville-area police were reported responding to a bomb threat at the Gordon Jewish Community Center in West Nashville. Mark S. Freedman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, told USA Today that “everyone is safe and secure.” Preschool children at the JCC had been evacuated to another site, he added.

Bomb threats were received in JCCs in Atlanta and in Augusta, Georgia, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokeswoman Amanda Hils said her agency was aware of the threats and that its field offices were prepared to assist state and local law enforcement officials, the Associated Press reported.

The JCC Association of North America thanked law enforcement in a statement. "We are hopeful that all of the JCCs in our vibrant network across the country will resume regular operations by the end of the day," said the statement. 

"Unfortunately, such threats are not new to the Jewish community,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. “While each of these threats must be taken seriously, and excellent preparation is key to a good response, bomb threats are most often not credible and are usually used as scare tactics in order to disrupt an institution’s operations, and to cause fear and panic. At this juncture, none of these threats appear to be credible."

Searches of the schools did not turn up any explosives, and other schools in the area were placed on lockdown until the searches were completed. Copycat calls reportedly also were made to several non-Jewish schools.

There has been an increase in the United States in reports of threats and vandalism on Jewish property in the wake of the presidential election. President-elect Donald Trump, who was reluctant to denounce support during the campaign from white supremacists and anti-Semites, has since repudiated racists who say they feel emboldened by his victory, as well as ultranationalist successes in Europe.

JTA contributed to this report