Wednesday, March 15th, 2017...6:49 pm

Law enforcement officials condemn bomb threats

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By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

On a day when Minnesota law enforcement officials participated in a press conference to speak out on the spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the United States, there were more bomb threats.

Convened by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), the Wednesday press conference at the St. Paul JCC featured a lineup of local law enforcement officials and Minnesota’s acting U.S attorney.

Steve Hunegs (left) speaks at the JCRC press conference, as Todd Axtell, St. Paul police chief, listens. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

In his introductory comments, Steve Hunegs, JCRC executive director, said that the “malicious people behind these bomb threats seek to divide the community.”

However, he noted that the threats have served to unite disparate segments of the community, and cited the recent half-page ad in the Star Tribune paid for by mosques and Muslim groups that expressed solidarity with the Jewish community in these emotionally fraught times.

Hunegs also mentioned that 227 Minnesota clergy members of various faiths signed a letter in support of the Jewish community, following the Jan. 18 bomb threat called in to the Sabes JCC in St. Louis Park.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell, who is a St. Paul JCC member, said, “An attack on one community is an attack on all communities,” and added, “We’re dealing with bullies here, and nobody likes a bully.”

Axtell recalled the morning of Feb. 20, “when somebody called [in a bomb threat to the St. Paul JCC] and created terror among children, elderly, community members. I just can’t believe that we’re at a time in our society where this is something that continues to occur throughout this country.”

Richard Thornton, special agent in charge of the Minneapolis FBI office, said that he needed to limit his comments on the FBI’s “ongoing investigation” of “the criminal behavior” being inflicted on the Jewish community.

Richard Thornton

“Since January third of this year, more than 140 telephonic threats have been received by Jewish community centers and other Jewish organizations or facilities in 43 states and overseas,” said Thornton. “The calls appear to be the same caller, and the caller electronically alters their voice. The caller makes reference to a bomb in the facility or the presence of an explosive material, C-4, something to that effect — that’s a consistent reference. However, we have to date not recovered an explosive device or evidence of an explosive device related to any of these threats.”

Thornton also noted that, since March 6, there have been 20 email threats to JCCs in many states and in Canada.

And the local FBI official mentioned a bomb threat “today.”

Jewish community centers in three states “were hit with bomb threats between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, with at least two coming via email. All were deemed to be non-credible,” according to JTA. “JCCs in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Boulder, Colorado received the threats, according to local news reports. The threats in St. Louis and Boulder came via email; Atlanta’s JCC would not comment on the nature of the threat. All three JCCs had received bomb threats this year.”

Also participating in the press conference was Greg Brooker, acting U.S. attorney for Minnesota, as of last Friday night. Booker, a longtime assistant U.S. attorney, mentioned that he was former U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger’s first assistant. Also on the panel were two other officials in the U.S. attorney’s office, Tracy Perzel, criminal division chief, and Ana Voss, civil division chief.

In response to a question about the mood in the local Jewish community, Lon White, Sabes JCC chief counsel for security and resiliency, spoke briefly about how his organization was responding to the recent threats.

And Hunegs mentioned that Minnesota legislators have introduced a bill to create a fund to defray security expenses incurred by nonprofits.

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