FBI probes four attacks on New Jersey synagogues

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 12, 2012 6:28 PM
FBI probes four attacks on New Jersey synagogues

By Aman Ali

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The FBI and local law enforcement sought clues on Thursday in four attacks on Jewish targets in New Jersey in recent weeks, including Molotov cocktails thrown into a rabbi's home.

The firebombing of Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, New Jersey, which looks like a home but also houses a synagogue, was being investigated as both a hate crime and as attempted murder, said Maureen Parenta, a spokeswoman for Bergen County prosecutors.

Gasoline bombs thrown at the building on Wednesday ignited a blanket on the rabbi's bed and he awoke to the flames, said his wife, who spoke with reporters outside the building.

The rabbi, Nosson Schuman, put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher and suffered minor burns, police said. The house was minimally damaged.

The rabbi, his wife, their five children, ages 5 to 17, and the rabbi's elderly parents evacuated the home, police said.

It was the latest in a series of suspected hate crimes at four synagogues that started in December in northern New Jersey's Bergen County, Rutherford police said.

The other three crimes included a fire started in the rear of an Orthodox temple in January and anti-Semitic graffiti including Swastikas and accusations that Jews caused the September 11 attacks found at two other synagogues in December.

"All four of these cases are being investigated but at this time we don't have any evidence of a clear connection between them," Parenta said.

Investigators treated the Rutherford incident as attempted murder because one of the firebombs was thrown on the second floor where the Schuman family lives, Parenta said.

Police lack any suspects but believe Rabbi Schuman was the target and more than one person was responsible for the firebombing.

"At this point we don't know for sure what the motivation is behind it," said Special Agent Bryan Traverse of the FBI, which joined the investigation into the four incidents.

"We don't know if they were targeting this congregation specifically or just Jewish organizations in Bergen County."

The Anti-Defamation League offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest in the firebombing. New Jersey logs among the highest number of anti-Semitic hate crimes in the nation, said Etzion Neuer, the ADL's New Jersey director.

Law enforcement officials planned to meet with dozens of Jewish organizations on Thursday night to discuss further precautions in light of the attacks.

(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Daniel Trotta)