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Cuomo orders probe into bomb threats against Jewish centers

Police say the Mid-Island Y JCC on Manetto

Police say the Mid-Island Y JCC on Manetto Hill Road in Plainview was evacuated after it received a threatening phone call around 11 a.m on Feb. 27, 2017 Credit: News12 Long Island

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered an investigation Monday after the latest series of threats directed at Jewish institutions on Long Island and across the state, including one in Plainview.

No explosive devices were found at the centers in Plainview, Staten Island, New Rochelle, and Tarrytown. But the threats further unnerved Long Island’s Jewish community, provoked calls for law enforcement to crack down on the perpetrators, and prompted Nassau and Suffolk police to intensify patrols at Jewish institutions.

Similar threats, including calls about explosive devices, were made Monday against Jewish centers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Indiana, Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina and Florida. It was the fifth time Jewish centers have been targeted nationwide this year.

“Make no mistake: these reprehensible and cowardly attacks are not limited to the Jewish community. They are assaults on all New Yorkers and I vow that we will do everything in our power to catch those responsible for this wave of hate crimes,” Cuomo said.

He said he was ordering the State Police to work with federal and local law enforcement to investigate the threats.

Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Centre said the increasing threats and attacks are “nothing short of astonishing for the Jews in America.”

“This of course created a great state of alarm within the Jewish community,” he said. “We have parents who are terrified, kids who are terrified. Parents should not have to send their kids to a JCC nursery school or any kind of school worried for their kids’ lives.”

Police said a bomb threat call to the Mid-Island Y JCC on Manetto Hill Road in Plainview was received at 9:24 a.m. After the building was evacuated, officers searched the premises for suspicious items, but found none.

Three centers on Staten Island also were evacuated after anonymous callers at 9:58 a.m. reported explosive devices had been placed in the buildings, the NYPD said.

Police evacuated the two-story center in Plainview from 11:05 a.m. until 12:15 p.m., said Rick Lewis, the center’s chief executive. About 400 people were inside, including about 100 staff members, at least 200 children attending nursery school, and other members of the center, he said.

The day returned to normal after everyone was allowed back in the building, Lewis said. The center planned to stay open until its normal closing time of 11 p.m.

It was the first time the center, established in 1956, had ever received a bomb threat, Lewis said.

“We will not allow anyone to intimidate or strike fear in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “The full force of government will be brought to bear in these efforts and these perpetrators will be punished.”

There were no reported threats at community centers in Suffolk County on Monday, Suffolk police said.

But “we are closely monitoring the situation and in contact with our law enforcement partners, both local and federal,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said in a joint statement. “Out of an abundance of precaution, the Suffolk County Police department has enhanced patrols at synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and religious institutions.”

In Nassau, police put out a statement saying they will be continuing to conduct “intensive patrols at all places of worship. In particular, police will be closely monitoring Temples and Jewish Community Centers in light of recent local and national threats.”

Klein said his synagogue and others throughout Long Island are stepping up their own security. His synagogue recently decided to make their part-time security guard full-time.

“There are many, many synagogues and certainly Jewish schools that are all moving in the direction of full-time expanded security because the state of threat has dramatically increased,” Klein said.

President Donald Trump last week denounced the threats nationwide as “horrible,” his first public forceful statement against anti-Semitism. On Monday, his spokesman, Sean Spicer, referring to the “cowardly destruction” of a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia this weekend and other attacks, said, “The president continues to condemn these and any other form of anti-Semitic and hateful acts in the strongest terms.”

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Queens, Long Island), whose district includes Plainview, said, “The Mid-Island Y JCC is a place where children, senior citizens and families are supposed to feel safe, not terrorized...This is a time for people of all faiths and backgrounds to come together and work toward making our communities safe for everyone, regardless of religion.”

The most recent incidents prior to Monday morning were received a week ago, when media reports said 10 centers were evacuated after calls.

Cuomo noted that last week his administration announced among other measures a $25 million grant program to boost safety and security at New York’s schools and day care centers at risk of hate crimes or attacks because of their ideology, beliefs or mission.

In a tweet, Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “Anti-Semitic threats like the one against Jewish community centers on Staten Island will not divide us. New York City stands united.”

Just last Thursday the center in Plainview was the site of a town hall meeting hosted by Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). During the event he took 50 questions and talked about some of the anger and frustration that his constituents have expressed since Trump took office.

When asked what he thought was behind the threat, Lewis said, “Have you heard what’s been happening to the other community centers?” referring to similar threats elsewhere recently.

“It’s unfortunate somebody is targeting Jewish community centers to get to the Jewish community, but we’re open to everybody,” Lewis said. “We’re very mixed and we’re very proud of it.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) released a statement after learning of the threat to the Mid-Island Y JCC on Monday, calling for Nassau police to “step up” patrols of Jewish community centers.

“It is clear that a greater, organized effort from elected officials, law enforcement and community leaders is necessary to stamp out this bigotry that is spreading across our island,” Kaminsky said.

The JCC Association of North America says Jewish community centers and day schools in at least a dozen states received bomb threats Monday. No bombs were found.

The group says it’s the fifth wave of bomb threats at Jewish institutions around the country since January. The group counts a total of 89 incidents in 30 states and Canada. The FBI and the Justice Department are also investigating the hoaxes.

With the Associated Press, John Valenti and Nicole Fuller

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