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Arrest made in N.J. synagogue threat as FBI director decries antisemitism

Director Christopher A. Wray spoke at a conference hosted by the Anti-Defamation League

FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke Thursday at the Anti-Defamation League's "Never Is Now" summit at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

NEW YORK — An 18-year-old New Jersey man has been arrested and accused of using social media to send a manifesto that contained threats to attack a synagogue and Jewish people in the state, authorities said Thursday.

The threats last week prompted the FBI’s Newark office to issue an unusual warning on Twitter urging Jewish leaders to take security precautions to protect their communities. New Jersey law enforcement officials said the next day that they had identified a suspect, and that the individual no longer posed a threat.

On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey said Omar Alkattoul had been charged with one count of transmitting a threat in interstate and foreign commerce. Alkattoul allegedly wrote in the manifesto that he targeted Jewish people because they “promote the biggest hatred against Muslimeen,” which is the Arabic word for Muslims.

As the Justice Department announced the arrest, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray was at a conference in New York, denouncing a recent surge of antisemitic acts across the country and saying that the federal law enforcement agency is “hitting back at full force” against domestic and foreign threats targeting American Jews.

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Wray addressed more than 1,000 people at the “Never Is Now” summit hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, an organization created to fight antisemitism and extremism that has tracked antisemitic incidents since 1979. The group says antisemitic acts in the country have tripled over the past six years.

The FBI director, who did not mention the arrest, said Thursday morning that “Jewish people continue to face repeated violence and very real threats.”

“We at the FBI see — up close, day in and day out — the actions that hatred drives,” Wray said.

To combat the rise in incidents, Wray said, the FBI has dispatched more agents and analysts to work hate-crime cases across the country. In 2019, the FBI established the Domestic Terrorism-Hate Crimes Fusion Cell, which addresses the intersection of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.

Sixty-three percent of religious hate crimes in the country target Jewish people, who make up 2.4 percent of the American population, Wray said.

His speech cited several attacks against Jewish people that have occurred since Wray took over the FBI in 2017, including a shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 that left 11 people dead.

“There are too many grim examples to choose from,” he said, citing a shooting at a synagogue near San Diego that killed one congregant and wounded three others in 2019. Earlier this year, Wray noted, a man took congregants hostage at a Texas synagogue, apparently motivated by his anger over the U.S. imprisonment of a Pakistani woman held in federal prison in Fort Worth for trying to kill U.S. soldiers.

“It demonstrates the tragic reality that the Jewish community uniquely ends up on the receiving end of hate-fueled attacks from all sides,” Wray said. “And I’d venture to say no community feels more threatened by that boiling over into violence than yours.”

The Anti-Defamation League conducts training at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for all new FBI special agents and intelligence analysts, Wray told the group. He said the agents and analysts learn how widespread antisemitism is and about people’s “willingness to turn hate to action.”

Wray’s speech kicked off a day-long summit on antisemitism at the Javits Center in New York. Other speakers included actor David Schwimmer and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).