FBI's Comey calls JCC bomb threats a 'top priority'

By Eric DuVall   |   Updated March 4, 2017 at 3:03 PM
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March 4 (UPI) -- FBI Director James Comey told Jewish leaders in a meeting Friday the investigation into dozens of bomb threats against Jewish synagogues and community centers is a "top priority" at the agency.

The meeting came a day after a Missouri man was charged with making at least eight bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers in Manhattan.

Thus far, investigators have yet to find credible evidence the threats are backed up with actual plots to target Jewish groups with force, though the spate of incidents has prompted the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to step up efforts to address anti-Semitism.

Leaders of the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America said branches have received more than 100 bomb threats since January, often in what appear to be coordinated efforts to target dozens of JCCs across the country on the same day. Waves of threats were made on Jan. 9, Jan. 18, Jan. 31, Feb. 20 and Feb 27. A Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was also vandalized.

According to a statement released by the bureau after Comey's meeting, "the investigation is a top priority for the FBI."

"The FBI is committed to ensuring that people of all races and religions feel safe in their communities and places of worship," the statement continued.

In addition to the FBI's investigation, Homeland Security Secretary James Kelly said local DHS agents are working with JCC employees and other religious groups to step up security in public gathering places.

"DHS has promised that its protective security advisors, stationed in all 50 states, will be in contact with JCCs within the next week, offering their expertise on protective measures, threat reporting and security awareness," the JCC said in a statement this week. "We look forward to working with DHS through this unparalleled level of assistance, which comes as very welcome at an extraordinarily stressful time for JCCs and the diverse communities they serve."

While Jewish Community Centers primarily serve members of the faith, they are also patronized by many non-Jews for their gym facilities, community theaters, education centers and other secular community services.

The FBI got its first break in the case this week when agents arrested Juan Thompson, a discredited former journalist, for allegedly calling in threats against JCCs in New York. Investigators said, however, they do not believe Thompson is responsible for most of the incidents.

The spate of bomb threats prompted President Donald Trump to address the matter during his speech to Congress on Tuesday.

"Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms," he said.

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