Jewish groups vigilant but urge calm after FBI warns of possible terrorist plot

Sat Jun 22, 4:30 AM ET

By KAREN ROEBUCK, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Jewish groups across the nation urged their members to be alert but not to overreact in response to an FBI ( news - web sites) warning that terrorists could use fuel tankers to attack Jewish schools or synagogues.

"We don't want to cause mass panic; we don't want to cause a siege mentality. At the same time, we want to be cautious and diligent," said Joshua Platt, spokesman for the Columbus Jewish Federation, which alerted its members by e-mail.

The warning to law enforcement agencies was not based on a specific threat, but on interviews with captured al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, said a U.S. official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The interviews did not reveal a target city or time.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said congregations were taking the warnings seriously because the information came from people who may have helped plan past attacks.

"People are concerned. We have received dozens of calls already from congregations, (asking) what should they do. We've told them, beef up security and go on with their lives," Hier said.

He said some congregations will have new security guards this weekend, and that the center began installing new concrete and steel barriers after Sept. 11.

Leaders in Jewish neighborhoods in New York's Brooklyn borough called on residents to be vigilant, and for police to beef up patrols.

Isaac Abraham, a spokesman for religious leaders in the Williamsburg and Crown Heights sections, asked police to bar commercial traffic from streets near large synagogues.

"We have to rely on our prayers to God and our law enforcement to watch for us," said Abraham. "And hopefully very shortly these terrorists will run out of fuel."

New York City police said they would add extra patrols around synagogues and in Jewish neighborhoods. But one rabbi promised to send out gun-toting patrols around his Brooklyn neighborhood.

"I'm not saying we could stop a fuel tanker with a shotgun, but I believe terrorists will think twice if they know armed people are present," Rabbi Yakove Lloyd said.

The New York Police Department said that any armed vigilantes would be arrested. Even so, Lloyd said: "We are ready for arrests and we have money for bail."

The Miami Police Department informed its officers about the warning but is not assigning extra officers to Jewish places of worship, police spokesman Lt. Bill Schwartz said.

"The nature of the threat is so general is that it is very hard to have an officer placed at a certain place at a certain time and wait for something to happen," Schwartz said.

In Amberley Village, a Cincinnati suburb of 3,600 that is home to a major regional synagogue, police said they urged vigilance at the Isaac M. Wise Temple but have not increased staffing because there were no details on a target.

"These generalized reports get everybody very nervous. Nobody knows exactly what to do except to be more cautious than we might have been before, but we don't want people to be overly afraid of coming into our building," said Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, senior rabbi at Adas Israel, a large conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C.

Several groups said security already had been increased after Sept. 11.

The Columbus Federation has increased patrols on its two-square-block campus that is home to six Jewish organizations and group-living facilities. It now also requires visitors to wear badges.

"Jews, in general, have been persecuted for thousands of years," said Alan Pearlman, executive director of Temple B'Nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa. "We take it in stride."

In St. Louis, officials at the Jewish Community Relations Council were weary of yet another warning.

"These threats are coming in at a dizzying pace: scuba divers, shopping malls, and this week it's the Jewish community," said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, the council's associate executive director.

Associated Press Writer Christopher Newton in Washington, D.C., contributed to this story.