WASHINGTON – The arrest of four men accused of plotting to attack two Bronx synagogues underscores the threat to Jewish targets by individuals or small groups, several experts said.
From the shooting at a Los Angeles Jewish community center 10 years ago through the attack on the Seattle Jewish federation building in 2006, to the suspect targeting Jews at Wesleyan University in Connecticut earlier this month, an individual or small group not formally connected with al-Qaeda or any major international terrorist group was at the center of the threat.
Police believe that the four suspects arrested last week – James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen – were working alone. They were taken into custody the night of May 20 shortly after planting fake explosives, which they believed to be real, in cars parked outside the Riverdale Temple, a Reform synagogue, and the Riverdale Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue. They also wanted to shoot down military planes at a nearby base, according to reports.
Reports that an FBI informant played a key role in encouraging and financing the plot has prompted questions about how serious a threat was posed by the four suspects. But several security experts who work with the Jewish community said the case provides a clear road map for protecting against potential threats.
“All you need to know about terrorism you can learn from this case,” said Steve Pomerantz, former assistant director and director of counterterrorism at the FBI.
Jews will always be at the top of the list of targets for terrorists, he said, and groups unaffiliated with a large international terrorist group are “at least as dangerous” as well-known groups such as al-Qaeda because they can “more easily slip through the intelligence net.”
Paul Goldenberg, the executive director of the Jewish-organized Secure Community Network, stressed “one common denominator” present in all the past plots: hostile surveillance by the attackers.
“They were methodical enough and premeditated enough to plan and study the target,” said Goldenberg, whose network was established 3Eric Fingerhut