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ABQ Jewish Community Center targeted

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bomb threats were called in to 14 Jewish community centers across the United States and Canada on Tuesday, including one in Albuquerque, that prompted an evacuation and a bomb squad investigation.

People return to the Jewish Community Center near Wyoming and Academy after a bomb scare Tuesday morning

People return to the Jewish Community Center near Wyoming and Academy after a bomb scare Tuesday morning. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

Jewish Community Center officials in Albuquerque evacuated a total of about 50 people who were in the building and the swimming pool, along with around 100 children who were in the early childhood center, executive director David Simon said.

In Albuquerque and other locations across the country, all the threats were false alarms. No bombs were found at any of the centers.

But the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating the disturbing trend for “possible civil rights violations,” according to Frank Fisher, a spokesman for the FBI’s Albuquerque office.

Simon said the center refuses to be intimidated by the calls.

“I view them as cowardly threats. They’re designed to sow fear and disrupt, and we are not giving in to the fear,” he said. “We’re just going to be recommitted to our mission to serve this community.”

Tuesday’s false alarms weren’t the first time this has happened at JCCs across the United States.

Bomb threat calls were put out to 27 JCCs across the country Jan. 18, and 16 centers were targeted Jan. 9, according to David Posner, a director at the JCC Association of North America.

All of them have been false alarms, but both the JCC Association of North America and the Anti-Defamation League are urging caution and are working with law enforcement.

Todd Gutnick, a national spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, said the organization believes some of the calls are automated.

Simon said Albuquerque staffers were well aware of the national trend and acted quickly when a threatening call came in around 9:20 a.m.

“Unfortunately, we expected our day would come and it turned out to be today,” he said.

The Albuquerque Police Department’s bomb squad arrived in minutes and canvassed the building with bomb-sniffing dogs. They gave the all clear around 11 a.m., and the center reopened.

Tuesday’s threats led to evacuations at JCCs in Long Beach, Calif., La Jolla, Calif., Boulder, Colo., Lake Zurich, Ill., West Orange, N.J., Tenafly, N.J., Albany, N.Y., Syracuse, N.Y., Worcester, Mass., Sylvania, Ohio, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee and London, Ontario, Canada.

Simon said the sentiment behind the calls is nothing new.

“I think it’s part of a growing trend in anti-Semitism around the country,” he said. “We need to fight back against that.”

Other religious groups also have been increasingly targeted. Hate crimes against Muslims increased by 67 percent in 2015 compared to the year before, according to FBI statistics.

President Donald Trump used anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail last year and recently signed a controversial executive order halting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Simon said the Jewish community stands with other targeted groups.

“There’s been more and more hate crimes cropping up. It’s not American,” he said. “We need to fight hate and discrimination wherever we see it. We stand shoulder to shoulder with others who are being targeted.”

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., echoed that sentiment in a statement sent out late Tuesday.

“These cowardly threats have no place in our society,” she said. “It troubles me that so many people are emboldened by the current political climate to target their fellow Americans with hate speech and threats of violence based on their own prejudices and ignorance.”