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Jewish Community Center again evacuated for bomb scare in wave of threats nationwide

Albuquerque police helped evacuate the Jewish Community Center Monday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Albuquerque police helped evacuate the Jewish Community Center Monday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque’s Jewish Community Center on Monday went through what’s becoming a familiar routine.

Someone called the center around 9:30 a.m. with a disguised voice claiming there was a bomb in the building. About 150 people evacuated immediately, and officers and police dogs did a sweep.

An hour and a half later, it was business as usual.

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Bomb threats have been called in to Jewish community centers across the nation this year in a troubling trend. Waves of calls are typically put out to various centers on certain days and, on Monday, 11 centers in states as far away as Wisconsin, New York and Tennessee were targeted in the fourth such wave of calls.

Previous strings of calls happened on Jan. 9, Jan. 18 and Jan. 31, bringing the total number of center bomb threats to 69, according to numbers collected by the JCC Association. Albuquerque’s JCC was first targeted on Jan. 31.

The FBI is helping local authorities investigate the threats.

The Council on America-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, announced Monday it stood in solidarity with Jewish Community Centers and offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect or suspects responsible for Monday’s threats.

“While we are relieved that all such threats have proven to be hoaxes and that not a single person was harmed, we are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats, and the repetition of threats intended to interfere with day-to-day life,” said David Posner, a director at the JCC Association, in an email. “We hope to hear updates from the FBI on progress very soon.”

David Simon, executive director of Albuquerque’s JCC, said Monday’s evacuation and building clearance went smoothly, in part because police already were familiar with the building from the last evacuation. He said well wishes flooded in to the center after the last incident.

“If anything, I think it’s just going to make our commitment stronger to do what we do best, to persevere,” he said. “We’re attentive, we’re observant and we’re prepared. And we refuse to be victims.”

Suki Halevi, the Anti-Defamation League of New Mexico’s regional director, said local leaders stepped up after the most recent JCC bomb threat in Albuquerque. Mayor Richard Berry met with local Jewish community leaders, and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking its staff to help investigate.

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After Monday’s threat, Heinrich met with Simon, Halevi, JCC board members and others to express his concern, according to Halevi.

National figures also expressed concern over Monday’s threats. President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted her support for Jewish Community Centers.

“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance,” she wrote. “We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers.”

That statement came days after Donald Trump held a wide-ranging press conference in which he aggressively responded to a reporter for a Jewish magazine who asked him how he would combat the bomb threats.

“I hate even the question..” Trump said, calling it “repulsive.”

In an incident that appears so far to be unrelated to the bomb threats, Albuquerque-based Jewish blogger Marc Yellin received hate messages to his website’s email form last month. The messages — which include violent imagery and hate speech — were submitted under the name of white nationalist William Pierce, who has been dead for more than a decade.

Yellin said he has taken some extra precautions since receiving them Jan. 13, though he’s not sure how serious the threats were.

“I was not particularly scared. There’s a 99.99 percent chance that this is just a guy out there somewhere who found my website and decided to do something,” Yellin said. “But, on the other hand, the chance that it’s real is not zero.”

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