FBI, police investigating Boston Chabad fires as possible hate crimes

The incidents have aroused deep concern and condemnation.

By PENNY SCHWARTZ/ JTA,
May 19, 2019 16:07
2 minute read.
Fire (illustrative)

Fire (illustrative). (photo credit: GENE BLEVINS / REUTERS)

 
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The FBI, state and local police, and other agencies are investigating three separate fires last week at two Chabad centers in Boston as possible hate crimes. 


The incidents have aroused deep concern and condemnation, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Joe Kennedy III. 
The first fire occurred last Saturday at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Arlington-Belmont in Arlington, a Boston suburb, but did little damage and was put out easily. 


Last Thursday, a second fire started at the same location, and then approximately an hour later another fire started about 12 miles away at the Chabad Jewish Center in Needham.  


The Chabad Center in Arlington is run by Rabbi Avi Bukiet and his wife, Luna, who said that despite the fires, Shabbat services were expected to take place as usual. 


Local and state law enforcement and fire officials are coordinating their investigations, including the possibility that the fires are hate crimes.
The Needham Chabad is the residence of Rabbi Mendy Krinsky and his family. No one was hurt in the fires and the damage was minimal.


According to ABC affiliate WCVB-TV, agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Massachusetts State Police are all investigating the fires as possible hate crimes, while the US Attorney’s Office in Boston is coordinating the response.


Arlington Police Department Acting Chief Julie Flaherty said at a news conference on Friday that the fires, set on the shingles on the outside of both homes, were similar in nature.   


“We can’t rule out that they are connected,” Flaherty said, standing among more than 15 local and state officials, the Bukiets, other Chabad leaders and representatives from Boston’s Jewish community.


Needham Police Chief John Schlittler said his town’s investigation was being conducted in coordination with the state police. One local media outlet reported that the state’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes federal agents, is assisting in the investigation.


A $15,000 reward was announced by Robert Trestan, director of the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League, adding to a $5,000 reward by the state’s fire marshal, for information that leads to a conviction in the fires.  


“It is important for this to be resolved quickly,” Trestan urged, saying that the attacks are not just on Jewish houses of worship but on the rabbis’ homes.


Earlier in the day, Chanie Krensky of the Needham Chabad Center described on Facebook her fright when she smelled smoke outside her home and how Rabbi Krensky extinguished the fire before the fire alarm was set off.


“Somebody out there wants to hurt us just because we exist, and that is frightening. Hate can’t be reasoned with. Hate just needs to be eradicated. A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness,” she wrote.


“The Jewish community is unified,” Jeremy Burton, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said at the Friday news conference.


State Police Spokesman David Procopio confirmed that his agency’s Fire Investigation Unit and Fusion Center were assisting in the investigation, as are troopers and federal agents assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.


Sen. Warren said that the attacks were “meant to inspire fear in places of worship and joy. But we won’t let that happen. By coming together to stand against antisemitism and other forms of bigotry, our communities will only grow stronger.”


Rep. Kennedy said on Twitter, “Although acts of antisemitism and intimidation won’t deter the Jewish spirit of kindness and empathy, this violence must end. Standing with the Needham and Arlington Jewish communities today.”

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