Two men were arrested in connection with online threats and charged with attacking a New York synagogue, multiple law enforcement sources told CNN.
New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell announced the arrests in a statement on Saturday. Investigators from the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force and the NYPD Counterterrorism and Intelligence Bureau, working with law enforcement partners, uncovered Friday what they described as an “evolving threat to the Jewish community.”
Authorities “acted quickly to gather information, identify the individuals behind it, and operationally neutralize their ability to cause harm,” Sewell said.
Christopher Brown, 21, of Aquebogue, New York, is charged with making a terrorist threat, aggravated harassment and criminal firearm possession. Matthew Mahrer, 22, of Manhattan, faces a single criminal gun possession charge, an NYPD spokeswoman said.
It is not yet clear if any of the men have legal counsel.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) officers arrested BRown and Mahrer as they entered Penn Station in Manhattan early Saturday, according to Sewell. Officers also seized “a large hunting knife, an illegal Glock 17 firearm and a 30-round magazine, among several other items,” the commissioner said.
After their arrest, the two men were “turned over to the NYPD and the FBI,” the MTA said in a statement.
“The tremendous policing work here reflects the primary purpose of the MTA PD — protecting millions of daily commuters in cooperation with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners,” the MTA said.
Law enforcement sources told CNN the threats surfaced on a Twitter account on Nov. 12 and were traced late Friday to a computer at an animal hospital where one of the suspects worked.
The threats allegedly included references to an attack on a synagogue: “I’m going to ask a priest if I should marry or shoot a synagogue and die,” one post said.
Sources said one of the messages contained a reference to “major steps to be taken on Friday”. The message gave a time of 11:30 p.m. but gave no specific destination.
After being alerted to the online news, FBI agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force and NYPD Secret Service detectives began what a source called a “desperate effort” to identify and locate the suspects.
CNN has reached out to the NYPD and FBI for official comment.
Law enforcement sources told CNN late Friday that authorities had arrested two people. It is not clear if any of those arrested have legal counsel.
According to sources, authorities issued a so-called “Be on the Lookout” — or “Bolo” — alert to the phones of thousands of New York City police officers with a picture and description of one of those wanted. MTA police have been notified that the individuals may be traveling back and forth from Long Island to New York City or Pennsylvania, according to the sources.
Investigators were able to identify an address on 94th Street on Manhattan’s West Side that is linked to a suspect’s boyfriend, the sources said. When the police and FBI got there, they learned that the two suspects had been there and checked in a backpack and were on their way to Penn Station, according to the sources.
Sources said the backpack was recovered with a Glock semi-automatic firearm, a ghost pistol with an extended 30-round magazine and a laser sight. When the two suspects were discovered by MTA police at Penn Station, they were taken into custody, the sources added.
Investigators told CNN that law enforcement had a strong belief that an impending attack might have been prevented.
Sources said the belief was attributed to the fact that a suspect had left behind a number of threatening posts; get a semi-automatic weapon; and had a Nazi armband; a large knife; and a black ski mask.
“Today we are very grateful to NYPD investigators and our law enforcement partners who uncovered and stopped a threat to our Jewish community,” Sewell said tweeted. “This morning’s arrests at Penn Station and the weapons confiscated are a testament to their vigilance and cooperation in keeping New Yorkers safe.”
City leaders and community organizations have responded to the arrest, with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul praising the MTA police officers who spotted and arrested the men.
“Earlier this year, I increased @nyspolice’s commitment to tracking domestic violent extremism on social media,” Hochul said tweeted. “Today your vigilance and heroic work by @MTA police officers helped stop a threat to our Jewish communities. I’m grateful to law enforcement for keeping New Yorkers safe.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams also took to social media to denounce anti-Semitism. “The message is clear: Antisemitism has no home in New York City.” Adams wrote on Twitter.
“If you come here to commit hateful acts of violence, you will be stopped by the best police force in the world. Thank you to the NYPD for their quick work in bringing these fanatics to justice,” Adams said.
This latest threat of violence against synagogues comes more than a week after a New Jersey man was arrested after being accused of making threats to attack a synagogue and Jewish people.
New York state leads the nation in anti-Semitic incidents, with at least 416 reported incidents in 2021, including at least 51 attacks — the highest number ever recorded by New York’s Anti-Defamation League. 12 attacks were reported in 2020, the ADL said in an audit last week.
Last year, a total of 2,717 anti-Semitic incidents were reported nationwide — a 34% increase from 2,026 in 2020, the ADL said.
The ADL has been tracking such incidents since 1979 – and its previous reports have revealed that anti-Semitism has been on the rise in America for years.
“This comes at a time of heightened sensitivity in the New York-area Jewish community, after an 18-year-old man was accused just two weeks earlier of broadcasting threats to the New Jersey Jewish community,” the New York/ADL said. New Jersey wrote in a joint statement with the Community Security Initiative and the Community Security Service.
“As always, we ask the community to remain vigilant…”
US attacks last year included that of a Jewish man in New York who was punched and kicked while anti-Semitic slurs were hurled at him. He was on his way to a pro-Israel demonstration in Times Square.