Anchorage Jewish center evacuated following bomb threat
Last updated at 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28
ANCHORAGE — A Jewish community center in Anchorage was evacuated Monday afternoon after receiving a bomb threat.
Rabbi Yosef Greenberg with the Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska, which is located on the Alaska Jewish Campus on East 35th Avenue, said the evacuation occurred around 4 p.m. Greenberg explained that when the call came in, the caller ID showed a number that appeared to be coming from inside the building.
“It was a recorded message,” he explained in an interview. “The voice, it was like a male voice and said, ‘there’s a bomb in your building. You have 20 minutes to leave.'”
The Jewish center has a preschool and afterschool program on site, and Greenberg said there were about 35 to 40 children still at the center when the call was made. Everyone was able to safely evacuate with their coats, he added.
Anchorage police and local FBI agents arrived “within minutes,” Greenberg said. He said they swept the building and found nothing unusual.
Greenberg said in a phone interview that staff knew it was a false alarm because of similar calls made to other Jewish centers throughout the U.S., but he said everyone followed protocol to ensure everyone’s safety.
“One part of me said it’s probably nothing, but another part of me said, ‘I have children here,'” he said.
Greenberg later added, “The threat was very real. This is terrorism. Terrorism means to terrorize people and to instill fear in their hearts.”
He said everything would go back to normal on Tuesday, including the children’s programs. The campus has received “hundreds” of calls and messages of support since the news of the threat broke, Greenberg said.
“We will support each other and move on, come in stronger,” he said. “Our message is that we should all watch out for each other and we should all be there for each other and unite. And it’s time after this election that the country was so divided, it’s time to unite together because at the end of the day we are all in it together.”
The FBI issued a warning weeks ago about potential bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the country. At the time, Anchorage FBI office spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellesier said no threats were known to exist for Alaska facilities.
Around the country, 21 buildings in at least a dozen states received similar threatening calls on Monday, including one in Seattle.
Following the threat in Alaska, the Anchorage FBI said Tuesday that the agency and “the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are investigating possible civil rights violations in connection with threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and will ensure this matter is investigated in a fair, thorough, and impartial manner.”
“As this matter is ongoing, we are not able to comment further at this time,” the statement concluded.
Greenberg said he “would love” for national authorities to figure out who is behind the threats.
“What do they want? Why are they doing that?” he asked. “Is it a political statement they are trying to make, or is it from real bad people?”
Tuesday morning, Gov. Bill Walker issued a statement on the event.
“I am deeply unsettled that a religious community and school children were targeted by recent threats. Alaska’s diversity is among its greatest strengths. I stand with our state’s Jewish community in condemning these cowardly and unacceptable actions,” Walker said.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued a statement a short time later.
“‘Never again’ means not anywhere, not anytime. Being only one generation removed from the Holocaust, it is jarring when cowards attempt to terrorize and intimidate the Jewish community. It is gratifying to see the outpouring of support from Alaskans of all creeds, backgrounds, and persuasions. Freedom can never bow to fear,” Berkowitz said.
KTVA 11’s Emily Carlson contributed to this report.
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