UPDATE: Suspect in Ner Tamid attack arrested

UPDATE: Suspect in Ner Tamid attack arrested

This is the would-be terrorist, caught on video, about to hurl his defective device.
This is the would-be terrorist, caught on video, about to hurl his defective device.

A suspect was arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail at Temple New Tamid in Bloomfield early Sunday morning.

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey said that Nicholas Malindretos, 26, of Clifton, has been charged with one count of “attempted use of fire to damage and destroy a building used in interstate commerce, according to the Times of Israel.”

The bottle Mr. Malindretos is accused of hurling broke and caused little damage, and the synagogue’s security cameras caught images of a fully costumed figure throwing something at around 3:30 in the morning.

The minimum sentence for the charge is five years in prison, and the maximum is 20 years; the fine would be $250,000. The suspect is expected in federal court in Newark on Thursday.

“No one should find that their lives are at risk by exercising their faith,” U.S.  Attorney Philip R. Sellinger said. “We will continue to devote whatever resources are necessary to keep our Jewish community and all New Jersey residents safe.”

According to the Times of Israel, a “license plate reading device recorded a vehicle in the area shortly before and after the attack.

“Law enforcement located the vehicle in Clifton on Tuesday and saw items that appeared to be related to the attack inside, including clothing and bottles of liquid.

“Officers obtained a search warrant for the vehicle and carried out a search on Wednesday. Inside they found a sweatshirt and white gloves that matched those worn by the suspect in the surveillance video.

“Video cameras in the area of the incident also recorded the vehicle and a suspect that appeared to be Malindretos around the time of the attack.”

(Originally published 1/29/23)

Molotov cocktail hurled in Bloomfield
Device aimed at Temple Ner Tamid fizzles, does little physical damage

At about 3 a.m. this Sunday, a masked man threw a Molotov cocktail at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield.

The device didn’t work, so it caused relatively little damage, and the assailant’s image was captured by the synagogue’s security cameras. Local, county, and state law enforcement agencies are working together to catch him.

In a press release, New Jersey’s attorney general, Matthew Platkin, said his office “is working closely with local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies, to identify and apprehend the suspect in this attack. Our investigation remains ongoing.”

Although antisemitic attacks are on the upswing in the United States — antisemitic performance artists like the one formerly known as Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, to name just two, might be either the cause or the effect of that upswing, or they maybe embody both — Mr. Platkin added some perhaps surprising information.

“We are also aware of the attack on members of a church in Monmouth County that occurred on Saturday — another incident being pursued as potentially bias-motivated,” he wrote. “Collaboration across multiple agencies is occurring in that ongoing investigation as well.

“We are cognizant of the fact that these attacks have occurred while violence continues to erupt in Israel, and while our own nation reckons with violence at home. I want to reassure all New Jerseyans — especially our friends and neighbors of the Black community and the Jewish faith — that law enforcement continues to take the appropriate steps to increase our presence around sensitive places so that everyone in our state can worship, love, and live without fear of violence or threat.”

The chiefs of security in all four of New Jersey’s Jewish federations have been working together since the federations created their departments; the years they’ve spent figuring out how to share information and strategies pay off in situations such as this one.

Bob Wilson

Since this incident happened in the catchment area of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, “the security director there, Bob Wilson, is working closely with all local, county, and federal law enforcement in the area,” Timothy Torrell, the director of security at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, said.

The federations of Northern New Jersey and Greater MetroWest both sent out email blasts immediately, although at first they did not identify the synagogue that had received the threats. Because Bloomfield is in MetroWest’s catchment area, “We are following MetroWest’s example,” Mr. Torrell said.

Although the North Jersey federation recently adopted the NNJ Alert — “a collaboration of Secure Community Network, the national security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America, and the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey,” as we wrote in August — Mr. Torrell sent the blast to everyone on the federation’s mailing list. “The NNJ Alert just goes to security leaders, and we want the whole community to be aware, so everyone gets the news straight from us. We want to shut down any rumors that might develop.”

The fizzled explosive thrown at Ner Tamid was not the only odd incident in northern New Jersey this week. “At the beginning of the week, there was an incident at a synagogue in New York City,” Mr. Torrell said. “As a security director in New Jersey, I stay in touch with SCN” — the Secure Community Network — “and I received information from SCN that a synagogue in New York had received a letter with powder in it.

“So I put out a notice to all my synagogues, with basic security guidelines on how to handle mail. I sent it to facility leaders, and the staff of one of our synagogues, Temple Emanu-El of Closter, to their credit, went through the mail and detected a suspicious looking-letter. I was called, and the local police were called, and the investigation is ongoing.”

This is a story more about staying alert than a present danger. “There was no powder or anything else in the letter,” Mr. Torrell said. “But there was a similarity to the letter received in New York.

“The investigation is ongoing.”

The lesson for the community is the one we’ve heard so many times that we might tend to disregard it, but it remains true. “If you see something, say something,” Mr. Torrell said. Don’t worry about sounding foolish or neurotic. “Nothing is so minor that you shouldn’t report it.” For their part, community and facility leaders “should make sure that the security systems are in place and functioning in the way that they should.

Tim Torrell

“Greater MetroWest hit the nail on the head in its email,” he concluded. “This really is a tense and challenging time. Everybody has to be very security-minded.”

“In the Jewish communal security space, and for houses of worship in general, our advice is that everyone should assess the physical infrastructure of their buildings to make sure that the cameras work and the doors are locked properly, and they should know how to communicate any kind of suspicious activity to local law enforcement. Don’t keep anything to yourself. Learn how to respond. Get training in how to respond.

“Remember that, unfortunately, it can happen here. It did happen here. Thankfully, it wasn’t worse.

“We stand arm in arm, saying that we are not going to stand for it,” Mr. Wilson continued. “We will fight it. We are fortunate, in the state of New Jersey, to have excellent local law enforcement, including the Bloomfield police department, Essex County’s prosecutor’s office, the local office of Homeland Security, and the FBI. We are fortunate to have these assets, and hopefully we can work through them to prevent future acts by capturing this individual.

“But this reminds us that if you aren’t prepared, you need to reach out to your community security director — to Tim in North Jersey, to me in MetroWest, to our colleagues in Heart of Jersey and Cherry Hill.

“Take advantage of us. Have us come in to train you.

“We cannot pretend that this will not happen again here. We say all the time that the likelihood of this happening is significantly small — but if it does happen, the adverse impact is phenomenal.”

So on the one hand, we have to guard again these acts of terror and blatant antisemitism. On the other hand, as Ner Tamid’s Rabbi Marc Katz said in a statement, “If events like this erode our religious identity, then those who seek to hurt us win.”

Tim Torrell is the security director for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. His email address is timothyt@jfnnj.org. Robert Wilson is the security director for the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. His email address is RWilson@jfedgmw.org.

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