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US Cities Bolster Security Ahead of Expected Mideast Protests

New York police officers stand guard as pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students demonstrate at Columbia University in New York City on Oct. 12, 2023.
New York police officers stand guard as pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students demonstrate at Columbia University in New York City on Oct. 12, 2023.

U.S. law enforcement agencies have escalated security measures to safeguard Jewish and Muslim communities ahead of global pro-Palestinian protests expected on Friday, but they urged members of the public to go about their daily routines.

Police in the two most populous U.S. cities — New York and Los Angeles — said they would step up patrols, especially around synagogues and Jewish community centers, although authorities insisted they were unaware of any specific or credible threats.

"There's no reason to feel afraid. No one should feel they have to alter their normal lives," New York Governor Kathy Hochul said at a news briefing on Thursday.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said his office had directed police to "surge additional resources to schools and houses of worship to ensure they are safe and that our city remains a place of peace."

Adams said extra police patrols were being deployed in Jewish and Muslim communities alike.

Heightened U.S. security concerns, particularly over a possible flare-up of antisemitic and Islamophobic violence, have followed an attack last Saturday by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip on parts of southern Israel. In the deadliest Palestinian attack in Israel's history, more than 1,300 Israelis were killed and scores were taken captive.

Heavy aerial bombardment of Gaza by Israeli armed forces in response has killed at least 1,799 people and 6,388 others wounded in the crowded Palestinian coastal enclave, according to health officials there.

Former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal called for protests across the Muslim world on Friday in support of Palestinians.

Times Square protest expected

New York City officials said they were bracing for at least one major demonstration planned for Times Square on Friday.

"Every member of the New York Police Department will be ready and be in uniform tomorrow," NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell told reporters. "We will not tolerate any hate, any acts of disorder; it will be quelled quickly, and we will be ready.”

Hochul said New York state's National Guard had already been ordered to patrol vital transportation hubs.

Across the country, the Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement saying its officers would assume a higher profile around Jewish and Muslim communities "during this unimaginable time."

In Washington, police erected fencing around the Capitol complex overnight. Tourists were being directed away from the building and kept on the sidewalk.

A rally supporting Israel and the American Jewish community was scheduled to take place in Washington's Freedom Plaza at 12:15 p.m. Organizers said on Facebook that they were not aware of any credible threats and planned to hold the rally.

"Hamas wants to strike fear in the hearts of Jews worldwide and prevent us from going about our daily lives. We believe canceling our rally would send the wrong message," the organizers said in a statement.

The organizers, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, said they were in contact with U.S. Park Police, which patrols the plaza.

Just to the north of Washington in Four Corners, Maryland, Montgomery Blair High School was placed on lockdown and students were moved to a secure location after a bomb threat on Friday morning, police said on social media.

Federal law enforcement agencies were also on alert.

"The FBI is aware of open-source reports about calls for global action on Friday, October 13th, that may lead to demonstrations in communities throughout the United States," the agency said in a statement. "The FBI encourages members of the public to remain vigilant."

Arab Americans fear discrimination

At least one Arab American advocacy group pointed to a more hostile posture taken by U.S. law enforcement toward Muslim groups than Jews.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee said on Thursday that FBI agents had paid visits to a number of mosques in different states and individual U.S. residents with Palestinian roots, calling it a "troubling trend."

"We have received multiple calls today regarding Palestinian nationals detained by ICE, and/or visited by the FBI," said the organization's national executive director, Abed Ayoub.

Rabbi Yoni Fein, who heads a large Jewish day school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Brauser Maimonides Academy, said “higher alerts of operations are definitely in place” in anticipation of global protests on Friday.

He said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other federal authorities had held online security sessions with Jewish institutions around the country.

But Fein said the school was seeking to reassure students they are safe and to go about their lives.

Rather than give in to the heightened anxiety that Fein acknowledged was gripping the Jewish community, he said, the academy’s message to its students and their families was to reassure them that “their homes are safe, their schools are safe and that their trusted adults are keeping them safe.”

Biden administration officials anticipated potential threats and have been working with state and local officials on prevention and awareness measures for days, White House spokesman John Kirby said on Friday.

"We're on this. We're vigilant. We're watching this very, very closely," Kirby said on CNN.

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