Chicago Synagogue Cites Web Visits From Egypt
By LAUREN ETTER • Wall Street Journal
A rabbi at one of the synagogues allegedly targeted by explosive-laden packages from Yemen said that the group's website was visited dozens of times recently by individuals located in Egypt.
Rabbi Michael R. Zedek from Chicago's lakeside Emanuel Congregation also said that he was told by a source that there were actually four bombs targeting Chicago's synagogues instead of the two originally reported.
Emanuel Congregation was allegedly not the specific target of the bomb, but Congregation Or Chadash, a sister synagogue housed within Emanuel was thought to be a target, according to Zedek. Or Chadash is a gay-and-lesbian synagogue that shares space with Emanuel Congregation and the Chicago Jewish Day School for children.
Or Chadash Rabbi Larry Edwards said in an interview that he only learned yesterday through Rabbi Zedek that his congregation might have been a target. "We're rather puzzled at how a little congregation like ours would get on the radar as a target for somebody," said Rabbi Edwards. "I'm hoping for more information."
Rabbi Edwards said his web administrator hadn't yet been able to discern whether there had been any visits to its web site from Internet servers in Egypt or elsewhere.
On Saturday, about 20 congregants for Shabbat services in Emanuel's round stone chapel on the shores of Lake Michigan. After a morning of song and prayer, Zedek talked with congregants about the alleged bomb plot.
He said he learned this morning that Emanuel's web administrator recently discovered that the congregation's website had been visited 83 times on one day by somebody in Egypt. Zedek was immediately wary and questioned why anybody in Egypt would be interested in visiting Emanuel Congregation's site. "I think we're interesting, but not that interesting," he said.
Zedek has yet to notify law authorities about the web visits. "We are planning on sharing it with the authorities," Zedek said.
Woven throughout the morning service at Emanuel were words alluding to the bomb plot. "Every so often, religious fanaticism will rear its ugly head," said Zedek, donning a dark suit and the traditional Tallit prayer shawl draped around his neck. "It is alas the case that we live in a dangerous world...but we cannot simply get used to it."
Zedek said he first learned of the bomb threats around noon on Friday, after receiving a call from an off-duty police officer who had been patrolling the Chicago Jewish Day School. The officer had received a text message from his sergeant saying that there were "suspicious packages directed at Jewish institutions," according to Zedek. They later learned that the packages were allegedly being sent to Chicago.
Zedek also received a call from the area's alderman, Mary Ann Smith, who said "heightened security" was warranted in light of the threats. Area police increased patrols in the area, and even called in a boat to patrol the waters in front of the synagogue, Rabbi Zedek said. Calls to Smith were not immediately returned.
Authorities have said they believe the bomb-filled packages were likely products of Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.