Los Angeles police officers have been visiting Jewish institutions, schools and synagogues to urge an extra measure of alertness while a high-profile trial is underway in the downtown federal courthouse.
The defendant in the case is Ahmed Ressam, a 33-year-old Algerian accused of conspiring with other Islamic extremists to bomb Seattle and other U.S. cities during millennium celebrations.
"I want to stress that we know of no plans or threats targeting specific institutions," Deputy Chief of Police David Kalish told The Jewish Journal.
Each of the city's 18 police control centers has developed an operational plan to contact institutions in its jurisdiction to review security measures, he said.
"Our contacts include airports and transportation hubs, but in this case Jewish institutions are at the top of our list," Kalish said. He added that a considerable number of Jewish places had been contacted, but he did not know how many.
Kalish repeatedly emphasized that there was no cause for panic or undue anxiety but that the police would be remiss if it did not plan for all possible contingencies.
At the least, the police visits allow Jewish institutions to renew their relationships with local officers and review security plans, he said.
In a visit to the offices of The Jewish Journal, an officer asked if any threats had been received, checked on emergency phone contacts, asked how many people were working in the office, and urged that any suspicious individuals and packages be reported to police.
Major Jewish organizations were highly reluctant, perhaps understandably, to have their names linked to any security concerns.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles acknowledged only that a police visit had taken place, as did the Freda Mohr Center of Jewish Family Service. Organizations that normally maintain a high level of security, such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said they had not received any police visits.
However, regional ADL Director David Lehrer commented that "the nature of such a trial in Los Angeles should heighten all our sensitivities."
Ressam was arrested Dec. 14, 1999, as he drove a car loaded with high explosives and other bomb material off the ferry from Canada into Washington state.
He is alleged to have trained in camps run by accused terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and to have conspired to bomb the Space Needle in Seattle and possibly airports in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The threats were taken seriously enough by Seattle officials to cancel plans for the city's year 2000 New Year's Eve festivities.
The trial was transferred from Seattle to Los Angeles due to concern about security in Seattle's aging courthouse and the likelihood that because of massive publicity about the case, Ressam might not be able to receive a fair trial in the northern city.
Ressam's trial started March 12 and is expected to last more than three weeks and involve more than 100 witnesses.
The local FBI office has not been notified of any threats and has not issued any heightened security alerts in connection with the trial, according to spokeswoman Laura Bosley.
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