US law enforcement steps up security ahead of expected Mideast protests

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

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

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“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 city 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 US security concerns, particularly over a possible flare-up of antisemitic and Islamophobic violence, were spurred by the recent wave of bloodshed after Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip on Saturday rampaged through 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 1,500 people and injured 6,600 others 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, a message amplified on social media by calls for a day of resistance on behalf of the people of Gaza.

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 the New York 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.”

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.”

At least one Arab-American advocacy group pointed to a more hostile posture taken by US 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 US 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,” the national executive director of organization, Abed Ayoub, said on X, formerly called Twitter.

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, US homeland security officials and other federal authorities had held online security “webinars” with Jewish institutions around the country.

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

Rather than give in to the heightened anxiety 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.”

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