By Kristina Sgueglia, Brynn Gingras and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
Authorities are still trying to determine whether to file federal charges against two men arrested in connection with a threat against a New York synagogue, an FBI official said Monday.
“No decision has been made yet regarding possible federal charges. That investigation continues,” Mike Driscoll, assistant director of the bureau’s New York field office said of the Friday arrests.
There is no information indicating any continued threat to the city’s Jewish communities, he added.
Authorities held a news conference Monday to outline the urgent joint operation that unfolded to stave off “danger that was developing in real time.”
“The focused collective efforts of the (New York Police Department) and our partners were able to uncover, investigate and most importantly stop a threat to our Jewish community,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said.
“This was not an idle threat,” Mayor Eric Adams told reporters. “This was a real threat.”
Christopher Brown, 21, of Aquebogue, New York, and Matthew Mahrer, 22, of Manhattan, were arrested Friday, authorities said. They were arraigned over the weekend, court documents show. Officials would not comment if the men were previously known to law enforcement
Among the charges Brown faces are making a terroristic threat and criminal possession of a weapon, while Mahrer faces charges including criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a firearm, according to court documents.
Brown was denied bail, and Mahrer’s bail was set at $150,000 cash or $300,000 bond, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said. Mahrer bailed out, according to a court website. Their attorneys have not responded to CNN’s requests for comment.
Adams listed an inventory of items confiscated from the men, including a Glock semi-automatic weapon, a hunting knife, a black ski mask, a Nazi armband and another firearm, its serial number obscured and outfitted with a 30-round magazine and laser sight.
“A Nazi armband in NYC in 2022,” the mayor said. “Think about that for a moment.”
Officer recounts encountering suspects
The two Metropolitan Transportation Authority policemen whose quick response led to the suspects’ arrests were on hand at the news conference. Officer Ryan Fackner said he and his partner, Connor Colasurdo, were on patrol at Penn Station when a joint task force issued a be-on-the-lookout alert for one the suspects, who was thought to be traveling on the subway to the Long Island Rail Road.
“We were up at … 34th Street and 7th Avenue when we saw (Brown) actually walk in with his friend,” he recalled. “They both walked in through the entrance. We followed them down the escalator, stopped them and made the arrest.”
The suspects were “completely compliant,” Fackner said. Brown and Mahrer were turned over to the local police and FBI, the MTA said.
Red flags initially went up when investigators from the FBI/NYPD terrorism task force uncovered “a developing threat to the Jewish community,” Sewell said Saturday.
The threats — including a reference to attacking a synagogue — appeared on Twitter on November 12 and were traced late Friday to a computer at a veterinary clinic where one of the suspects worked, authorities said. One of the messages alluded to “big moves being made on Friday” but gave no specific target, authorities said.
“Gonna ask a priest if I should become a husband or shoot up a synagogue and die,” one post allegedly read.
Local and federal authorities began hunting the suspects and homed in on them late Friday, law enforcement sources said. The BOLO alert included a photo of one of the suspects along with information indicating the suspect might be traveling among Long Island, Manhattan and Pennsylvania, sources said.
Investigators identified a 94th Street address on Manhattan’s west side linked to the suspect’s friend, the sources said. When law enforcement arrived, they learned the suspects had been there, dropped off a backpack and were headed to Penn Station, sources said.
The backpack contained the gun with the extended magazine and laser sight, sources said. CNN has reached out to the NYPD and FBI for additional information.
Alleged plot comes amid rising antisemitism
Investigators strongly believe an imminent attack was prevented because one of the suspects had made threatening posts, obtained a semi-automatic weapon and had a Nazi armband, large knife and ski mask, they told CNN.
“Today, we’re extremely grateful to NYPD investigators and our law enforcement partners who uncovered and stopped a threat to our Jewish community,” Sewell tweeted.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul praised the MTA officers who spotted the men, saying on Twitter, “Their vigilance & heroic work … helped stop a threat to our Jewish communities. Grateful to law enforcement for keeping New Yorkers safe.”
The latest threat against synagogues comes more than a week after a New Jersey man was accused of making threats to attack a synagogue and Jewish people.
New York state leads the nation in antisemitic incidents, with at least 416 reported in 2021, including at least 51 assaults — the highest number ever recorded by the Anti-Defamation League. There were 12 assaults reported in the city in 2020, the ADL said last week.
The arrests also come at a time when antisemitism is high on America’s mind amid backlash against former President Donald Trump, rapper/producer Kanye West and Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving following actions deemed hateful toward the Jewish community.
A total of 2,717 antisemitic incidents were reported last year across the nation — a 34% increase compared to 2,026 in 2020, according to the ADL.
Calling rising hate “a dark cloud over our nation,” Adams called for more to be done to stamp out domestic terrorism. He also called on social media entities to “reckon” with their role in spreading hate and allowing their platforms to be used as organizing tools.
“It has become normalized by politicians and celebrities, amplified by social media and cable news, and weaponized by the easy availability of guns in this country,” the mayor said. “From the massacre of Black shoppers in Buffalo to the killings at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs over the weekend, we see communications and communities across the nation being targeted for their race, their beliefs and their way of life. This hate cannot be allowed to take hold and build and gain further ground.”
He encouraged New Yorkers to remain vigilant during the Hanukkah and holiday season.
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CNN’s John Miller, Alaa Elassar and Samantha Beech contributed to this report.