LOS ANGELES, Dec. 30 (JTA) — A task force of federal and local officials is investigating fires, apparently set by arsonists, at two neighboring Orthodox synagogues here. Although authorities have not ruled out the possibility of hate crimes, the absence of the usual anti-Semitic graffiti has led them to believe that the fires were set by one or more transients. The two Sunday evening fires blackened and damaged the buildings of Congregation Kehillas Yaakov and Congregation Shaarei Tefilah, located in the city’s, traditionally Jewish, Fairfax district. A student arriving for a 9 p.m. Talmud class Sunday discovered the fire at Kehillas Yaakov, a congregation of 100 families. Damage to carpets, linoleum and ceilings is estimated at $7,000 to $10,000. Aftereffects of the fire at Shaarei Tefilah, which apparently burned only briefly, were discovered Monday morning. Damage to the congregation of 271 families was put at several thousand dollars. Despite the limited damages, authorities are taking the incidents seriously. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan expressed his shock and ordered increased police patrols in the area. “Our police and fire departments, along with the FBI and federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officers, have been on the scene and will investigate these fires thoroughly,” Riordan said. The federal and local law enforcement officials are members of the House of Worship Task Force, set up to probe the 1996 series of arson attacks on black churches in the South. The team’s preliminary investigations will be forwarded to Washington, where officials will determine whether to launch a full-scale civil rights inquiry. The attacks came the same week as three arms were torn off a publicly displayed menorah in the New York suburb of Scarsdale, N.Y., and vandals spray-painted a swastika on an Islamic symbol displayed near the White House.
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