Seeking answers on R.I. firebombing

A burn mark left by a Molotov cocktail mars the face of a Jewish Agency official's home in Providence, R.I., that was targeted in an attack over the weekend. (Richard M. Asinof )

A burn mark left by a Molotov cocktail mars the face of a Jewish Agency official’s home in Providence, R.I., that was targeted in an attack over the weekend. (Richard M. Asinof )

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (JTA) – Three Jewish organizations, working in cooperation with this city’s police department, are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the firebombing of an apartment where an Israeli emissary was living.

The Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, the Anti-Defamation League and the Hillel House serving both Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design campuses announced the reward at a news conference Monday at Providence Police headquarters.

Josef “Yossi” Knafo, 24, was sitting in the kitchen of his second-floor apartment at approximately 1:15 a.m. Saturday when he heard a bang, according to police reports.

Knafo looked outside and saw where a Molotov cocktail had hit the three-story wooden apartment building and caught fire. He then discovered a second Molotov cocktail that had come in through an open window and landed inside his bedroom but did not ignite.

Knafo is in the United States as an emissary for the Jewish Agency for Israel. The Afula native works for Hillel serving the two campuses. He has been moved to another location.

Local, state and federal agencies are investigating the incident. The motive remains unknown.

Along with the Providence Police, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Terrorism Task Force are involved in the probe.

“We are thankful nobody was hurt in this attack, and we commend the Providence Police Department for the seriousness with which they are investigating,” said Stephen Silberfarb, the executive vice president and CEO of the Rhode Island federation.

“We have been in close contact with Mayor David Cicilline, Providence Police, the FBI and Homeland Security officials, and we are grateful that they share our deep concern over this attack.”

Silberfarb noted that similar attacks have targeted Jewish institutions.

“Prudence and common sense dictate that we view this as more than a random act of violence, and that an appropriate investigation is conducted and sensible precautionary measures are taken,” he said. “At the same time, we will continue to make Jewish life accessible and fulfilling without fear.”

The local community relations council alerted Jewish agencies and synagogues about the incident, as well as how to address potential security issues. Local law enforcement agencies responded with increased patrols and a visible presence at several Purim-related events at area synagogues.

The Camp Street neighborhood, where the attack took place, is about a mile from the Brown campus. It is considered to be a relatively high-crime area in the city, with gang- and drug-related problems.

The owner of the apartment building reportedly is a Russian-Israeli woman, according to sources.

Both Cicilline and Police Chief Dean Esserman are Jewish, creating a heightened sensitivity to the issues surrounding the incident. The weekend of the attack, a busload of Providence police recruits traveled to Washington to the U.S. Holocaust Museum for instruction tailored to law enforcement officials.

In a written statement published by the Hillel’s Web site, Brown President Ruth Simmons said, “There is nothing more unsettling on a campus than to have acts that might seek to spread fear, intimidate or harm individuals.

“Swift action to condemn such behavior and strongly restate our values of openness and mutual respect is an essential step at such moments,” she said.

Simmons said Brown officials are working with the staff to address any safety concerns and to find new housing for Knafo.

The Brown Muslim Students’ Association also expressed its sympathy. An e-mail sent by the group’s board said, “The Brown Muslim Students’ Association would like to express its solidarity with the Brown/RISD Hillel Community in light of the recent incident at the home of a Hillel employee.

“Our sympathies go out to the employee and all others affected, and our doors will remain open to any members of our fellow faith community on campus to offer support and comfort.”

(Richard Asinof is the executive editor of The Jewish Voice & Herald in Providence.)

 

 

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