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Omaha FBI to hold training with houses of worship due to 'heightened risk'

Posted at 6:26 PM, Mar 03, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Just weeks ago, a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas was taken over by a gunman and hostages were taken. Ultimately, nobody was killed but the gunman.

“We find this type of attack, it’s not only terrifying for the actual victims, but it’s terrifying for the broader communities who think about, 'Are we next?'” said Eugene Kowel, special agent in charge for the FBI Omaha Field Office.

Due to what the FBI calls a "heightened risk," the FBI will hold a training workshop with religious leaders next week.

They’ll learn of trends, active shooter scenarios and the FBI will listen to the head of local synagogues, mosques and churches on how the agency can help them.

“The greater degree that we have these conversations with congregations ahead of time, the greater degree we can help them protect themselves,” said Kowel.

While no major tragedy has occurred recently in Nebraska at houses of worship, there has been hate directed towards Jewish people.

In recent memory, a swastika was burned into the grass at Memorial Park and a synagogue in Lincoln was vandalized.

“They understand that they can’t be passive, that things can happen even here in Omaha, Nebraska,” said Gary Nachman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Also in Omaha, a man placed neo-Nazi stickers near Temple Israel.

Executive Director at Temple Israel Nate Shapiro says he sat down and had beers with the man.

“Tried to get some understanding from him and he did make a video apologizing and I didn’t ask him to do that. He came to it on his own and promised me there’s not going to be anything like that here again and, so far, he’s been true to his word,” said Shapiro.

Due to these types of threats, violence across the country and a history of persecution towards the Jewish people, Temple Israel has had armed guards for years.

He says you can make the building as secure as you want, but need to find a balance.

“It’s tough to walk the line between being secure and being welcoming because the synagogue was not built here as a fortress,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro also says he’s in regular communication with the Omaha Jewish community and law enforcement. He believes the city of Omaha “has our backs.”

If leaders of religious communities want to secure their physical buildings, the FBI says it will work with local police to go to those facilities and give those leaders tips.

If religious organizations are interested in attending the FBI training, they can contact them at OM.CommunityOutreach@FBI.gov.

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