NYPD Steps Up Patrols At High Profile Targets, Places Of Worship

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two Palestinian cousins armed with meat cleavers and a gun stormed a Jerusalem synagogue during morning prayers Tuesday, killing five people in the city’s bloodiest attack in years.

Police killed the attackers in a shootout.

The attack ratcheted up fears of sustained violence in the city, which is already on edge amid soaring tensions over its most contested holy site.

PHOTOS: Jerusalem Synagogue Attack

As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, heavy hearts were evident Tuesday night as mourners gathered at the Riverdale Jewish Center to pray for the five victims of an attack that took place during morning prayers at a Jerusalem synagogue.

Police said the dead worshipers were three Americans and a Briton, and that all held dual Israeli citizenship. The fifth victim was a police officer who died following the attack, CBS2's Dick Brennan reported.

The attack occurred in Har Nof, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood that has a large population of English-speaking immigrants.

Police shot and killed the two Palestinian attackers, who were reportedly angry over restrictions on access to a mosque located in Jerusalem’s Old City.

One of the men killed as Rabbi Moshe Twersky, the brother-in-law of the rabbi at Riverdale, Jonathan Rosenblatt. CBS2 spoke with him just before he flew to Israel.

“The world has lost a gentle scholar who never hurt a person in his life and who wished well to everyone,” Rosenblatt said.

Twersky, the grandson of a renowned rabbi from Boston, Joseph Soloveichik, was the head of Yeshivas Toras Moshe, a religious seminary for English-speaking students. Twersky grew up in Boston and had lived in Israel for about 30 years. He has a son who lives in Lakewood, Diamond reported.

Some Palestinians celebrated the attack – even handing out candy. It was a painful scene for Twersky’s family.

“I'm sorry for the kids who've been filled up with hate and will never have the chance to know people like him,” said Rosenblatt, who is married to Twersky's sister, Tzipporah.

Rabbi Marc Penner of Yeshiva was also stunned to learn of Twersky’s murder. Twersky’s family has strong roots at the university in Manhattan.

"Every Jewish prayer is a prayer for peace, if you can’t go in a synagogue, how can you live in their places. It’s a very, very scary thing," Rabbi Penner told CBS2’s Brennan.

"As a people, we just march on,” Penner added. “I’m a little more afraid then we were before, yes, but it’s what we do, we can’t give in terrorists."

Several Jewish organizations also gathered outside the Palestinian mission on Manhattan's Upper East Side for a protest and prayer vigil, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

Jewish groups gather outside the Palestinian mission on Nov. 18, 2014, after four people were killed at a synagogue in Jerusalem.(credit: Bob Tognetti)

Rabbi Avi Weiss said the horror is unimaginable.

“People to come in with hatchets and knives — it’s not just the murder of a person, it’s the murder of the world,” Weiss said.

In addition to Twersky, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki named the other two U.S. citizens as Aryeh Kupinsky and Cary William Levine.

Israeli authorities identified the British man as Avraham Goldberg.

One Canadian was wounded in the attack, said Francois Lasalle, a spokesman for Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department. He declined to provide further details.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is “horrified and heartbroken” by the attack.

“New York City stands in solidarity with Israel at this difficult time, and we hope and pray for a peaceful and secure future for all of its people,” de Blasio said in a statement.

De Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the city has increased its police presence at synagogues and other key locations around New York City.

“The NYPD is following developments in Jerusalem closely and working with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to monitor any further developments,” Bratton said in a statement. “As of now, there is no specific credible threat to New York City.”

“The NYPD is in close contact with its liaison post in Israel,” de Blasio said. “As always, we ask New Yorkers to stay alert and immediately report any suspicious activity.”

“We are aware of the situation and are working in close collaboration and cooperation with the appropriate Israeli allies and partners,” the FBI said in a statement.

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President Barack Obama on Tuesday strongly condemned the attack and called it “horrific” and without justification.

He said too many Israelis and Palestinians have died in recent months, and he urged leaders and ordinary people from both sides to work “cooperatively” to lower tensions, reject violence and seek a path forward toward peace.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “respond harshly,” describing the attack as a “cruel murder of Jews who came to pray and were killed by despicable murderers.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke to Netanyahu after the assault and denounced it as an “act of pure terror and senseless brutality and violence.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement saying he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the “horrific terror attack.”

“This attack was a deplorable act of evil that should be denounced as such by all — regardless of their political or religious beliefs,” Cuomo said. “I want to reiterate that friends stand together in times of crisis. Today New York joins with all of Israel as they mourn those that were lost. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Israeli friends.”

New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer also released statements condemning the attack. Schumer said the Palestinian Authority was a co-conspirator in the attack for carrying out “reckless incitement.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, the first time he has done so since a recent spike in deadly violence against Israelis. He also called for an end to Israeli “provocations” surrounding a sacred shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Barry Curtiss-Lusher, Anti-Defamation League national chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, issued a joint statement criticizing Abbas.

“We are horrified and outraged at this attack targeting Jews at prayer in Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem. Abbas condemned this brutal attack after weeks of silence and failure to address the hateful incitement running rampant through Palestinian society,” the statement read. “His half-hearted statement is woefully inadequate. Had Mr. Abbas spoken out against earlier terror attacks, lives may have been saved.

“We extend our solidarity with the State of Israel and the residents of Jerusalem at this difficult time,” the statement continued.

The attack was the deadliest in Jerusalem since a Palestinian assailant killed eight students at a Jewish seminar in March 2008.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri identified the assailants as Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal from the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood in east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians as their capital.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small militant group, said the cousins were among its members, though it did not say whether it had instructed them to carry out the attack.

Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, praised the attack. In Gaza, dozens took to the streets to celebrate, with some offering trays full of candy.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said six people were wounded in the attack, including two police officers. Four were reported in serious condition.

Associated Press footage showed wounded worshipers being assisted by paramedics, and a bloodied meat cleaver lay nearby. Footage released by the Israeli government showed blood-soaked prayer books and prayer shawls on the floor of the synagogue. A photo in Israeli media showed a body on the floor, covered with a prayer shawl.

Yosef Posternak, who was at the synagogue at the time of the attack, told Israel Radio that about 25 worshipers were inside when the attackers entered.

“I saw people lying on the floor, blood everywhere. People were trying to fight with (the attackers) but they didn’t have much of a chance,” he said.

Soon after the attack, clashes broke out outside the assailants’ home, where dozens of police officers had converged. Residents hurled stones at police, who responded using riot dispersal weapons.

Neighborhood residents, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of their own safety, said 14 members of the Abu Jamal family were arrested.

Mohammed Zahaikeh, a social activist in Jabal Mukaber, said a relative of the cousins had been released in a 2011 prisoner swap and re-arrested recently by Israeli police. He did not say why.

Israel has been on edge with a spate of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, killing at least six people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Tel Aviv in recent weeks before Tuesday’s casualties.

The violence has created a special security challenge for Israel, since most of the attackers come from east Jerusalem. More than 200,000 Arab residents there hold residency rights that, in contrast to Palestinians in the neighboring West Bank, allow them to move freely throughout Israel.

Israel’s police chief said Tuesday’s attack was likely not organized by militant groups, making it more difficult for security forces to prevent the violence.

“These are individuals who decide to do horrible acts. It’s very hard to know ahead of time about every such incident,” Yohanan Danino said.

Kerry blamed the attack on Palestinian calls for “days of rage,” and said Palestinian leaders must take serious steps to refrain from such incitement. He also urged Palestinian leaders to condemn the attack “in the most powerful terms.”

The FBI routinely investigates attacks abroad in which U.S. citizens are killed and is expected to be involved in this investigation as well, a U.S. official in Washington said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak on the record about the investigation.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond also condemned the violence.

Much of the recent violence stems from tensions surrounding the Jerusalem holy site referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount because of the Jewish temples that stood there in biblical times. It is the most sacred place in Judaism; Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is their third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

The site is so holy that Jews have traditionally refrained from going there, instead praying at the adjacent Western Wall. Israel’s chief rabbis have urged people not to ascend to the area, but in recent years, a small but growing number of Jews, including ultranationalist lawmakers, have begun regularly visiting the site, a move seen as a provocation.

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