BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A person of interest was taken into custody by the FBI earlier today in Birmingham after a propane tank and clothes that had been set on fire were found near a synagogue in the city.
According to a statement from the Birmingham Police Department, officers responded to Temple Beth-El on Friday morning around 5:50 a.m. to reports of a fire. First responders who arrived at the scene “observed a propane tank and clothing which had been set on fire in the area,” the statement said.
Around 12:15 p.m., FBI agents took a person of interest into custody related to that incident. The man was transported to the agency’s Birmingham headquarters, where police say he was interviewed by both the FBI and Birmingham police.
“At the conclusion of the interview, the person of interest was transported to the Birmingham City Jail where he was placed under a 48-Hour Felony Extension for the State of Alabama charge Arson 2nd degree,” the release stated.
After police had responded to the early morning fire call, security for the Jewish federation notified local police and the FBI around 8:30 a.m. of a suspicious package in the bushes just outside the synagogue.
When law enforcement responded to the scene, they found the backpack to be suspicious as well, police said.
“Once our techs got on the scene, they were not able to tell what was in the backpack, but what they observed was alarming,” Fitzgerald said.
Law enforcement used robotic technology to retrieve the backpack and transported it to a secure location where it can be inspected, according to Fitzgerald. During the investigation, it was determined that the backpack did not contain any explosives.
“We are working hand in hand with the FBI to determine if there are any criminal charges that will be filed in this incident,” Fitzgerald said in a statement posted on social media Friday afternoon.
Prior to BPD’s announcement that a person of interest had been taken into custody, Fitzgerald had referenced a previous incident at the church but did not reveal that the incident had occurred on Friday morning. That case “wasn’t as extreme,” Fitzgerald had said, and police were able to eliminate any threat.
Friday’s event occurred a day after federal law enforcement in New Jersey warned local synagogues about a generalized threat toward Jewish institutions in the state. That larger context, Fitzgerald said, is something that shouldn’t be ignored.
“Our Jewish community has always been targeted, and it makes you just want to wrap your arms around them and do what you can to protect them,” Fitzgerald said.
People like Larry Brook, editor of the Southern Jewish Life Magazine, said events like these serve as a chilling illustration of the fear Jews live in every day.
”It just highlights how we’ve always had to be vigilant,” Brook said. “People don’t realize the amount of security we have every time we open our doors. Being Jewish in this society, unfortunately, we have to take all sorts of necessary precautions.”
Stay with CBS 42 for updates as this story is developing.