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Seattle police arrest man, say he threatened to blow up Jewish center

Law EnforcementCrime, Law and JusticeReligion and BeliefUniversity of Washington

SEATTLE - Police arrested a former employee of a Jewish student center Monday after the man threatened to blow up the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life at the University of Washington, authorities said.

Police shut down streets surrounding the University District center after Hillel employees called to report that the man "threatened to mix toxic chemicals to cause an explosion in the building," according to the Seattle Police Department website.

Rabbi Oren Hayon, the Hillel center's executive director, told the Los Angeles Times that "we're not concerned about any anti-Semitic overtones to the threat."

Hayon said he had been asked repeatedly "whether we understood this to be an anti-Semitic action or any kind of threat specifically directed at us because we're a Jewish organization.... That was not the case."

Shortly before 2 p.m., the suspect made the threat in the Hillel center's basement, authorities said. An employee who heard the threat went upstairs, alerted others in the building and called police. Hayon estimated that there were between 10 and 30 students and staff in the building at the time.

"While one staff member was on the phone with authorities, I went through the building and cleared it of students," Hayon said. "Others checked to make sure all the office spaces were cleared.... Within a minute or two the building was empty and the first responders were on the way."

The suspect had recently been fired from his job at the center, and "after the termination he returned to the building, came in, made some threats," Seattle police spokesman Mark Jamieson told reporters. "Then he immediately went down to the basement where he began mixing some chemicals."

Hayon said that because the investigation was ongoing he could not identify the former employee or discuss possible motives.

Norm Arkans, associate vice president for media relations and communications at the university, said that "disgruntled is a fair word" to describe the man who was arrested.

Arkans also noted that although Hillel is "a recognized student organization," it is not a university group. It is located a couple of blocks off campus.

Police closed off traffic in the area around the Hillel center, the Seattle Police Department website said, so they could determine whether the suspect may have "mixed chemicals found in the building to create a toxic gas."

Hayon said that a hazardous materials team sent a chemical-sniffing robot into the Hillel center before allowing authorities inside to investigate. According to police, a SWAT team found the suspect in the basement and arrested him shortly before 3 p.m.

"Everybody is safe and sound," Hayon said. "The police are still investigating.

"Fortunately everything was deescalated efficiently and safely.... A few hours later the lights are back on in the building and we're back to business as usual."

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maria.laganga@latimes.com

@MariaLaGanga

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Law EnforcementCrime, Law and JusticeReligion and BeliefUniversity of Washington
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