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Local Agencies Cope With Fear of Terrorism : Encino: Jewish and abortion-rights groups increase precautions after bombings abroad and slaying of a physician in Florida.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With recent attacks against Jews abroad and doctors in Florida clearly weighing on their minds, Jewish leaders and abortion-rights activists said Thursday they are keeping their fears in check while taking precautions against acts of terrorism here.

The Anti-Defamation League sponsored a security seminar Thursday in Encino, and abortion-rights groups said they are confident that their network of clinic protectors would fend off trouble.

Fear of terrorism has been heightened by anti-Jewish bombings that killed or wounded more than 100 people in Buenos Aires, Panama City and London last month and by the second fatal shooting of an abortion-clinic physician, which occurred in Florida last week.

Although officials with both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department said they know of no immediate danger to synagogues in Los Angeles, which has the nation’s second-largest Jewish community, they advised Jewish groups to remain on alert and outlined several precautions, including watching for suspicious visitors and packages.

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“The FBI has received no information regarding any imminent attack in Los Angeles,” Special Agent David Staretz told representatives of Jewish groups gathered at Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue in Encino. “That’s not to say you shouldn’t remain on alert.”

Representatives of Jewish and abortion-rights groups said Thursday that they are paying more attention to security measures, but also carrying on with their daily affairs and refusing to cave in to fear.

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“I’ve had a number of questions about whether to remove Jewish signs” from synagogues, schools and businesses, said Mary Krasn, director of the ADL’s San Fernando Valley branch.

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“And I’ve given them an unequivocal no. At no time should we hide our identities or shrink from the world. But we also need to review our security procedures,” Krasn said.

Abortion-rights activists take a similar stance. “Right now, all seems to be quiet, but we remain vigilant,” said Katherine Spillar, national coordinator for the Feminist Majority Foundation, which runs clinic defense projects around the country.

In Los Angeles, Spillar said in a telephone interview from Washington, clinics have reported no death threats or other unusual activity.

She attributed the calm to a history of abortion-rights activism in the Los Angeles area, crediting the deterrent effect of “10,000 people in that area, literally, that we’ve trained in clinic defense and who’ve come out to clinics over the last five years whenever needed.”

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Josie Corning, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, agreed, saying the nonprofit group’s network of volunteer protectors is standing by, although there have been no signs of violence so far.

Corning added that Planned Parenthood began taking heavy security measures at its 11 Los Angeles clinics at least three years ago, when abortion foes such as Operation Rescue started becoming more violent.

Similarly, Jewish groups have long been sensitive to violent attacks and the need for vigilance. But last month’s flurry of terrorism, including the July 18 bombing at a Buenos Aires Jewish center that left at least 96 people dead, renewed concern that Jews everywhere are targets.

After that attack and the bombings that followed, some Jewish groups in Los Angeles received threats, Krasn said Thursday. She declined to provide details but added, “As far as I know, none of the threats materialized.”

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At least one bomb threat was directed at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance on Pico Boulevard, an LAPD spokeswoman said Thursday.

A police bomb squad was sent there on July 28 after a caller warned of explosives on the premises. Nothing was found and a man was later arrested and charged with two counts of making false bomb threats, said Officer Sandra Castello.

Even though it has not been targeted by specific threats, at least one Jewish organization has changed its habits.

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Intercoms with buzzer-activated locks to admit visitors have been in place at the United Jewish Appeal office in Sherman Oaks since the fund-raising group moved in last November. But it was only after a July 26 car bombing outside the Israeli Embassy in London that the UJA began using the security system, said administrative assistant Debby Bennett, who attended Thursday’s meeting.

Other Jewish groups represented included several synagogues, a cemetery, the Russian Community Center in West Los Angeles and the Jewish Family Service’s Family Friends Project in North Hollywood, whose director expressed concern about the difficulty of screening visitors in the storefront walk-in operation.

“What are things to look for? Like the woman in London with the Harrod’s bag?” asked Susan Forer-Dehrey, referring to the well-dressed, middle-aged woman seen leaving a car in London shortly before it exploded.

“There’s no stereotype,” replied Sean Ben-Menahem, a security consultant for the Jewish Federation Council. “For the next two weeks,” he advised, “receive no off-the-street clients. Establish a system of appointments only.”

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“What about the Jewish High Holidays, which are a month away?” another guest wanted to know. “Could the police increase their patrols during that time? Should we increase security?”

LAPD Capt. James McMurray of the Van Nuys Division suggested that congregations weigh what they can afford against how much of a threat they perceive. He added that police patrols are alerted to Jewish holiday dates and keep lists of potential hate-crime targets.

Finally, Betty Levy, director of B’nai B’rith Women’s Pacific Southwest Region, wanted to know if her group should continue to publicize events.

Ben-Menahem suggested hiring guards for those events or using hand-held radios to keep tabs on guests, but otherwise carrying on as usual.

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“You can’t stop life,” he said.


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