Jordanian national arrested for mail threat

Far North Side Jewish academy received letter
March 20, 2009 3:17:34 PM PDT
A Jordanian national was arrested in Chicago. Prosecutors say he sent a threatening letter to a Jewish school back in December in response to the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. An investigation by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force led to the arrest. Mohammed Alkaramla was ordered held without bond Friday.

Five weeks ago FBI agents searched a Far North Side apartment. At the time, it was believed they were looking for evidence connected to vandalism at several synagogues and Jewish schools in Chicago and Lincolnwood. The focus was on 25-year-old Alkaramla, a Jordanian national who is a US Citizen and has lived in the states for 10 years.

"I have nothing to hide. They searched cars, they searched the house," Alkaramla said.

Alkaramla denied any involvement in the vandalism, but early Friday morning the FBI returned to his apartment and arrested Alkaramla. He appeared in court Friday morning, charged with sending a threatening letter to the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, which is located less than 2 miles from Alkaramla's home. The letter arrived New Year's eve.

"The letter threatened the school and many other of the Jewish schools in the Chicago area, and said unless we withdrew from Gaza there will be a bomb at one of these or all of these locations," said Rabbi Leonard Matanky, Ida Crown Jewish Academy.

Specifically, the letter read, " Will give you until January 15th to back off from Gaza in Palestine or will set our explosive in your areas, it is very important to make a quick action before we make our decisions to set bombs in the fowling (sic) addresses."

The letter then listed 22 Jewish schools in the Chicago area, and investigators suspected the list might have been lifted directly from a web site.

"I would characterize the rest of the investigation as really good 21st century police work," said Ross Rice, FBI.

Investigators went on the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago web site, found the list of schools, determined who had most recently visited the site, and through elimination, looked at Alkaramla. On his computer hard drive investigators say they found a portion of the threatening letter, and from an arrest, they say they linked the suspect's fingerprint to a print lifted from the letter itself.

At Ida Crown Jewish Academy, a high school of just over 300, the arrest brings some relief.

"There is a sense of relief, but on the other hand a sense of vulnerability, that something like this could occur within our community is not what we would like to think of our role and our place within the world," said Matanky.

In addition to the print, and the evidence from the hard drive, investigators also say a stamp on the threatening letter matches -- through a micro-fiber analysis - a stamp book taken from Alkaramla's apartment.

Alkaramla strongly denies the charges. In court Friday morning his attorney said the young man has never had any previous encounters with law enforcement and just graduated from IIT. His family and friends say he has no political agenda and would never have any reason to send a threatening letter.

Alkaramla remains locked up until a detention hearing next Tuesday.