9 arrested after secret tunnel found at Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn

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Tuesday, January 9, 2024
Multiple arrested after digging hidden tunnel at Chabad headquarters
Anthony Carlo is in Brooklyn with the story.

CROWN HEIGHTS, Brooklyn (WABC) -- Police say nine worshippers were arrested amid a dispute over a tunnel secretly dug into the side of a historic Brooklyn synagogue, setting off a brawl between police and those who tried to defend the makeshift passageway.

Authorities responded to the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights on Monday afternoon.

Motti Seligson, a spokesperson for Chabad, said a "group of extremist students" had secretly broken through the walls of a vacant building behind the headquarters, creating an underground passage beneath a row of office buildings and lecture halls that eventually connected to the synagogue.

The tunnel had been previously discovered. It is believed the vandals went rogue and tried to expand the synagogue.

When a cement truck was brought in to fill the tunnel, the men are accused of standing in the tunnel and refusing to leave and causing mayhem.

Video shot by witnesses showed police confronting young men standing within a hollowed out space inside a brick wall. After officers removed one of the men from the dusty crevasse, a group of onlookers can be seen shoving officers, tossing wooden desks and scattering prayer books. One officer appeared to deploy an irritating spray at the jeering group.

Hasidic Jewish students riot against New York Police officers who were called to inspect a secret tunnel dug under the synagogue by students, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in New York.
Bruce Schaff via AP

It wasn't immediately clear when the tunnel was constructed or what purpose it served.

The nine men, between 19 and 21 years old, were charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. One was also charged with obstruction of governmental administration.

New York City Fire Department spokesperson Amanda Farinacci said the agency received an anonymous tip about the location last month. But when a fire prevention team responded on Dec. 20, the tunnel was not detected and they found all of the exits operable and up to code, Farinacci said.

Two violations were issued: failing to obtain a certificate of operation for the place of assembly and failing to provide access to inspect the sprinkler main shut off valve at the time of inspection.

The Lubavitch World Headquarters is temporarily closed pending a review of the structural integrity of the building.

Hasidic Jewish students sit behind a breach in the wall of a synagogue that led to a tunnel dug by the students, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in New York.
Bruce Schaff via AP

Lubavitch officials say they've attempted to gain proper control of the premises through the New York State court system - but they say that process has dragged on for years.

The following statement was released from Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters:

"The Chabad-Lubavitch community is pained by the vandalism of a group of young agitators who damaged the synagogue below Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway Monday night. These odious actions will be investigated, and the sanctity of the synagogue will be restored. Our thanks to the NYPD for their professionalism and sensitivity. We are grateful for the outpouring of concern, and for the support of our Chabad-Lubavitch institutions around the world."

The headquarters was also the epicenter of the 1991 Crown Heights riots, which began after a 7-year-old boy was struck and killed by a car in the rabbi's motorcade.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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