Possible Pipe-Bomb Explosion at Santa Monica Synagogue Prompts Mass Evacuation
Update, April 11: "Ron Hirsch, Synagogue Explosion Suspect, on a Greyhound to New York."
Santa Monica Patch
Urgent update: The explosion WAS CAUSED BY GUN POWDER, police say. Details after the jump.
Update, April 7, 11 a.m.: Santa Monica police and the FBI confirm that this was not a bomb, but some sort of mechanical issue within the building. The evacuation will soon be lifted.
Updated after the jump with various guesses as to whether this was a hate crime or just a gas leak.
The Chabad House Lubavitch of Santa Monica, a Jewish place of worship located at 1428 17th Street, was just evacuated after an explosion -- possibly a pipe bomb, according to authorities at the scene.
KTLA reports that "FBI, LAPD, a bomb squad and the Santa Monica Police Department" were all present to evacuate synagogue-goers and investigate the source of the 6:45 a.m. explosion.
And the evacuation is now extending beyond the Chabad House Lubavitch, says KNX news radio. One man who works in a nearby studio tells reporters he was evacuated from his workplace because officers have to make sure there are no more bombs in the area.
No word yet on whether the explosion could have been a hate crime.
Update, April 7, 10:45 a.m.: The Los Angeles Times reports that the evacuation included four blocks surrounding the synagogue. The explosion itself apparently did not occur inside the building, but in the parking lot:
Multiple sources familiar with the investigation said the device exploded just north of the temple. Authorities were trying to determine whether the temple in the 1400 block of 17th Street, Chabad House of Santa Monica, was specifically targeted.
The man with the nearby studio tells KNX that two walls of the synagogue have been blown out, and that officials are "worried there may be another bomb on the roof."
Though the FBI is making it clear that the explosion was very possibly caused by an accidental gas leak, a California State University San Bernardino hate-crime expert explains to KNX reporters that he thinks a device even larger than a pipe bomb may have been planted.
"This device looks fairly large," he says. "The fact of the matter is this is not some 16-year-old kid with a four-to-six-inch pipe bomb."
The expert predicts that officers will now isolate the area and check for other suspicious devices, and bring in incendiary experts and dogs. He advises other Jewish leaders to "network with your local authorities and maintain some kind of cursory inspection of your facilities."
The good news: No injuries have been reported so far.
Update, April 8, 6:40 p.m.: According to the Los Angeles Times, Thursday morning's "accident" was indeed caused by a man-made explosive. Though law-enforcement officials had brushed it off by afternoon as a freak mechanical malfunction that sent a 300-pound metal/concrete pipe flying through a roof next to the synagogue, they now believe it was a planned attack.
From the latest report:
Santa Monica police Friday issued an alert to other law enforcement agencies, saying there was a specific man who detectives want to talk to in connection with the case. They said the man frequents synagogues and Jewish community centers and should be considered "extremely dangerous."
Law enforcement sources told The Times the explosive device contained gun powder and concrete.
About 100 people were evacuated from the Chabad House after the explosion, according to KTLA.
Originally posted at 10:25 a.m.