by Associated Press | Associated Press | 13 November 2004
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Presbyterian Church (USA) has stepped up security at its headquarters and advised its churches to be on alert after receiving a letter threatening arson attacks because of its policies in the Middle East.
The handwritten letter, received Wednesday at the church's Louisville headquarters, threatened to set churches on fire while people were inside in retaliation for "anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes," Jerry L. Van Marter, director of the Presbyterian news service, said Saturday.
The letter had no return address, but it was postmarked from Queens, N.Y., Van Marter said. The letter gave a Nov. 15 deadline for the church to reverse its Middle East policies, he said.
Church officials are taking the threat seriously and have contacted law enforcement authorities in Kentucky and New York, Van Marter said.
The FBI is investigating the letter with help from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local authorities, FBI spokesman David Beyer said.
Van Marter said the church has received thousands of letters, e-mails and phone calls since the church's General Assembly decided in June to begin the process of selective divestment from corporations supporting the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
Although many letters have been angry, Van Marter said this was the first to threaten violence.
The 2.4 million-member Presbyterian Church has 11,200 congregations in the United States and Puerto Rico.