Shul bombing and other anti-Semitic acts hit Moscow

NEW YORK — The bombing of a Moscow synagogue has prompted an unprecedented outcry from Russia's political and religious leaders.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the Foreign Ministry called the bombing an act of "barbarism" and said he expected the police to work actively in order to find those responsible for the attacks, according to a presidential spokesman.

Leaders of Russia's two largest faiths — Russian Orthodoxy and Islam — also condemned the attack, with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II calling it a "sinful and criminal affair."

But Russian Jewish leaders voiced concern that the police investigation of the bombing was moving slowly and not focusing on the activities of Russian neo-Nazi groups. No arrests have been made in two previous attacks on the synagogue, which occurred in 1993 and 1996.

"We don't feel that what is being done is enough," said Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Lubavitch movement's chief emissary in the former Soviet Union and the rabbi at the synagogue.

Jewish leaders said they were concerned that authorities would present the attack as an isolated case carried out by a single extremist rather than an incident linked to Moscow's rising neo-Nazi movement.

In fact, the explosion at the three-story Marina Roscha synagogue was not the only act of anti-Semitic violence in the Russian capital last week.

A burning container was thrown at the Darchei Shalom synagogue the same night the Marina Roscha synagogue was attacked, said David Karpov, a Lubavitch rabbi at Darchei Shalom. The container caused a small fire near the building's outer wall.

Three days later, the rabbi's car was burned outside Darchei Shalom, the newest of Moscow's four synagogues, which was dedicated three months ago.

The Marina Roscha bombing occurred on Wednesday of last week, just minutes after some 70 children and their teachers had left the three-story synagogue building after celebrating the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer.

Two workers at a nearby construction site of a Jewish community center were lightly injured by the blast.

The bomb, equivalent to more than a pound of TNT, partially destroyed two floors of the building, causing some $100,000 worth of damage, Lazar said.

A neo-Nazi group, Russian National Unity, allegedly claimed responsibility for the attack. But the group's leader, Alexander Barkashov, denied that it was involved.

Several nationalist leaders, however, said the attack could have been a reaction to the prominence of Jews in the Yeltsin government. Several senior government figures, including Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Economics Minister Yakov Urinson have Jewish ancestries.

Viktor Ilyukhin, a prominent Communist legislator who is chairman of the security committee in the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, said such attacks on the Jewish community may occur again as a reaction to the fact that the priority for appointments in the government "is bestowed on one nationality, Jews."

Another prominent Communist lawmaker said the bombing might have been instigated by the Jews themselves.

"They may have organized the explosion themselves. Now they are inviting their relatives from Israel to take part in the investigation of the incident," said Albert Makashov.

Despite such statements by influential political figures, Russia's Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Security Service have promised to put all of the synagogues in Moscow under constant surveillance.

Lazar said the explosion stunned the Jewish community in the Russian capital.

Hundreds of Moscow Jews were flocking to the synagogue this week to show support to the congregation, and some 500 pupils from Moscow's Jewish day schools marched from the synagogue one day after the blast took place. The march was a part of the Lag B'Omer celebration.

The synagogue's board, meanwhile, has decided to expedite the construction of a nearby Jewish community center rather than restore the damaged building.

The new center, the first such Jewish facility in Moscow, will also house a large synagogue.