Birmingham AL November 8th, 2022 A 45-year-old Birmingham man has been charged with arson in connection with a Friday-morning incident at Temple Beth El on the city’s southside.
Gregory Earl Fuller is charged with second-degree arson of a business after police and firefighters found a propane tank and clothes that had been set on fire in the basement of the historic synagogue.
There was no damage to the Highland Avenue building.
Rabbi Steven Henkin addressed congregants at the historic Temple Beth-El on Friday, according to according to an article in the Times of Israel and told them the fire was not motivated by antisemitism. Henkin said the person set several fires in the area.
According to charging documents against Fuller, he “did intentionally damage a building of Temple Beth-El by starting or maintaining a fire or causing an explosion.”
Fuller was booked into the Jefferson County Jail at 5:43 p.m. Saturday and remains held on $30,000 for the Class B felony. A motive has not been disclosed.
He is currently awaiting trial on an unrelated breaking and entering of a vehicle from 2021 and pleaded guilty to robbery in 1996.
Birmingham police said firefighters had been called to Temple Beth-El on Birmingham’s Southside at 5:50 a.m. Friday on a report of a fire.
An unattended backpack was then found outside the temple about 8:30 a.m. Friday.
The director of the Jewish Federation of Birmingham notified Birmingham police, which directed its bomb technicians to the scene.
Birmingham, the FBI and the FBI’s Counterterrorism Task Force cordoned off a large perimeter in the 2100 block of Highland Avenue as the investigation was underway.
The book bag was being taken off-site for further examination. Police announced Friday afternoon there was no explosive device found in the backpack.
Fuller was taken into custody about 12:15 p.m. and booked into the Birmingham City Jail until formal warrants were obtained against him on Saturday.
Communities around the country have been rocked by public displays of antisemitism following recent remarks by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. Banners with anti-Jewish messages appeared in Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Florida, connected to hate groups.
On Thursday, the FBI warned synagogues in New Jersey of credible threats. Staff and the FBI office in Newark, N.J. later tweeted that the individual who made the threat no longer posed a danger to the community.
The Temple Beth-El was founded in 1907.
“For generations of Jews in the South, Temple Beth-El has provided a home. Through the Great Depression, World Wars, Birmingham’s civil rights struggles, and the founding of the State of Israel, Temple Beth-El’s members stood together and experienced history and life as a community,” the temple’s website states.
On April 28, 1958, 54 sticks of dynamite were set outside the temple, but did not explode.
Although the case was never solved, it’s believed the planned bombing was an act of retaliation for Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement.