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Arson Attempt on Birmingham, Alabama Synagogue

A historic Birmingham synagogue on Friday was the scene of an investigation by city police and FBI agents.

Birmingham police said firefighters had been called to Temple Beth-El on Birmingham’s Southside at 5:50 a.m. on a report of a fire.

Police and firefighters found a propane tank and clothes that had been set on fire in the basement. There was no damage to the Highland Avenue building.

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.

“We don’t know if there’s anything in (the backpack) as far as explosive devices,’’ said Birmingham police spokesman Officer Truman Fitzgerald, “but what was observed from our team was enough to make them alarmed.”

The book bag was being taken off-site for further examination. Police announced Friday afternoon there was no explosive device found in the backpack.

It was not immediately clear, police said, if the earlier fire was linked to the later report of an unattended package found outside the temple.

At 12:15 p.m., FBI took a man into custody. After the man was interviewed by agents and Birmingham detectives, he was taken to the city jail on a 48-hour hold on suspicion of felony arson.

The man’s name was not released.

“Sixty percent of all religious hate crimes in the U.S. are committed against the Jewish community,’’ Fitzgerald said. “Coupled with the national attention surrounding anti-Semetic remarks made by celebrities, you can’t discount that those remarks are getting national attention.”

The watchdog organization StopAntisemitism tweeted about the incident, stating they were horrified to learn of the threat.