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FBI probing taping of Md. Jewish school

WASHINGTON -- The FBI is investigating a Saudi college student and his American wife who recently videotaped a Jewish school in Baltimore and said they sent the footage to Saudi Arabia, according to law enforcement officials and community leaders who know about the case.

The Saudi man, who came to the United States on a student visa four years ago, and his wife were seen videotaping an Orthodox school for girls, Beit Yakov, on Oct. 26 and fled after witnesses wrote down their automobile's license plate number, officials said. Law enforcement officials were contacted and later interviewed the couple, who said the video was intended for the man's parents in Saudi Arabia.

The couple has not been charged, and law enforcement officials have declined to identify them.

Federal and local law enforcement officials emphasized that they have not uncovered any reason to believe the couple was casing the school.

A spokesman for the US Department of Homeland Security said no new national terrorist alerts have been issued about possible threats to Jewish institutions, considered attractive targets for anti-Semitic groups.

But recent terror attacks on Jewish synagogues in Turkey and the fact that the Baltimore couple fled have raised enough concern that FBI agents are investigating. The inquiry has been broadened to Saudi Arabia, where the FBI is trying to recover the tape, and to the woman's home state, Utah, the officials said.

"We are not aware of anything beyond this incident," said special agent Barry Maddox from the FBI field office in Baltimore. "But it is under investigation, and that will continue."

Last week, representatives from the FBI, US Attorney's Office in Baltimore, the Maryland Homeland Security Department, and local law enforcement met with Jewish community leaders in the area to update them on the investigation and urge them to report any suspicious activity or persons at their facilities. Baltimore has one of the largest concentrations of Orthodox Jews in the country.

"This has precipitated some concern that is continuing," said Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. "It also precipitated the need to reassure the area religious schools that everything is being done to make sure the facilities are being secured."

Abramson said authorities reported that the man and his wife, a Muslim convert, were not initially asked for a copy of the tape by local authorities because they had no legal grounds to seize it. But he said officials at the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia are trying to help the FBI recover it as part of the investigation.

"The tape that he had used ended up not being seen by local authorities," Abramson said. "It ended up in Saudi Arabia." He added that officials said the Saudi end of the investigation has been delayed somewhat, in part because American officials there have been focused on the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks on a housing complex in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Jewish institutions around the world have stepped up security significantly in recent years. Officials said suicide attacks on Nov. 15 at two Jewish synagogues in Istanbul and two bombings at synagogues in Tunisia last year have led to additional security precautions.

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