More than $24 million went out Friday to mostly Jewish nonprofit organizations in major cities across the country, because the federal government considers them to be at high risk of terror attacks.
The Homeland Security Department decided which nonprofits would receive the 308 grants based on threat and risk information. Organizations in Chicago and New York were the top recipients.
The funds are to be used to increase security and screening systems and to train personnel in terror awareness and preparedness. The grants went to medical centers, schools, temples and synagogues. One went to an Islamic organization in Miami.
That Jewish organizations received the bulk of the funding does not mean there are new or heightened threats against Jewish Americans, the department said.
"One faith group is not necessarily at greater risk than another," department spokesman Russ Knocke said. "Risk is often circumstantial, and it is constantly evolving."
It is no secret that Jewish communities are targets, whether in the United States or in Israel, said a former FBI agent who works in counterterror. He spoke on condition of anonymity, because he is not authorized to speak publicly in his new government post.
In July 2006, for example, a Muslim man shot six people, killing one, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in Washington state. And in 2003, the FBI warned about possible attacks on more than 300 synagogues and other Jewish organizations in Michigan.
While most of the grants went to Jewish organizations, the department found other nonprofits, such as the American Red Cross in the District of Columbia and St. Michael's Medical Center in New Jersey are at risk as well.
Harper-Hutzel Hospital, part of the Detroit Medical Center, received funding to upgrade its computer systems to increase video surveillance, said Jenny Atas, disaster coordinator for the hospital. Atas said the hospital has not received any specific threats, but that Detroit has one of the largest Arab populations in the country makes it vulnerable, she said.
The Miami-based American Muslims for Emergency and Relief also received a grant this year. Director Sofian Abdelaziz Zazakkout said Islamic centers across the country are vandalized, and his organization is also vulnerable.
"Myself, I receive threats — different people calling, and they say 'Go back to your country. I will kill you,'" he said.
The Homeland Security Department received 612 grant applications from organizations across the country. None of the organizations will receive more than $100,000.
"Risk is not exclusive to political jurisdictions or critical infrastructure," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement.
This is the second year the department issued grants to nonprofit organizations. The first grants went out in 2005.
Also Friday, the department awarded $113 million in grants for preparedness training for state, local and tribal governments.
The department hands out about $2 billion each year to states and local communities to help prepare them for terrorist attacks and other disasters.