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2 arrested at Penn Station in probe of threat to Jewish community

New York authorities said they found a hunting knife and a swastika armband when the two were searched after being spotted and identified as persons of interest in a "developing threat."
Entrance to Penn Station, Manhattan, New York
New York City's Penn Station , where two men were arrested Saturday in a developing threat against the Jewish community, authorities said. UCG / UCG/Universal Images Group via G/FILE

Two men with access to weapons were arrested at New York City's Penn Station early Saturday in connection with a probe of threats to the Jewish community, authorities said.

Searches of the suspects, their belongings, and a residence turned up a Glock semiautomatic handgun, a large hunting knife, and a swastika armband, two senior law enforcement sources said.

The suspects were named by the New York Police Department as Christopher Brown, 21, of Aquebogue, New York, booked on suspicion of making a terrorist threat, aggravated harassment, and criminal possession of a weapon; and Matthew Mahrer, 22, of the city's Upper West Side, booked on suspicion of criminal possession of a weapon.

It wasn't immediately clear if the suspects have retained legal counsel. The public defender's office for the area did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The senior law enforcement sources said Brown had the swastika armband on him when he was arrested at the train station.

The pair was arrested after MTA police, briefed by the multi-jurisdiction Joint Terrorism Task Force on the threats probe, spotted and detained the pair at Penn Station, MTA Police Chief John Mueller said in a statement.

"After stopping and positively identifying the persons of interest, the MTA PD officers conducted a search and recovered a large hunting knife," he said.

NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell said in a statement that authorities first identified "a developing threat to the Jewish community" Friday.

The joint task force quickly moved to "gather information, identify those behind it, and operationally neutralize their ability to do harm," he said.

Three law enforcement sources said threats against the Jewish community were posted online. The arrests preceded a search of one of the suspects' residence, where the Glock handgun, as well as a 30-round magazine, were found, those sources said.

Both suspects had been seen entering and exiting that residence, the law enforcement sources said.

Investigators were in discussions about whether federal charges might apply to the case, they said.

The NYPD praised the "sharp-eyed MTA police officers" who spotted the suspects early Saturday. 

"Today, we’re extremely grateful to NYPD investigators and our law enforcement partners who uncovered and stopped a threat to our Jewish community," Sewell tweeted Saturday.

Police said they were not standing down.

"Police department commanders are strategically deploying assets at sensitive locations throughout New York City," Sewell said.

Anti-Defamation League New York leaders praised police in a statement Saturday. The ADL said it knew about the threat and was working with authorities.

"This comes at a time of heightened sensitivity in the New York-area Jewish community," the ADL leaders said, referring to the arrest of a New Jersey teenager for alleged threats to a synagogue. "As always, we ask the community to remain vigilant."