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Secret tunnel found under synagogue sparks riot in New York

NEW YORK - A group of Hasidic Jewish men were arrested on Monday after a riot broke out at an historic Brooklyn synagogue after a rebelling faction illegally dug a secret underground tunnel into the temple.

“Young agitators” within the Chabad-Lubavitcher movement are believed to have dug the passageway to gain access to the group’s headquarters from a nearby building.

The clandestine operation was discovered after neighbours began hearing noises underneath their homes.

The Chabad leaders had tried to refill the passageway, but a brawl broke out when some of the men attempted to block efforts when a cement truck arrived on Monday.

Bizarre footage shows men tearing down wood paneling and throwing benches across the room as they clash with New York Police Department (NYPD) officers.

Some men appear to be guarding the tunnel entrance by sitting inside the passageway, while other clips show police arresting some Hasidic men. One man emerged from the tunnel covered in dust to cheers from supporters.

A separate video showed a Hasidic man climbing out of what appeared to be a sewer system.

Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Chabad, denounced the “young agitators”, adding: “These odious actions will be investigated, and the sanctity of the synagogue will be restored”.

’’This is, obviously, deeply distressing to the Lubavitch movement, and the Jewish community worldwide,” he said. “We hope and pray to be able to expeditiously restore the sanctity and decorum of this holy place.”

The building, 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, was once home to the movement’s leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the rebbe, who died in 1994.

A faction within the movement believe the rebbe is the Messiah, with some claiming he never died.

The group of mostly young men reportedly dug the tunnel because they wanted to expand the headquarters, a move the rebbe called for more than three decades ago.

“They did it to expand 770 and make it bigger,” Zalmy Grossman, who knows some of those arrested, told the New York Times. “They have come to fulfill the rebbe’s wishes.”

Motti Seligson, a spokesman for Chabad, said a “group of extremist students” had secretly broken through the walls of a vacant building behind the headquarters.

The property’s manager brought in a construction crew Monday to fix the damaged walls, leading to a standoff with those who wanted the passageway to remain.

”Those efforts were disrupted by the extremists who broke through the wall to the synagogue, vandalising the sanctuary, in an effort to preserve their unauthorised access,” Mr Seligson said.

A NYPD spokesperson said officers were called to the building Monday afternoon to respond to a disorderly group that was trespassing and damaging a wall.

Ten people were arrested for criminal mischief and criminal trespass and one for obstructing governmental administration, police said.

As inspectors with the city’s building safety agency assessed the damage Tuesday, a group of police officers stood behind barricades surrounding the headquarters, blocking a line of young men from entering the building.

New York City Fire Department spokeswoman Amanda Farinacci said the agency received an anonymous tip about the location last month. But when a fire prevention team responded, they found all of the exits operable and up to code.

The building is now closed pending a structural safety review, Mr Seligson said.