An Indianapolis woman was arrested after driving her car into a building she believed to be an “Israel school,” allegedly telling police she acted after watching news about the Israel-Gaza war.
Although several people were inside the Israelite School of Universal and Practical Knowledge on Friday evening – including four children between the ages of 7 months and 3 years – no one was hurt, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement to the Washington Post.
The building Ruba Almaghtheh, 34, allegedly struck is affiliated with the Radical Hebrew Israelites, according to the Indianapolis Star. The sect is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which described it as anti-Semitic, anti-white, anti-LGBTQ, xenophobic and misogynistic.”
Almaghtheh was taken into custody at the scene of the crash and booked into jail on a preliminary charge of criminal recklessness. Police said they notified the FBI of the incident as local prosecutors weighed charges. Michael Leffler, a spokesman for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, said an investigation was ongoing and a charging decision had not yet been made as of Monday.
It was not immediately clear whether Almaghtheh had retained an attorney.
The incident comes as threats against Arab, Jewish and Muslim communities are on the rise in the United States since the war in Gaza began last month. Federal officials say they have been working with police departments across the nation to respond to the uptick, though they have not released data showing how many cases have been reported in recent weeks.
On Oct. 14, an Illinois man fatally stabbed a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy and wounded the boy’s mother, authorities said. Later in the month, a Las Vegas man was arrested after federal officials said he left profane and antisemitic voice mails threatening to kill a U.S. senator who called on the Biden administration to assist Israel.
In Indianapolis, officers were summoned to a report of a car crashing into a building at about 11:30 p.m. Friday, according to the IMPD. They arrived to find a car backed into the Israelite School of Universal and Practical Knowledge, reported WXIN, a Fox affiliate in Indianapolis. They soon identified the driver, who remained at the scene.
“Almaghtheh told one officer she has been watching the news and couldn’t (breathe) anymore,” police said in its statement. “She referenced her people back in Palestine.”
Police said Almaghtheh acknowledged passing by the building a few times and spotting the “Israel school.” Police said she said she “did it on purpose.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis said in a statement the building had “a semblance of a star of David on the front door.”
“Although a Jewish facility was not targeted, solely due to ironic misidentification, this is yet another reminder to maintain security protocols, remain vigilant of suspicious activity and to report same promptly to the appropriate authorities,” the organization said, while stressing that the threat to the local community had not increased.
Almaghtheh remained in custody Monday, with a court appearance set for Wednesday, according to jail records.