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City inspectors and police officers outside the Brooklyn borough, N.Y., headquarters of the Chabad movement on Jan. 9, 2024. (AP) City inspectors and police officers outside the Brooklyn borough, N.Y., headquarters of the Chabad movement on Jan. 9, 2024. (AP)

City inspectors and police officers outside the Brooklyn borough, N.Y., headquarters of the Chabad movement on Jan. 9, 2024. (AP)

Sofia Ahmed
By Sofia Ahmed January 12, 2024
Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone January 12, 2024

If Your Time is short

  • A 60-foot tunnel was discovered under a building near the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.

  • When a cement truck came to fill in the unauthorized tunnel, young men trying to stop it clashed with police, leading to several arrests.

  • There are no statements from authorities, credible news stories or criminal charges to signal the site was used for nefarious purposes, such as child sex trafficking or organ harvesting.

Amid spikes of social media antisemitism driven by the Israel-Hamas war, the discovery of a tunnel near a well-known Brooklyn synagogue spurred similar misinformation.

The tunnel first made news in December in a local Crown Heights neighborhood media outlet. But the tunnel near the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters became a national story after police arrested a group of young worshippers who tried to prevent a cement truck from pouring concrete in the tunnel.

Social media claims about the tunnel and what it was being used for spread rampantly. Many posts claimed without evidence that it was used for child sex trafficking or organ harvesting. 

The only charges pending in relation to the tunnel’s discovery are for crimes such as reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, from when worshippers clashed with police. No one has been charged with child or adult sex trafficking, and authorities have made no public statements to say those crimes are suspected. 

The Anti-Defamation League said the social media posts echo the blood libel, an unfounded claim originating in the Middle Ages that Jewish people used the blood of non-Jews for rituals. 

Here’s what we know about the tunnel.

What happened?, a local New York news outlet, reported Dec. 22 that a tunnel was found underneath a building near 770 Eastern Parkway, the site of the Chabad Lubavitch headquarters, home of the global Hasidic Jewish movement dating back 250 years. 

On Dec. 24, the outlet posted an Instagram video it described as footage "leaked" from inside the tunnel. PolitiFact has not independently verified the video’s authenticity. It shows a tunnel and two rooms on floors above it. Authorities described the structure as a single, linear 60-foot-long underground tunnel, so the parts of the video’s footage that shows debris-filled rooms with doors is not from the tunnel. 

The news made national headlines Jan. 8 when videos emerged of police clashing with protesters at the synagogue.

According to a Jan. 8 X post from Motti Seligson, a Chabad spokesperson, a group of "extremist students" some time ago broke through some walls in properties next to the synagogue to gain "unauthorized access."

After a cement truck arrived to repair the damage, the people who damaged the property tried to stop the repair and vandalized the synagogue, he said.

News reports and videos show a chaotic scene of a group of young men clashing with police.

News reports said the men who secretly dug the tunnel did so because the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson had supported expanding the synagogue.

Ryan Degan, New York City Department of Buildings deputy press secretary, said the agency’s investigation found a single, linear 60-foot-long underground tunnel — 8 feet wide and 5 feet high — that was illegally excavated directly under a single-story rear extension behind 784 and 786 Eastern Parkway. 

The extension connects four neighboring buildings, and is next to 770 Eastern Parkway. But the tunnel wasn’t connected to that building, he said. Degan said wall openings had been created in several areas of the adjacent buildings at the basement levels.

No other tunnels were found. Degan added that the tunnel threatened the stability of two other buildings.

"As a result of this extensive investigation, we have issued emergency work orders to stabilize the buildings above the tunnel, vacate orders in parts of the buildings to ensure occupant safety, and enforcement actions against the property owners for the illegal work," Degan said.

Seligson wrote Jan. 10 on X that the space dug out by the men was "underneath a ground-level extension made by the synagogue decades ago."

Baseless claims emerge

Claims that the tunnels were the site of nefarious behavior flooded social media. None is backed by statements from authorities, credible news stories or criminal charges. 

The claims included:

An Anti-Defamation League spokesperson said the incident sparked "hate-filled antisemitic conspiracy theories" with "absolutely no basis in fact." 

What the police said

The New York Police Department didn’t respond to specific questions about what was found at the site. The department provided a statement that said officers responded Jan. 8 to calls of a disorderly group outside 770 Eastern Parkway.

The statement said officers were told a group of people entered the building by damaging a wall. Officers took 12 people into custody. No injuries were reported.

Police provided the names of nine men, ages 19 to 22, who have been charged in the incident. They face charges including reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and attempted hate crimes. Three others received summons for disorderly conduct.

What was found at the site

Many of the social media posts shared the Dec. 24 video from In it, the camera pans across a debris-filled room, then downstairs to another room filled with more debris. 

Empty boxes, buckets and clothes can be seen in the footage. There’s one item that some social media posts said was a highchair, but it’s unclear that it is. The camera then passes through a hole in a brick wall and emerges in what looks like a dirt-filled tunnel.

"The tunnel was empty during our initial inspection on Tuesday morning aside from hand tools like shovels and light debris," said Degan, when asked whether signs of illegal activity were discovered at the site.

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Our Sources

New York Police Department spokesperson, emailed statement, Jan. 12, 2024

Ryan Degan, deputy press secretary for the New York City Department of Buildings, email interview, Jan. 12, 2024

Anti-Defamation League spokesperson, emailed statement, Jan. 12, 2024. 

Rabbi Motti Seligson, X post, Jan. 8, 2024

Rabbi Motti Seligson, X post, Jan. 10, 2024, What Is Chabad?, accessed Jan. 12, 2024

The Associated Press, Illegal tunnel under New York City synagogue destabilized nearby buildings, officials say, Jan. 11, 2024

The Associated Press,A secret tunnel in a NYC synagogue leads to a brawl between police and worshippers, Jan. 10, 2024

The Associated Press, FACT FOCUS: Discovery of a tunnel at a Chabad synagogue spurs false claims and conspiracy theories, Jan. 11, 2024

The New York Times, 60-Foot Tunnel Under Synagogue Left 2 Buildings Unstable, Officials Say, Jan. 10, 2024

The New York Times, Secret Synagogue Tunnel Sets Off Altercation That Leads to 9 Arrests, Jan. 9, 2024

New York Post, Inside the mysterious 50-foot-long tunnel beneath a Brooklyn synagogue that sparked a riot, Jan. 9, 2024

Fox News, NYC rabbi horrified watching 'extremist students' who reportedly hired migrants to dig tunnel under synagogue, Jan. 12, 2024

Newsweek, New York Synagogue Tunnel: What We Know, What We Don't, Jan. 11, 2024

Forward, Arrests at Chabad’s iconic headquarters after students thwart attempt to fill secret tunnel, Jan. 8, 2024, BREAKING: Tunnel Found Burrowed Under Women’s Section of 770, Possibly Destabilizing The Building, Dec. 22, 2023, Instagram post, Dec. 24, 2023

Instagram post (archived), Jan. 10, 2024. 

Instagram post (archived), Jan. 11, 2024. 

Facebook post (archived), Jan. 9, 2024. 

Twitter post (archived), Jan. 9, 2024. 

TikTok post (archived), Jan. 11, 2024. 

Twitter post (archived), Jan. 9, 2024. 

Holocaust Encyclopedia, Blood Libel, accessed Jan. 12, 2024. 

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