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Refugee Agency Targeted By Alleged Pittsburgh Shooter Changing Security, Social Media Monitoring

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Gene J. Puskar
/
AP
A group holds a sign in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, during a memorial vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.

HIAS, the refugee resettlement agency targeted by alleged Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers, will change how they monitor threats on social media, according to Mark Hetfield, the agency's president and CEO.

Bowers singled out HIAS on social media site Gab before the attack, accusing the agency of bringing "invaders" to the United States. Founded in 1881 as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS resettles refugees screened by the government in the U.S. They expanded their program to people of other faiths in the early 2000s. 

HIAS is one of nine agencies that contracts with the U.S. State Department to help refugees resettle. The agency works with Dor Hadash congregation, which rented space at the Tree of Life synagogue where the attack took place.

Hetfield said the agency was not aware of Bowers and was not tracking Gab prior to the attack.

"We don't follow those hate-filled forums but we need to, and we need to figure out what to do when we see things," he said. "We see things every day against us."

HIAS has offices in Maryland, Washington D.C. and New York City. Hetfield said for the first time, they hired armed guards for the offices.

"Our job is to make refugees feel welcome. We represent them, they're our clients, we give them legal services," Hetfield said. "These are people who are afraid of people in uniform with weapons, but now to protect them and protect ourselves we need to surround ourselves with [guards]."

Hetfield said HIAS has no intention of halting refugee resettlement programs in wake of the shooting.