Synagogue gunman kills 11 in anti-Semitic attack
2018-10-29 11:05:00

Authorities say 46-year-old shooter could face death penalty on 29 charges

PITTSBURGH - A gunman faces 29 charges of violent crimes after opening fire during a baby-naming ceremony at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, killing 11 people and injuring six in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.

The shooter - identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers - reportedly yelled "All Jews must die" as he burst into the Tree of Life synagogue, where congregants gathered for Sabbath services.

Authorities say that just before 10 am local time, Bower entered the large synagogue with an assault-style rifle and three handguns.

Three separate congregations were conducting Sabbath services in different areas of the large building, according to Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office said it was told by victims that a brit milah - a ritual circumcision ceremony at which a baby boy also receives his Hebrew name - was also taking place, though law enforcement officials later said no children were among the dead or wounded.

"It is a very horrific crime scene," said a visibly moved Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director. "It's one of the worst that I've seen."

The survivors included Daniel Leger, 70, a nurse and hospital chaplain who was in critical condition after undergoing surgery, his brother, Paul Leger, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Daniel Leger was scheduled to lead a service on Saturday morning, he said.

The mass shooting raised immediate alarm in Jewish communities around the country. Authorities in New York City, Chicago and elsewhere increased security at Jewish centers.

Bob Jones, head of the FBI's Pittsburgh office, said that worshippers "were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith", though he cautioned the shooter's full motive was not yet known.

Taken into custody after a shootout with police, the suspect was transferred to a hospital.

US prosecutors subsequently charged him with 29 counts of federal crimes, including 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and 11 counts of obstructing the exercise of religion resulting in death.

"The crimes of violence are based upon the federal civil rights laws prohibiting hate crimes," a statement said. Authorities have said Bowers' charges could carry the death penalty.

President Donald Trump denounced "a wicked act of mass murder", while his daughter Ivanka, a convert to Judaism, declared: "America is stronger than the acts of a depraved bigot and anti-Semite."

"This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us," Trump told supporters at an election rally in Illinois where he drew loud cheers as he vowed to fully enforce the death penalty for such crimes.

Trump said he would soon travel to Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, where hundreds held a candlelit vigil late on Saturday.

The president ordered all flags at the White House and at public grounds, military posts and naval stations to be flown at half-staff through Oct 31 as a mark of "solemn respect" for the victims.

Thousands of people jammed an intersection amid a light rain for a vigil on Saturday evening for the victims of the shooting. The gathering included prayers and singing in memory of those killed and wounded.

The killings also immediately reignited the longstanding national debate about guns: Trump said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue "had some kind of protection" from an armed guard, while Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor Tom Wolf noted that once again "dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm's way".

Source:China Daily Editor:Hiram