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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

US synagogue shooting suspect due in court as congregation mourns

Jews make up 2% of US population but account for more than half of victims of religiously motivated hate crimes

A woman stands at a memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh on October 27. AFP
A woman stands at a memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh on October 27. AFP

A man charged with shooting 11 worshipers to death at a Pittsburgh synagogue was due to make his first court appearance on Monday as more details of the attack emerged and the congregation struggled to come to terms with the deadliest ever attack on America's Jewish community.

"I think people are in various stages of trauma, mourning, disbelief, shock all rolled into one," Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday.

Robert Bowers, 46, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, has been charged with 29 criminal counts, including hate crimes.

Several of the charges can be punishable by the death penalty.

Bowers is accused of storming into the Tree of Life temple in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh's close-knit Jewish community, yelling "All Jews must die" as he opened fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there on Saturday morning.

Three handguns and an AR-15 rifle were recovered at the scene.

Bowers allegedly told an officer, "they're committing genocide to my people" and "I just want to kill Jews."

He is due in court on Monday afternoon.

In addition to the 11 mostly elderly worshipers who were killed, six people, including four police officers who confronted the gunman, were wounded before the suspect surrendered. Two of the surviving victims remained hospitalised in critical condition.

About 2,500 people attended an interfaith memorial service for the victims late on Sunday on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

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Read more:

Pittsburgh synagogue gunman said he wanted all Jews to die

Eleven dead in Pittsburgh synagogue attack

US Muslims start fund-raising to help Pittsburgh synagogue victims

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The dead included two brothers in their 50s, David and Cecil Rosenthal, a married couple in their 80s, Sylvan and Bernice Simon, and 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the oldest of the victims.

Another was Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, a family physician who initially escaped the attack only to be killed when he returned to render aid to the wounded, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed column by Pittsburgh carpet salesman Lou Weiss, who knew five of the victims personally.

The killings rocked the Squirrel Hill community, an enclave that encompasses several synagogues and Jewish religious schools, and sparked security alerts at places of worship across the country.

The massacre also took on political overtones as some complained that the confrontational, nationalistic rhetoric of US President Donald Trump has encouraged right-wing extremists and fed a surge in activity by hate groups.

Anti-Semitism is among the most entrenched and pervasive forms of bigotry in the US.

Jews make up only about two per cent of the US population, but in annual FBI data they repeatedly account for more than half of the Americans targeted by hate crimes committed due to religious bias. The Anti-Defamation League identified 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in the US in 2017, up from 1,267 in 2016.