At least 11 people died and six were wounded after a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Pennsylvania in the United States on Saturday, Reuters reported. The assailant stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood in Pittsburgh, shouting “All Jews must die” as he fired his weapon. He surrendered later and was arrested.
Four police officers were among those injured.
The gunman was identified as 46-year-old Pittsburgh resident Robert Bowers. Federal prosecutors charged him on 29 criminal counts, including violence and firearms offences, and violation of civil rights laws. The US Justice Department said his charges could lead to the death penalty, AFP reported.
“Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “These alleged crimes are reprehensible and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation. Accordingly, the Department of Justice will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, including charges that could lead to the death penalty.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading the probe into the “hate crime”. FBI Special Agent Bob Jones said the shooting was the worst he had seen in 22 years with the agency. “We have no knowledge that he [Bowers] was known to law enforcement before today,” said Jones. He said he believed Bowers was acting on his own.
Bowers was equipped with an assault rifle and three handguns, said Jones. According to authorities, the assailant entered the synagogue, opened fire, and was on his way out when he met a uniformed police officer and exchanged fire. Bowers then re-entered the building and surrendered later after a shootout with a SWAT team.
President Donald Trump condemned the “evil anti-Semitic attack” as “an assault on humanity”. “It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of anti-Semitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate,” he tweeted.
“What happened today is a horrible, horrible thing,” PTI reported him as saying in Indianapolis. “A lot of people killed, a lot of people very badly wounded. They say as a crime scene it’s one of the worst that some professionals that have seen many many crime scenes, they say it’s one of the worst.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said the shooting was an act of “absolute tragedy”. “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans,” he said. “My thoughts right now are focused on the victims, their families and making sure law enforcement has every resource they need. We cannot accept this violence as normal”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “heartbroken and appalled” by the attack. “The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead. We stand together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh,” he said. “We stand together with the American people in the face of this horrendous anti-Semitic brutality.”
Michael Eisenberg, a former president of the synagogue, said the shooting happened during weekly Shabbat services when three simultaneous congregation services were taking place.
Trump later told reporters that the shooting had little to do with gun laws and that the fatalities may have been prevented if the building had an armed guard inside. “If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a much more different situation, they didn’t,” he said.
Last month, multiple people died after a shooter opened fire in Harford County of Maryland. Five people died and three were injured after a gunman opened fire in a “targeted attack” at the office of a community newspaper in Maryland in June. In another shootout, at least eight people were killed at a high school in Texas’s Santa Fe city in May.