Posted on: The Telegraph | October 28th, 2018
Authors: Nick Allen & Rob Crilly
- Gunman kills 11 at Pittsburgh synagogue
- He yelled “All Jews must die”
- Suspect, named Robert Bowers, charged with hate crimes
- Donald Trump condemns ‘evil anti-Semitic attack’
- Shooting the ‘deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history’
A gunman shouting “all Jews must die” burst into a Pittsburgh synagogue during a circumcision ceremony on Saturday, shooting dead 11 people.
Robert Bowers, 46, wielding an arsenal that included a semi-automatic rifle and three handguns, also left six others wounded, including four police officers, during the 20 minute attack.
The shooting happened at the Tree of Life Congregation in a leafy suburb in the heart of its Jewish community in Pennsylvania.
About 100 people were in the synagogue at the time. It was not known if the baby being circumcised, during a ceremony known as a bris, was harmed.
Bowers, who was in fair condition at a hospital after being shot several times by police, was charged late on Saturday with 29 federal counts, including hate crimes and weapons offences.
The suspect, who had no apparent criminal record, had left a trail of vile white supremacist comments and anti-Semitic abuse on social media, including sharing posts denying the Holocaust.
An hour before the attack he wrote on the Gab social media forum that Jewish “invaders” were “killing our people”.
He wrote: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Police officers describing the scene over a scanner said the gunman gave himself up after being injured. “All these Jews have to die,” he said again as he crawled towards them.
President Donald Trump was quick to insist that tougher gun laws would have made little difference but the latest attack will also fuel fears that religious and race hate is on the rise during a fraught period of divisive politics.
Mr Trump said he would travel to Pittsburgh in the wake of the shooting.
“This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us,” Mr Trump told supporters at an election rally in Illinois where he began by addressing the attack at length – drawing loud cheers as he vowed to fully enforce the death penalty for such crimes.
“We must stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters to defeat anti-Semitism and vanquish the forces of hate.”
His daughter Ivanka, a convert to Judaism, declared: “America is stronger than the acts of a depraved bigot and anti-Semite.”
Stephen Weiss, who was in a service at the synagogue at the time, described how members of the congregation fled and hid in the basement.
“It sounded like a loud crash in the hallway,” he said, describing rapid gunfire that sounded like an automatic weapon.
Mr Weiss told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that when he got to the basement he found other members of the congregation also hiding there.
Officers said the gunman was armed with an AR-15 rifle and a Glock handgun.
Wendell Hissrich, the public safety director for Pittsburgh, said detectives were sifting the site for evidence.
“It’s a very horrific crime scene. It’s one of the worst I’ve seen – and I’ve been on plane crashes,” he told a news conference.
A user with the name Bowers was active on Gab, a social media platform popular with free speech advocates and white supremacists.
The user shared memes spread by Holocaust deniers, questioning the Jewish death toll in Nazi Germany, and criticised Mr Trump for failing to tackle an “infestation” of Jews. Gab deactivated the account soon after the shooting.
The cover photo for his account featured a neo-Nazi symbol, and his recent posts included a photo of a fiery oven like those used in Nazi concentration camps used to cremate Jews during World War II.
The tree-lined residential neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, is the hub of the city’s Jewish community.
Its imposing concrete facade is punctuated by rows of swirling, modern stained-glass windows illustrating the story of creation, the acceptance of God’s law, the “life cycle” and “how human-beings should care for the earth and one another,” according to its website.
Three Jewish congregations meet there and all three were holding services on Saturday morning between 9:45am and noon, with about 100 people in the building.
A class usually held on the third floor had been cancelled, the synagogue said.
Michael Eisenberg, former president of the synagogue, told KDKA that police were normally only present at the synagogue for security on high holidays.
“On a day like today, the door is open, it’s a religious service, you can walk in and out,” he said, adding that there had been no threats reported.
The attack comes after months of warnings by Jewish groups that anti-Semitic attacks were on the increase at a time of heightened racial and religious intolerance.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported earlier this year that anti-Semitic incidents surged more than 50% in 2017, to almost 2000 cases, the biggest increase since they began collecting data.
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL, said: “We are devastated. Jews targeted on Shabbat morning at synagogue, a holy place of worship, is unconscionable. Our hearts break for the victims, their families, and the entire Jewish community.”
The ADL said it believes the Pittsburgh shooting to be the deadliest such attack in US history.
Mr Trump said earlier he was monitoring events as the unfolded.
He later told reporters that the problem was not gun laws but that the outcome would have been different if the synagogue had armed guards. “They didn’t have any protection,” he said as he left Washington for a campaign event.
Jewish sites have been targets of several shooting in recent years
A neo-Nazi gunman shot dead three people at a Jewish Community Centre and a retirement community in Kansas City in 2014.
A police officer was killed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC in 2009.
In 1994, a white supremacist fired 10 shots into the Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon, although no one was hurt.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said on Saturday he was “heartbroken”.
“The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead. We stand together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, we stand together with the American people in the face of this horrendous anti-Semitic brutality and we all pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded,” he said.
Thousands of people, some holding candles, gathered for a vigil in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood on Saturday night in honour of the victims, whose names were not immediately released.
A chant of “vote, vote, vote” broke out during the emotional gathering.
Some attendees blamed the shooting on the nation’s political climate, and said they took little solace in the planned visit by Trump.
Donald Trump calls shooting ‘pure evil’
Mr Trump condemning the synagogue shooting, saying “there must be no tolerance for anti-Semitism in America.”
He was speaking at a Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis.
Mr Trump called the attack a “wicked act of mass murder” that “is pure evil, hard to believe and frankly something that is unimaginable.”
He says the nation and the word are “shocked and stunned” by grief and is calling on the country to come together.
Mr Trump has at times been accused by critics of failing to adequately condemn hate, such as when he blamed “both sides” for the violence at a Charlottesville white supremacist rally.
He says that anti-Semitism “must be confronted anywhere and everywhere it appears”