Eleven people were killed and six people — including four police officers — were injured in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill community Saturday morning after a suspect entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fired on a Shabbat service.
WATCH: Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect made statements about ‘genocide’: U.S. attorney
The victims of the shooting ranged from 54 to 97 years old and included brothers as well as a husband and wife. Among those injured were four officers, three of whom were shot by the gunman. The other two individuals injured in the shooting include a 61-year-old woman and a 70-year-old man.
The elderly woman injured in the shooting is currently stable, officers confirmed. On Saturday evening, the elderly man was in critical condition and undergoing a second operation. His current condition is unclear.
Robert Bowers, 46, was identified Saturday as the suspect detained in the case. Upon his surrender after engaging in a shootout with police, he “made statements regarding genocide and his desire to kill Jewish people,” said U.S. attorney Scott Brady said.
Bowers allegedly entered the synagogue Saturday morning with four weapons: three Glock 357 handguns and an AR-15 assault rifle. He was injured during the incident and transported to hospital; Bowers is now undergoing medical care.
On Saturday evening, 29 federal charges were laid against Bowers — 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder, 11 counts of murdering victims practicing religious belief and seven counts pertaining to the police officers injured in the shooting.
Law enforcement officers were dispatched to the scene at 9:55 a.m. EST. According to the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office, Bob Jones, the tragedy could have been far worse had law enforcement not stepped in when they did.
“Had Bowers made it out of that facility, there’s a strong possibility that additional violence (could have) occurred,” he noted in a press conference Sunday morning.
Jones added that the crime scene at the synagogue Saturday morning was among the worst he’s seen in his two-decade career.
“This is the most horrific crime scene I’ve seen in 22 years,” he said. Bowers’ motive remains unknown, though officials believe he acted alone.
The crime is being treated as a hate crime by the FBI. Bowers indicated strong anti-Seimitic leanings on social media platforms, including Gab.com.
In one post on a right-wing Twitter-alternative platform, Bowers said that a Jewish refugee organization, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Bowers also re-posted and shared several anti-Semitic posts on the platform.
In a statement, Gab.com confirmed the profile belonged to Bowers.
“Gab took swift and proactive action to contact law enforcement immediately,” it said. “We first backed up all user data from the account and then proceeded to suspend the account. We then contacted the FBI and made them aware of this account and the user data in our possession.”
Following the shooting, Gab.com was temporarily taken offline after being denied hosting services by its providers but came back online early Sunday morning.
Leaders from around the world took to social media to offer their condolences and thoughts following the shooting, including U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“This evil Anti-Semitic attack is 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,” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon.
“Canadians’ hearts are with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh today, as they endured a horrific anti-Semitic attack while at prayer. May the families of those murdered be comforted, and may the injured recover quickly and fully,” the prime minister’s post read.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the shooting, which he described as “horrendous anti-Semitic brutality.”
Squirrel Hill is one of Pittsburgh’s largest Jewish communities, and according to Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh CEO Jeff Finkelstein, houses approximately half of the city’s Jewish population.
Public figures and residents who used to live in Squirrel Hill expressed their shock on social media, including Pittsburgh Steelers NFL player Cam Heyward.
A vigil was held Saturday evenings for the victims of the shooting. Thousands of people attended the memorial, and under candle light and pouring rain, chanted Jewish hymns and lit candles for the fallen.
The vigil was organized by a member of the Squirrel Hill community, 17-year-old Cody Murphy, who lives just up the street from the synagogue and says he could hear the gunshots from his house.
“You could hear the gunshots from my house,” Murphy said. Murphy took the initiative to start the vigil because “no one wants to be alone right now.”
“[The vigil] shows we’re not going to let hate drive us apart,” Murphy said. “We’re going to stay together and we’re going to remain the strong Pittsburgh community I know we’ve always been. One hateful guy isn’t going to bring us down.”
Fresh off the aftermath of this violent hate crime, Jewish communities around the world are also reacting to the shooting by increasing security in their own districts.
For instance, in response to the attack, Toronto police confirmed that it will be increasing its presence at synagogues, while Jewish advocacy groups said law enforcement will be increasing its presence in Jewish communities across the country.
A spokesperson for York Regional Police said that it will be “increasing visibility at synagogues in the region.”
“Officers will be attending and will be inside as well,” the official said. “Officers are attending with the goal of trying to give everyone a sense of calm. They’re asking anyone who sees anything suspicious to contact them.”
Martin Sampson, a spokesperson for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), confirmed in a statement that “law enforcement across Canada, as a precaution, directed front-line resources to increase presence around Jewish neighbourhoods and Jewish institutions.”
“Canadian law enforcement has reacted quickly and decisively to this situation, and for that we are grateful,” Sampson said. “Though there is no information to suggest an increased security threat in Canada, we have reminded our community right across the country that it is important to remain vigilant.”
An FBI investigation is currently underway, though officials warn that the crime scene may take up to a week to process.
In the meantime, Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert urged the community to come together in the aftermath of the attack.
WATCH: Pittsburgh mayor reacts to Trump’s comments citing synagogue’s lack of ‘protection’
“We’re going to get through this,” he assured citizens during a press conference Sunday morning. “We’re going to continue on and show what Pittsburgh’s made of.”
The mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, echoed these sentiments.
“We know that we, as a society, are better than this. We know that hatred will never win out.”
Bowers will appear before a federal judge at 1:30 p.m. on Monday. Twenty-two of the charges against him are eligible for the death penalty.
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali
Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.
In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.
“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.
“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”
“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.
Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”
Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”
“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.
He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”
As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our
country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.
The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”
On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.
Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA
Harris accepts VP nomination
Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”
Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”
“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”
“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.
That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”
Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself
The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.
In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.
“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m
The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.
But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.
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