San Diego synagogue shooting: Rabbi talks about the attack

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Media captionThe shooting happened at a synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego

“I was face to face with this murder terrorist who was holding the rifle and looking straight at me.”

A rabbi has told US reporters about the synagogue shooting near San Diego on Saturday, in which one woman died and three people were wounded.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was one of those injured, losing the index finger on his right hand.

A 19-year-old man named as John Earnest was arrested shortly afterwards in Poway, north of the Californian city.

The attack comes exactly six months after a shooting in Pittsburgh in which 11 people were killed, thought to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.

What did the rabbi say?

Rabbi Goldstein was walking into the banquet hall at the synagogue when he heard a noise – what he thought initially was a table falling over or a congregation member collapsing.

“As soon as he saw me, he started to shoot toward me and that is when I put my hands up,” Rabbi Goldstein said on NBC’s Sunday Today programme. “I cannot erase that face from my mind.”

He held up his hands to shield himself but his fingers “got blown away”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Congregants at a nearby Presbyterian church held a candlelight vigil for victims of the shooting

Rabbi Goldstein hurried through to the banquet hall where a number of children – including his granddaughter – were gathered.

“I just ran, not even knowing that my fingers were blown off and curled all the kids together and got them outside,” he said.

Lori Kaye, who helped found the synagogue with Rabbi Goldstein, was shot dead in the attack.

“Everyone in the community knew her,” he said. “I’m just so heartbroken and saddened by the senseless killing.”

A 34-year-old man and a young girl suffered shrapnel wounds in the attack.

How did the attack unfold?

Sheriff Gore said officers were called to the Chabad synagogue just before 11:30 (18:30 GMT) after the man opened fire with an “AR-15 type” assault rifle.

He said an off-duty border patrol officer had fired at the suspect as he fled the scene in a vehicle, but had not not hit him.

The suspect was later arrested by another officer, said San Diego chief of police David Nisleit.

“He clearly saw the suspect’s vehicle, the suspect jumped out with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody,” Mr Nisleit said.

“As the officer was placing this 19-year-old male into custody, he clearly saw a rifle on the front passenger seat of the suspect vehicle.”

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore told reporters that investigators were reviewing the suspect’s social media activity and examining a virulently anti-Semitic “open letter” published online.

In the letter, which appeared on the online forum 8chan hours before the attack, the author – who identified himself as John Earnest – said he had been inspired by the attack on two Christchurch mosques last month, as well as the Pittsburgh shooting.

Authorities later said Mr Earnest was under investigation in connection with a fire at a mosque last month.

Anti-Semitic attacks on the rise

The racist, anti-Semitic document that police are investigating in relation to the shooting makes 10 references to Robert Bowers whom the author John Earnest calls an “inspiration”.

Mr Bowers is the man charged with killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last October – the deadliest attack on the US Jewish community in the nation’s history.

In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh attack, members of the US Jewish community began openly questioning whether the era of seeing the US as a safe haven was over.

“I had been dreading and expecting this day, and more like it, for two years,” wrote the Washington Post columnist Dana Millbank, in a column titled “Trump’s America is not a safe place for Jews”.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A woman stands at a memorial at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last October

In the wake of Saturday’s attack in Poway, the Times of Israel published a blog post headlined, “Synagogue shootings – now a thing”. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which monitors extremism in the US, says anti-Semitism is on the rise.

Mr Trump has publicly condemned anti-Semitism, and White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said it was “outrageous” to suggest he bore any responsibility for it, but many have accused him of using coded anti-Semitic language.

The ADL publicly called on him to stop using tropes such as “global special interests” and “those who control the levers of power” – both of which he ran in an ad alongside pictures of prominent Jews – as well as his claim that there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, after white nationalists chanted “Jews will not replace us”.

“All of the Jewish community across the country is concerned,” Joel Rubin, a Democratic Strategist and member of the Tree of Life synagogue, told Fox News on Saturday. “My daughters go to Hebrew school and we see police cars often in front of the school, guarding it. That’s not the situation in America we want to be living in.”

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A message of support outside the Chabad synagogue near San Diego

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