Police declare riot as Portland protesters set fires, attack government building

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – Protesters lit fires, threw rocks and smashed windows at county government offices in the U.S. city of Portland on Tuesday, prompting police to declare a riot, after weeks of mostly peaceful anti-racism demonstrations.

The protesters, some wearing gas masks and carrying shields, lit fires in dumpsters and used lighter fuel to start a fire inside the Multnomah Building big enough to set off the sprinkler system, police said.

TV footage showed debris on the street in flames and people throwing stones at the building. The fire in the building was put out by police, media said.

Black Lives Matter protests have been held across the United States in recent months after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Protests, including in Portland, have at times erupted into arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the Northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting the federal courthouse there.

Police said some officers were targeted a night earlier with a “powerful green laser” capable of causing permanent eye damage when some protesters marched on the Portland Police Association building.

“Portland Police has declared the gathering near the Multnomah Building a riot after individuals vandalized, repeatedly smashed first floor windows with rocks and threw burning material into an office,” the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

Police said some crowd control “munitions” were used to disperse the protesters, but no tear gas.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury released a statement at midnight, saying a small group of protesters had set fire to the Office of Community Involvement.

“This is the heart of our county, where people in our community come to get married, get their passports, and celebrate their cultural traditions and diversity,” the Oregonian website quoted her as saying, adding the space is dedicated to community members “marginalized by the traditional political process.”

Police said on Wednesday an officer sustained a minor injury and there were two arrests, one on charges of rioting, unlawful use of a weapon and assaulting a public safety officer, and another on charges of criminal mischief and reckless endangering.

A crowd of several hundred people gathered in the city’s Colonel Summers Park late on Tuesday before marching through Southeast Portland streets, eventually arriving at the Multnomah Building, police said.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr came under fire from Democratic lawmakers earlier this month for sending federal officers to disperse protesters in the city.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Tuesday called for the Department of Justice to prosecute a group of people caught on videotape beating and kicking a man who crashed his truck near protests in Portland.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Second man charged with torching Minneapolis police station during protests

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A 22-year-old Minnesota man was charged on Tuesday with aiding and abetting the arson of a Minneapolis police station during protests over the death of a black man under a policeman’s knee, federal prosecutors said.

Dylan Robinson, who was arrested in Breckenridge, Colorado on Sunday, is accused of hurling a Molotov cocktail inside the Third Precinct police station in Minneapolis and igniting a fire in the building’s stairwell on May 28, according to the criminal complaint.

Robinson appeared in U.S. district court in Denver on Tuesday to hear the charges against him, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota said in a written statement. Prosecutors said he is from Brainerd, Minnesota.

Robinson is the second man arrested June 3 in connection to the blaze. Branden Wolfe, 23, was arrested in Minnesota and charged with one count of aiding and abetting arson, federal prosecutors said.

The police station was set on fire during demonstrations three days after George Floyd, 46, died when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The incident was captured by a bystander’s cell phone video and led to the firing of Chauvin, who was later charged with second-degree murder. Three other Minneapolis police officers were also charged in the case.

Authorities said they identified Robinson from social media posts and surveillance cameras. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tracked him to Breckenridge, Colorado, a mountain town about 80 miles west of Denver, where he was taken into custody, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Robinson is due back in Denver federal court on Friday for a detention and removal hearing, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver told Reuters.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Michael Perry)

Outpouring of rage over George Floyd killing tests limits of U.S. police tactics

By Sarah N. Lynch and Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Responses by law enforcement authorities in the U.S. capital and in Flint, Michigan, to protests over the police killing of George Floyd illustrated starkly contrasting approaches to handling angry crowds on American streets and repairing relations with grieving communities.

Sheriff Christopher Swanson of Michigan’s Genesee County was keenly aware that some protests in other cities against police brutality after the May 25 death of Floyd, an unarmed black man, in police custody in Minneapolis had descended into arson and looting.

Tensions were rising in Flint on Saturday when Swanson saw a few officers actually exchange friendly fist-bumps with protesters. So Swanson removed his helmet, strode into the crowd, hugged two protesters and told them, “These cops love you.” Swanson then joined the march.

“We’ve had protests every night since then. … Not one arrest. Not one fire. And not one injury,” Swanson said in a telephone interview.

Federal law enforcement officers took a far less conciliatory approach on Monday evening in confronting a crowd of peaceful protesters outside the White House. The officers charged and used tear gas to clear a path for President Donald Trump to walk to a nearby church for a photo opportunity holding up a copy of the Bible.

“Not only is it a terrible tactic and unsafe … it also is sending a tone as if this is the president that has ordered this,” said Ronald Davis, who headed the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

Davis oversaw a task force that in 2015 released new federal guidelines for improving police practices after demonstrations that turned violent over the 2014 police killing of a young black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, one of a long list of similar killings.

The guidelines addressed ways to improve trust between police and their communities and included recommendations to prevent protests from escalating into violence.

They advised officers to ease rather than rush into crowd control measures that could be viewed as provocative, to consider that anger over longstanding racial disparities in the American criminal justice system was the root cause of such protests and to not to start out with the deployment of masked, helmeted officers and military-style weapons.

That approach appears to have been seldom used in protests that have engulfed many U.S. cities since Floyd’s death after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during his arrest.

LACK OF TRUST

For example, police in New York City have used pepper spray on protesters, hit people with batons and in one case drove two cruisers into a crowd. In New York and some other cities police themselves have been the target of violence.

“If we were dealing with traditional, peaceful protest, everything would have been different,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Monday.

Candace McCoy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, noted police face a complicated task.

“They know that there are people who have announced beforehand that they intend to do violence both to property and to other people,” McCoy said. “The notion that the property destruction could have somehow been prevented is, I think, perhaps naive.”

New York police were heckled by some demonstrators when some officers knelt in solidarity at a Brooklyn protest. During a Manhattan protest, a police officer shook the hand of a young woman wearing a T-shirt showing slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King and hugged her. Just a few minutes later, another officer zip-tied the woman’s arms behind her back and detained her.

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said he plans a hearing on police conduct and race.

“This committee has a unique opportunity to build on some things that the Obama administration did and ask ourselves some hard questions,” Graham said.

Some Obama administration law enforcement reforms aimed at reducing racial discrimination and improving community policing came to a halt after Trump became president in 2017 and his Justice Department took actions such as ceasing investigations into police departments suspected of systemic racial bias.

Civil rights advocates have taken heart over conciliatory approaches displayed in places like Camden, New Jersey, as well as Baltimore, a city torn by violent protests following the 2015 death in police custody of another black man, Freddie Gray.

“I’ve been somewhat encouraged to see that there are some police departments that have demonstrated that police can make the decision to operate in a constitutional fashion and give protesters an opportunity to speak to exercise their First Amendment rights to vent their anger,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told reporters this week, referring to the right of free speech.

Community policing experts said that will be important.

“You have to be transparent and police need to be held accountable when they make mistakes,” said Roberto Villaseñor, the former police chief of Tucson, Arizona, who worked on the 2015 guidelines. “What we need to do is just listen.”

 

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Racially charged violence rages for third night in Minneapolis

By Carlos Barria and Eric Miller

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – A third night of racially charged arson, looting and vandalism gripped Minneapolis as protesters vented rage over the death of an unarmed black man after a white police officer knelt on his neck as he lay on the ground following arrest.

The latest unrest in Minnesota’s largest city went largely unchecked late Thursday, with the mayor ordering a tactical police retreat from a police station that was set ablaze.

 

National Guard troops called out earlier in the day by the governor kept a low profile. Governor Tim Walz had ordered the Guard to help keep the peace after two previous nights of disturbances sparked by George Floyd’s death on Monday.

In a late-night Twitter message, President Donald Trump said he would send in National Guard troops to “get the job done right” if the “weak” mayor failed to restore order, suggesting lethal force might be needed.

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump wrote.

The arrest of Floyd, 46, was captured by an onlooker’s cell phone video that went viral and showed a police officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as he moaned: “Please, I can’t breathe.”

Four police officers involved in the arrest of Floyd, who was accused of trying to pass counterfeit money at a corner store, were dismissed on Tuesday, but unrest has continued unabated.

People react as a car burns at the parking lot of a Target store during protests after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Sympathy protests erupted on Wednesday in Los Angeles and Thursday in Denver, with freeway traffic blocked in both cities. In Phoenix, protesters faced off with police in riot gear at City Hall, and a rally was held at the Arizona state Capitol.

Thursday night’s disturbances in Minneapolis also spread into adjacent city of St. Paul, the state capital, with fires and vandalism breaking out there.

In contrast with Wednesday night, when rock-throwing demonstrators clashed with police in riot gear, law enforcement in Minneapolis kept mostly out of sight around the epicenter of Thursday’s disturbances, the Third Precinct police station.

Protesters massing outside the building briefly retreated under volleys of police tear gas and rubber bullets fired at them from the roof, only to regroup and eventually attack the building, setting fire to the structure as police withdrew.

National Guard troops were absent, as were members of the fire department. Protesters were later observed on the roof, and a crowd of hundreds lingered around the building for hours, feeding flames with hunks of plywood and other debris.

STRONG AS HELL”

At a news briefing early Friday, Mayor Jacob Frey defended his decision to evacuate the precinct station due to “imminent threats to both officers and the public.”

Asked by reporters if he had a response to Trump’s tweet, Frey said: “Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions. Weakness is pointing your own finger at a time of crisis.”

“Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis. We are strong as hell,” he said.

The Minnesota National Guard said it activated 500 of its soldiers in the greater Minneapolis area, mostly to provide security support to firefighters.

The mayor said many of the troops had been posted around the city to help police prevent looting of banks, grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential locations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Several other buildings and a car were set ablaze and looters plundered several businesses, including a burning liquor store and nearby discount store that had been ransacked the night before. Fire officials said 16 buildings were torched on Wednesday night.

The upheaval followed concerted efforts by law enforcement officials to ease tensions by promising justice for Floyd.

A demonstrator holds a placard while protesters gather around an on fire entrance of a police station, as demonstrations continue after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 28, 2020, in this picture grab obtained from a social media video. 

The Floyd case was reminiscent of the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York City who died after being put in a banned police chokehold as he, too, was heard to mutter, “I can’t breathe.”

Garner’s dying words became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement that formed amid a wave of killings of African-Americans by police.

At a peaceful daytime rally and march on Thursday around a county government center in Minneapolis, protesters pressed their demands for the four policemen to be arrested and charged.

“We’re not asking for a favor. We’re asking for what is right,” civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said as he addressed the crowd.

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo publicly apologized to Floyd’s family on Thursday morning, conceding his department had contributed to a “deficit of hope” in Minneapolis.

Officials overseeing investigations from the U.S. Justice Department, FBI, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and prosecutors appealed for calm, vowing a thorough investigation.

Floyd was a Houston native who had worked as a nightclub security guard. An employee who called police described the suspect as appearing to be drunk, according to an official transcript of the call.

(This story is refiled to correct spelling of Floyd in paragraph 7)

(Reporting by Carlos Barria and Eric Miller in Minneapolis; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Nathan Lane in Wilton, Connecticut, Keith Coffman in Denver, David Schwartz in Phoenix; Maria Caspani in New York and Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

By Aftab Ahmed

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – At least 32 people have been killed in the deadliest violence to engulf India’s capital New Delhi for decades as a heavy deployment of security forces brought an uneasy calm on Thursday, a police official said.

The violence began over a disputed new citizenship law on Monday but led to clashes between Muslims and Hindus in which hundreds were injured. Many suffered gunshot wounds, while arson, looting and stone-throwing has also taken place.

“The death count is now at 32,” Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal said, adding the “entire area is peaceful now.”

Men remove debris in a riot affected area following clashes between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

At the heart of the unrest is a citizenship law which makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the new law adopted last December is of “great concern” and she was worried by reports of police inaction in the face of assaults against Muslims by other groups.

“I appeal to all political leaders to prevent violence,” Bachelet said in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has denied having any prejudice against India’s 180 million Muslims, saying that law is required to help persecuted minorities.

New Delhi has been the epicenter for protests against the new law, with students and large sections of the Muslim community leading the protests.

As the wounded were brought to hospitals on Thursday, the focus shifted on the overnight transfer of Justice S. Muralidhar, a Delhi High Court judge who was hearing a petition into the riots and had criticized government and police inaction on Wednesday.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the transfer was routine and had been recommended by the Supreme Court collegium earlier this month.

Opposition Congress party leader Manish Tiwari said every lawyer and judge in India should strongly protest what he called a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said inflammatory speeches at the protests over the new citizenship law in the last few months and the tacit support of some opposition leaders was behind the violence.

“The investigation is on,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who romped to re-election last May, also withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in August with the objective of tightening New Delhi’s grip on the restive region, which is also claimed by full by Pakistan.

For months the government imposed severe restrictions in Kashmir including cutting telephone and internet lines, while keeping hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders, in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests. Some restrictions have since been eased.

Bachelet said the Indian government continued to impose excessive restrictions on the use of social media in the region, even though some political leaders have been released, and ordinary life may be returning to normal in some respects.

(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

India’s Modi appeals for calm as riot toll rises to 20

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm on Wednesday after days of clashes between Hindus and minority Muslims over a controversial citizenship law in some of the worst sectarian violence in the capital in decades.

Twenty people were killed and nearly 200 wounded in the violence, a doctor said, with many suffering gunshot wounds amid looting and arson attacks that coincided with a visit to India by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets in far greater numbers on Wednesday. Parts of the riot-hit areas were deserted.

“Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times,” Modi said in a tweet.

Modi’s appeal came after a storm of criticism from opposition parties of the government’s failure to control the violence, despite the use of tear gas, pellets and smoke grenades.

Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, called for the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah, who is directly responsible for law and order in the capital.

The violence erupted between thousands demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law introduced by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

The Citizenship Amendment Act makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has denied it has any bias against India’s more than 180 million Muslims.

A firefighter walks past damaged shops at a tyre market after they were set on fire by a mob in a riot affected area after clashes erupted between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Reuters witnesses saw mobs wielding sticks and pipes walking down streets in parts of northeast Delhi on Tuesday, amid arson attacks and looting. Thick clouds of black smoke billowed from a tyre market that was set ablaze.

Many of the wounded had suffered gunshot injuries, hospital officials said. At least two mosques in northeast Delhi were set on fire.

On Wednesday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a tweet that it was alarmed by the violence and it urged the Indian government “to rein in mobs and protect religious minorities and others who have been targeted”.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar; Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed, Danish Siddiqui and Zeba Siddiqui; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

Suspected Japanese arsonist is ex-convict who believed studio stole his novel: media

A man placed flowers near the torced Kyoto Animation building to mourn the victims of the arson attack, in Kyoto, Japan, July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Tim Kelly

KYOTO, Japan (Reuters) – A man suspected of torching an animation studio and killing 33 people in Japan’s worst mass killing in two decades had been convicted of robbery and carried out the attack because he believed his novel had been plagiarized, media said on Friday.

Public broadcaster NHK, which identified the 41-year-old man as Shinji Aoba, citing police, said he served time in prison for robbing a convenience store east of Tokyo in 2012 and, after his release, lived in facilities for former convicts. He had also received care for mental illness, NHK said.

The attack on Thursday in the ancient capital of Kyoto, targeting the well-known animation studio, Kyoto Animation, killed 33 people and 10 were in critical condition, authorities said. Most of the dead were killed by carbon dioxide inhalation, NHK said.

It was the worst mass killing in a country with one of the world’s lowest crime rates since a suspected arson attack in Tokyo killed 44 people in 2001.

Aoba wheeled a trolley carrying at least one bucket of petrol to the entrance of the building before dousing the area, shouting “die” and setting it ablaze on Thursday, broadcaster Nippon TV said, citing police.

“I did it,” Aoba told police when he was detained, Kyodo news said, adding that he had started the fire because he believed the studio had stolen his novel.

Police declined to comment. Aoba was under anesthesia because of burns he suffered and police were unable to question him, Nippon TV said.

He “seemed to be discontented, he seemed to get angry, shouting something about how he had been plagiarized”, a woman who saw him being detained told reporters.

“I imagine many of the people who died were in their twenties,” said 71-year-old Kozo Tsujii, fighting back tears after laying flowers near the studio in the rain. He said he drives by the studio on his daily commute.

“I’m just very, very sad that these people who are so much younger than me passed away so prematurely,” he said.

The studio had about 160 employees with an average age of 33, according to its website. That makes it a relatively young company in rapidly graying Japan.

Tributes to the victims lit up social media, with world leaders and Apple Inc’s <AAPL.O> chief executive offering condolences.

‘I’LL KILL YOU’

Aoba, a resident of the Tokyo suburb of Saitama, some 480 km (300 miles) east of the ancient capital of Kyoto, was believed to have bought two 20-liter cans at a hardware store and prepared the petrol in a park near the studio, Nippon TV said.

He traveled to the area by train, the broadcaster said.

NHK showed footage of him lying on his back as he spoke to a police officer at the time of his detention, shoeless and with apparent burns on his right leg below the knee.

He had no connection with Kyoto Animation, NHK said.

None of the victims’ identities had been disclosed as of Friday. There were 74 people inside the building when the fire started, Kyodo said.

Last month, Aoba had a confrontation when he complained to a neighbor about noise in the apartment building, the Mainichi newspaper reported.

When the neighbor said the noise was coming from another apartment, Aoba grabbed the neighbor’s shirt and said: “Shut up, I’ll kill you,” the newspaper said.

BODIES PILED UP

The fire that tore through the building spread so fast not only because it was fueled by petrol, but because it was funneled up a spiral staircase and there were no sprinklers to douse it, experts said.

Nineteen of the 33 who died were found on a staircase leading up to the roof from the third floor, bodies piled on top of each other, Kyodo said, citing authorities.

Firefighters arriving soon after the fire began found the door to the roof was shut but could be opened from the outside, Kyodo said.

The victims may have rushed up the stairs to escape the blaze and found themselves unable to open the door, it added.

The fire wasn’t put out until early on Friday.

Police investigators searched the smoldering shell of the building for evidence in an investigation that Kyodo said covered suspected arson, murder and attempted murder.

Two petrol cans, a rucksack and a trolley were found near the site, and television images showed what appeared to be five long knives laid out by police as possible evidence outside the three-story building.

Kyoto Animation, in a quiet suburb about 20 minutes by train from the center of Kyoto, produces popular “anime” series such as the “Sound! Euphonium”.

Its “Free! Road to the World – The Dream” movie is due for release this month.

“I love fighting games, all things about Japan,” said Blake Henderson, a 26-year-old Alabama native and fan of the anime studio who had come to the scene of the blaze to pay his respects.

“I love Japan so much and this one incident won’t change my entire perspective on Japan. But it still hurts.”

(Reporting by Tim Kelly in KYOTO and Chang-Ran Kim, Linda Sieg, William Mallard, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies in TOKYO; Writing by William Mallard and David Dolan; Editing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)

Accused California synagogue shooter charged with federal hate crimes

FILE PHOTO - John Earnest, accused in the fatal shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, stands in court near public defender John O'Connell (L) and a San Diego County Bailiff during an arraignment hearing in San Diego, California, U.S., April 30, 2019. Nelvin C. Cepeda/Pool via REUTERS

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A California nursing student accused of a deadly shooting spree in a San Diego-area synagogue and arson at a nearby mosque was charged on Thursday with 109 counts of federal hate crimes and civil rights violations, prosecutors said.

John Earnest, 19, was already charged in state court with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the April 27 attack at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, which left one worshipper dead and three others wounded, including a rabbi.

In the federal complaint, Earnest faces one count for each of the people in the synagogue at the time of the shooting, including 12 children, U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said.

“The complaint alleges the defendant violently targeted members of the synagogue and mosque for no other reason than his hatred of the Jewish people and those of the Muslim faith,” Brewer said at a news conference.

Earnest pleaded not guilty to the state charges, and to one count of arson on a house of worship stemming from a pre-dawn fire that damaged the Islamic Center of Escondido on March 24. No one was injured in the blaze.

Earnest, who was enrolled at the California State University at San Marcos, was arrested shortly after the synagogue shooting north of San Diego. Authorities linked him to the arson through an online manifesto in which they say he claimed responsibility for setting fire to the mosque.

The author of the violently anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim screed also professed to have drawn inspiration from the gunman who killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand earlier in March.

The state charges allege that the synagogue shooting was perpetrated as a hate crime. If convicted of those charges, Earnest would face life in prison without parole, or the death penalty.

In the separate federal criminal complaint filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Diego, Earnest was charged with 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and bodily injury, plus 54 counts of violating federal hate-crime statutes, Brewer said.

Earnest also was charged with causing damage to religious property involving use of a dangerous weapon or fire.

Authorities said Earnest stalked into the Poway synagogue during Sabbath prayers on the last day of the week-long Jewish Passover holiday and opened fire, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60. The rabbi, one of three others wounded in the attack, was shot in the hand and lost an index finger.

The gunman’s weapon apparently jammed and he was chased from the temple by a former Army sergeant in the congregation, then sped away in a car as an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent shot at the getaway vehicle. Earnest pulled over and surrendered to police soon afterward.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Steve Gorman and Leslie Adler)

Accused California gunman pleads not guilty in synagogue murder, mosque arson

A crowd watches on screen the funeral for Lori Gilbert-Kaye, the sole fatality of the Saturday synagogue shooting at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 29, 2019. REUTERS/John Gastaldo

By Jennifer McEntee

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – A 19-year-old man accused of killing one worshipper and wounding three others in a shooting spree in a California synagogue pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to murder and attempted-murder charges in an attack prosecutors are treating as a hate crime.

John Earnest, arrested shortly after Saturday’s bloodshed at the Chabad of Poway synagogue north of San Diego, also pleaded not guilty to a single count of arson on a house of worship stemming from a nearby mosque that was set on fire in March.

Appearing behind a glass partition for his arraignment in San Diego County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon, Earnest stood expressionless and spoke faintly as he gave one-word answers to procedural questions put to him by the judge.

The lanky defendant – a nursing student enrolled at California State University at San Marcos – wore dark-rimmed glasses with his hair combed straight forward.

Ordering him to remain held without bail, Judge Joseph Brannigan said Earnest would pose “an obvious and extraordinary risk” to the public if he were to be released pending trial.

The proceeding was attended by six Hasidic Jewish men who sat in the front row of the courtroom, dressed in the traditional dark garb of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox faithful.

Authorities said Earnest stalked into the Poway synagogue during Sabbath prayers on the last day of the week-long Jewish Passover holiday and opened fire with an assault-style rifle, killing 60-year-old worshipper Lori Gilbert-Kaye

Three others were wounded in the attack, including the rabbi, who was shot in the hand and lost an index finger.

John Earnest, accused in the fatal shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, stands in court during an arraignment hearing in San Diego, California, U.S., April 30, 2019. Nelvin C. Cepeda/Pool via REUTERS

John Earnest, accused in the fatal shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, stands in court during an arraignment hearing in San Diego, California, U.S., April 30, 2019. Nelvin C. Cepeda/Pool via REUTERS

RAMBLING MANIFESTO

The gunman, whose weapon apparently jammed, was chased out of the temple by a former Army sergeant in the congregation, then sped away in a car, escaping an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent who shot at the getaway vehicle but missed the suspect. Earnest pulled over and surrendered to police soon afterward.

Authorities said later they believed Earnest was the author of a rambling, violently anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim “manifesto” found posted on the internet under his name.

In it, the writer claimed responsibility for a pre-dawn arson fire on March 24 that damaged the Islamic Center of Escondido, a town about 15 miles (24 km) north of Poway, and professed to have drawn his inspiration from the gunman who killed 50 people at two mosques earlier that month in New Zealand.

Saturday’s bloodshed near San Diego came six months to the day after 11 worshippers were fatally shot at a Pittsburgh synagogue in a massacre that ranks as the deadliest ever on American Jewry. The accused gunman in that attack was arrested.

Authorities said Earnest had no prior criminal record.

Besides the charge of committing arson at a place of worship, he is charged with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder. The criminal complaint, filed on Monday, also alleges the synagogue shooting was perpetrated as a hate crime. His public defender entered not guilty pleas to all charges on his behalf during Tuesday’s hearing.

If convicted, he would face life in prison without parole, or the death penalty, the district attorney’s office said.

District Attorney Summer Stephan told reporters afterward Earnest had legally purchased the murder weapon, although current California law generally prohibits rifles and shotguns from being sold to anyone under 21. The state’s legal age limit for such firearms was raised from 18 starting this year.

In addition to the murder weapon, Stephan said, police found five loaded ammunition magazines and another 50 rounds of bullets in Earnest’s vehicle when he was arrested.

(Reporting by Jennifer McEntee in San Diego; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

Battle against Ebola being lost amid militarized response, MSF says

FILE PHOTO: A mother of a child, suspected of dying from Ebola, cries outside a hospital during the funeral in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – The battle against Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo is failing because ordinary people do not trust health workers and an overly militarized response is alienating patients and families, the medical charity MSF said on Thursday.

Last week Medecins Sans Frontres (Doctors Without Borders) suspended medical activities at the focal point of the epidemic after two of its facilities were torched by unidentified assailants.

MSF’s international president Joanne Liu said the outbreak, which has killed 569 people, would not be beaten unless the community trusted the authorities and were treated humanely.

“The existing atmosphere can only be described as toxic,” Liu told reporters in Geneva.

Ebola responders were increasingly seen as the enemy, with more than 30 attacks and incidents against the Ebola response in the past month alone, she said.

The epidemic is in a region of Congo that is prey to armed groups and violence where officials are prone to see threats through a security lens and to use force.

“There is a lot of militarization of the Ebola response,” she said. “Using police to force people into complying with health measures is not only unethical, it’s totally counterproductive. The communities are not the enemy.”

Involvement of security and police forces merely deepened suspicions that Ebola was being used as a political tool, she said.

A spokeswoman for Congo’s Health Ministry said there appeared to be confusion about the security forces’ role.

“The police and the army are not involved in Ebola response activities and their role has never been to enforce sanitary measures,” Jessica Ilunga said.

The Interior Ministry has been asked to guarantee security, as it is unacceptable for health officials to be threatened and attacked, or for the threat of violence to stop families burying their loved ones in a dignified and safe manner, she said.

MSF was insisting on security before it returned to its damaged facilities, she said. Local officials, unlike international staffers, did not have the privilege of being evacuated for security reasons, she said.

Liu said there were still signs the outbreak – the second worst ever – was not being brought under control.

Forty percent of deaths were outside medical centers, meaning patients had not sought care, and 35 percent of new patients were not linked to existing cases, meaning the spread of the disease was not being tracked.

“Ebola still has the upper hand,” Liu said.

Villagers saw fleets of cars racing to pick up a single sick person and vast amounts of money pouring in. Some were instructed to wash their hands but had no soap to do so.

“They see their relatives sprayed with chlorine and wrapped in plastic bags, buried without ceremony. Then they see their possessions burned,” she said.

 

(Reporting by Tom Miles, additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini in Kinshasa; Editing by Angus MacSwan)