U.S. to seek death penalty for accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

FILE PHOTO: Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Pennsylvania man accused of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue last year with a semi-automatic rifle and shooting 11 people to death, according to court papers filed on Monday.

Robert Bowers, 46, shouted “all Jews must die” as he fired on congregants gathered for Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, authorities said.

Bowers, who is from a Pittsburgh suburb, has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to a 63-count indictment and is awaiting trial though a trial date has not been set. The charges include using a firearm to commit murder and obstruction of free exercise of religious belief resulting in death, the court filing said.

“Robert Bowers expressed hatred and contempt toward members of the Jewish faith and his animus toward members of the Jewish faith played a role in the killings,” prosecutors said.

The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue was the deadliest attack ever on Jewish Americans in the United States.

The synagogue is a fixture in Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, which is home to one of the largest and oldest Jewish populations in the United States.

Bowers targeted that location “to maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities,” prosecutors said in court papers.

An attorney for Bowers, death penalty specialist Judy Clarke, did not return calls or an email seeking comment.

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

MULTIPLE CONGREGATIONS

The Tree of Life synagogue hosted multiple Jewish congregations.

Dor Hadash, one of the congregations that was attacked and whose name means New Generation in English, expressed disappointment in the decision to seek the death penalty.

Instead, attorneys for Bowers and federal prosecutors should have reached a plea agreement that would see him receive a life prison sentence, Dor Hadash said in a statement.

“It would have prevented the attacker from getting the attention and publicity that will inevitably come with a trial, and eliminated any possibility of further trauma that could result from a trial and protracted appeals,” it said.

Separately, a spokesman for Tree of Life said in an email the congregation “does not have a statement on this matter; we have confidence that justice will be served.”

Among those killed were a 97-year-old woman and a married couple in their 80s. Two civilians and five police officers were wounded before the gunman, who was armed with an assault-style rifle and three handguns, was shot by police at the synagogue and surrendered. He has been held in jail since then.

The mass shooting followed a rise in the number of hate crimes and the number of hate groups in the United States, according to separate reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. prosecutors charge New York man with being Islamic State sniper

Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, a 42-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Kazakhstan, appears in this courtroom sketch alongside Attorney Susan Kellman before United States Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold at the United States Courthouse after he was was charged with providing material support to the Islamic State, in New York City, U.S. July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

(Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors have charged a New York man with fighting for the Islamic State militant group in Syria and serving as a weapons trainer, according to court documents unsealed on Friday.

Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, a 42-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Kazakhstan, was charged with providing material support to the terrorist organization, including providing training to terrorist soldiers and attempting to recruit personnel.

Asainov traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, from his home in New York’s Brooklyn borough in December 2013 and then to Syria, where he joined Islamic State and rose through the ranks as a sniper and then as a weapons instructor, according to charging documents.

Prosecutors said Asainov was detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces and was transferred into FBI custody.

The charges filed against Asainov were based in part on his regular communication between August 2014 and March 2015 with a confidential informant working for the New York Police Department. According to the complaint, Asainov attempted to recruit the informant to work for Islamic State’s media operations and asked that he send about $2,800 for military equipment.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for several attacks against Americans in the United States and abroad.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Boston; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)