FBI will investigate Pittsburgh synagogue shooting as a 'hate crime'

The head of Pittsburgh's public safety department says Saturday's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue will be investigated by the FBI as a "hate crime."

Wendell Hissrich also said the suspect in the shooting is in custody and was taken to hospital. 

A law enforcement official has identified the suspect in a shooting as Robert Bowers, a man in his 40s.

The gunman killed at least eight people and injured 12 in an attack during Sabbath religious services, local authorities and media reported, although this has not been officially confirmed. 

Pennsylvania's Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the shooter "claimed innocent lives — and injured first responders — at a baby naming."

A witness describes what happened at fatal shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday. 1:52

Hissrich said there would be another press briefing at 4 p.m. ET. 

The synagogue is located at the intersection of Wilkins and Shady avenues. The tree-lined residential neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, is the hub of Pittsburgh's Jewish community.

The gunman shouted "All Jews must die" when he stormed the synagogue, local media and authorities said. 

The local Jewish community was shocked by the attack. "Growing up … you hear about the Holocaust and you hear stories about other places, but you can't imagine it would ever happen in your neighbourhood," Drew Barkley, executive director of Temple Sinai, another Pittsburgh synagogue told CBC News.

"It's shocking … We don't know why anti- Semitism exists the way it does … It's such an ancient hatred."

'Absolute tragedy'

Eyewitnesses said a morning worship service was just beginning about 9.45 a.m. when the gunman burst in. Some people were able to barricade themselves in the basement when they heard gunfire.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center system said it was treating multiple victims from the shooting, but would not say how many. 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf tweeted that he was at the scene of the shooting and called it "an absolute tragedy."

"These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans," Wolf tweeted. "We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life. But we have been saying 'this one is too many' for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm's way."

Speaking to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base before travelling to Indianapolis, President Donald Trump said, "It's a terrible thing what's going on with hate in our country" and that the violence "has to stop."

Trump also said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue "had some kind of protection" from an armed guard and suggested that might be a good idea for all churches and synagogues.

He also said such shooters should receive the death penalty and "suffer the ultimate price."

Watch U.S. President Donald Trump respond to the shooting: 

U.S. President Donald Trump says "something has to be done" about hate in the country in the wake of the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which is "far more devastating than everybody originally thought." 6:27

In New York, the NYPD tweeted that it was "deploying heavy weapons teams" and officers to "houses of worship" as a precaution. 

"Currently, there is no nexus to NYC but we ask that you remain alert and If you see anything suspicious contact 888-NYC-SAFE," the NYPD said.  

International reactions to the shooting poured in on Saturday afternoon.

Israel expressed shock and concern and offered assistance to the community in Pittsburgh. 

Minister Naftali Bennett, Israel's cabinet minister for diaspora affairs, said he is "following the news with concern," and has instructed Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs to prepare to assist in every possible way.

"Our hearts go out to the families of those killed and injured. May the memory of the murdered be blessed," he said.

In Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs tweeted that its "thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the entire Pittsburgh community."

CIJA also said it was "tracking the situation closely" but "have not received information that suggests an increased security threat in Canada"

Toronto MP Michael Levitt also tweeted his support. 

"Absolutely horrific that a synagogue has come under attack during Shabbat prayers," he tweeted. "Jews in Canada and around the world are praying for you and the first responders who came to your aid."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter: "Canadians' hearts are with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh today, as they endured a horrific anti-Semitic attack while at prayer."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that he was "heartbroken and appalled by the murderous attack … "

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