Sunday, July 30, 2006

Seattle security raised after Jewish center shooting

Seattle security raised after Jewish center shooting
By Daisuke Wakabayashi

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Police stepped up security at Seattle synagogues and mosques on Saturday, a day after a Muslim man who said he was angry at Israel shot dead one woman and wounded five others at a Jewish center.

Naveed Afzal Haq, 31, burst into the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle on Friday afternoon. He surrendered without a struggle and police arrested him on charges of murder and five counts of attempted murder with bail set at $50 million.

Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said authorities are treating the shooting as a hate crime based on conversations with police during the rampage.

"He said that he wanted the United States to leave Iraq, that his people (Muslims) were being mistreated and that the United States was arming Israel," said Kerlikowske, who thinks Haq acted alone and is not part of any terrorist groups.

"He pointedly blamed the Jewish people for all these problems."

Police officers circled Seattle's Seward Park area, the city's traditional Jewish neighborhood and home to three major synagogues. Uniformed guards stood outside Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath and Sephardic Bikur Holim synagogues.

"There is high security," said Robin Boehler, chairwoman of the Jewish Federation. "This is the thing we dread the most happening." She added three of the victims were not Jewish.

Authorities said they were "taking every precaution," searching for explosives and additional suspects, and monitoring the city's synagogues and Jewish organizations.

Haq, a U.S. citizen, grabbed a teenage girl as a hostage to force his way past heavy security and then fired multiple shots from two handguns, police said.

Kerlikowske hailed one of the wounded victims, a pregnant woman whose name has been released, as a hero.


After she was shot in the forearm covering her abdomen, she still rushed to call police and stayed on the line even as the gunman warned her to hang up the phone, the chief said.

A hospital spokeswoman said three of the victims remain in critical condition. The surviving women range in age from 23 to 43. The dead woman was identified as Pamela Waechter, 58.

Haq selected the Federation after doing a Web search looking for "something Jewish," Kerlikowske said.

The Jewish federation, a group covering the Jewish community around the Puget Sound region, organized a large rally last weekend to demonstrate support for Israel in its fight against Hizbollah in southern Lebanon.

A silent march to protest Israeli actions in Gaza planned for Saturday morning in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland was canceled due to safety concerns, said Arsalan Bukhari, president of the Seattle chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.

"The events that are happening in the Middle East should not spill over into our city," said Bukhari.

In light of the fighting in the Middle East, Seattle police alerted its officers earlier this week to carefully monitor synagogues, temples and mosques, but Kerlikowske said they had received no specific threats.

Local media reported Haq was on medication for a bipolar disorder and had a misdemeanor lewd conduct charge pending after allegedly exposing himself at a shopping mall.

Haq picked up the semi-automatic weapons and ammunition at two different shops the day before the shooting after going through the required 5-day waiting period to buy a handgun in Washington state, according to investigators.

(Additional reporting by Elaine Porterfield)