Eleven hurt, four seriously, as knife-wielding skinhead rampages through Moscow synagogue

Haaretz, Israel/January 12, 2006
By Amiram Barkat and Yossi Melman

Three Israelis were among 11 men stabbed in a Moscow synagogue yesterday when a man armed with a knife entered and began slashing worshipers. The stabber, who shouted "I will kill Jews," was wrestled to the ground by the son of a rabbi, officials and eyewitnesses said.

Four of the injured men were taken to hospital in serious condition.

Israeli sources said that among those who were severely injured was the Israeli Yehezkel Menahem Aharon.

A Muscovite skinhead in his 20s named Alexander Koptsev was arrested in connection with the attack, and the police said he faces charges including hate-based attempted murder.

The attacker "shouted words that showed he was motivated by ethnic and religious hatred," chief Moscow prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev told reporters outside the synagogue.

Police and security services said they assumed the stabber belonged to a skinhead group with a nationalist, right wing and anti-Semitic ideology.

The attack at the Chabad Bronnaya synagogue came amid an increase in the activity of hate groups in Russia and in the number of racist crimes.

"If today's act does not sound an alarm, society faces grave danger," said Borukh Gorin, chief spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. "Fascism will come knocking at the door of every citizen if we do not take serious measures now."

Gorin said the attacker was clearly a skinhead and wore a leather jacket.

Another spokesman for the same organization, Timur Kireyev, said he shouted "I will kill people, I will kill Jews" after bursting into the synagogue complex at about 5:30 P.M., stabbing a security guard who tried to stop him.

"This was not a game, he was out to kill," said Iosif Ostrovsky, a rabbinical student who said he saw the assailant stab several people - aiming at their necks, heads or upper bodies. He said the man also shouted "Heil Hitler!"

A kitchen worker who gave her name only as Svetlana said the man assaulted people in downstairs kitchen area after entering the building. "I saw people lying on the floor, cut and bloodied," she said.

Eyewitnesses said the son of the synagogue's rabbi, Yitzhak Kogan, wrestled the attacker to the ground and held him until police arrived.

"I grabbed him by the neck and put him on the floor," said 18-year-old Iosif Kogan, his checked shirt flecked with dried blood as he spoke to reporters crowded outside.

Among those wounded was the synagogue rabbi's son-in-law, a rabbi himself who was undergoing surgery, said Avraham Berkowitz, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Iosif Kogan said his brother-in-law was wounded in the arm and stomach.

Russian news reports said the country's top prosecutor, Vladimir Ustinov, was personally taking control of the investigation.

Kireyev said Russia's chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, would cut short a trip to Israel and return to Russia because of the attack.

"We hope that law enforcement agencies and the Russian authorities will take real measures so that this will never be repeated," Lazar told NTV television in footage from Israel.

Israeli sources said yesterday that Lazar, who is considered close to President Vladimir Putin, asked to play down the incident. Lazar's spokesman denied these charges.

Lazar called the attack "the latest result of the brazen and practically unpunished propaganda of fascism in this country."

The stabbing is the latest in a growing series of incidents apparently involving skinheads or racist groups in Russia. Rights groups have warned that hate groups have grown substantially in recent years, with their anger targeted mainly at foreigners and dark-skinned immigrants from the poorer former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Many rights groups also say prosecutors routinely downplay hate crimes, choosing to bring less serious charges.

"This is an attack on every Jew in this country, but also on every caring Russian citizen," said Berkowitz, who said it came as Judaism was undergoing a revival in Russia.

The dominant Russian Orthodox Church, which has made efforts to reach out to Jewish officials in a country with a history of pogroms and anti-Semitism, condemned the attack and calls for action by the state and society to stem violence.

Billionaire industrialist Arkady Gaydamak, who lives near the synagogue, arrived at the site. Gaydamak, who is due to return to Israel on his private jet today to sign over a $50 million donation to the Jewish Agency, offered to fly the injured Israelis home on his plane and gave instruction for a medical team to accompany them on the flight.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom yesterday instructed the charge d'affaires in Israel's embassy in Moscow to convey a sharp message to the Russian Foreign Ministry that Israel expects Russia to take firm measures against such anti-Semitic events. The embassy has already asked for an update from the police investigation of the incident.

Shalom wished the injured people a speedy recovery.

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