Russia's Chief Rabbi: Synagogue Attack A Wake-Up Call


January 12, 2006

MosNews--Russia’s chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, told the Itar-Tass news agency that the main conclusion to be drawn from the incident was that it’s too late to talk about fascism. “It’s here. It is fascism”, Berl Lazar said in an official statement. The head rabbi described Wednesday’s incident as a consequence of militant and unpunished anti-Semitism and open propaganda of extremism and fascism for which no one has ever been brought to justice.

“The murderer has come to a synagogue —the House of God; if blood was spilled at a place of worship, what else we can expect,” the rabbi went on to say. He has called on law enforcers to use the power of the law to fight militant extremists and fascists. “I am sure that gunmen will come to every home if our society doesn’t wake up to the problem now,” the head rabbi stressed.

The Federation of the Jewish Communities of Russia is ready either to invite Israeli doctors to help the attack victims or send the injured to Israel.

Earlier news reports said that a knife-wielding man shouting “I will kill Jews!” attacked a synagogue in downtown Moscow Wednesday, slashing and stabbing at least eight people before the son of a rabbi wrestled him to the ground, officials and eyewitnesses said. Witnesses said the shaven-headed attacker yelled “Heil Hitler! as he aimed at victims’ necks, heads or torsos in what appeared to be a well-planned attack.

The attack at the Chabad Bronnaya synagogue came amid an increase in racist crimes and hate-group activity in Russia. Jewish leaders said it should send a message to Russian authorities and the public to fight prejudice. ”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.“

Among the eight men wounded were an American and an Israeli, along with a man from the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, chief Moscow prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev told reporters outside the synagogue. He said the attacker ”shouted words that showed he was motivated by ethnic and religious hatred.“

Zuyev said the suspect, a Muscovite identified as Alexander Koptsev, born in 1985, was in custody and faced charges including hate-based attempted murder. It was not immediately clear whether he was a member of any anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi groups, Zuyev said.

Gorin said the attacker had a shaved head and wore a leather jacket. Another spokesman for the Jewish federation said the assailant shouted ”I will kill people, I will kill Jews!“ after bursting into the synagogue complex at about 5:30 p.m., when there were several dozen people in the building.

Jewish leaders and witnesses said the assailant attacked a guard who tried to stop him, then stabbed people in or near a prayer room on the first floor before continuing his rampage upstairs. ”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 upper bodies in what he called a ”well planned attack.“ He said the man also shouted ”Heil Hitler!“

Officials and witness said a 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. He said several other people struggled to disarm the man as he tried to stab them.

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

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. 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 called for action by the state and society to stem hate crimes.

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