Saturday, January 14, 2006

List of Synagogues in Suspect's Home

Friday, January 13, 2006.

By Nabi Abdullaev and Kevin O'Flynn
Staff Writers

Chabad Synagogue

Security guards, one with a gun, detaining the attacker in a photo provided by the Chabad Synagogue on Thursday.

Police on Thursday searched the apartment of the 20-year-old man detained in the stabbing of eight men at a Moscow synagogue and found a list with the addresses of three synagogues, items with swastikas and dozens of rounds of ammunition.

Unlike most xenophobic attacks, Wednesday's incident sent strong waves through the country's political establishment and beyond.

The suspect, Alexander Koptsev, had no criminal record and appeared to have acted alone when he burst into the Chabad Synagogue at 6 Bolshaya Bronnaya Ulitsa, near Pushkin Square, on Wednesday evening, a prosecutor said.

Koptsev's father said his son had been depressed after his sister died last year and had been reading a book that portrayed Jews as betrayers of Russia.

Koptsev used a hunting knife to stab eight men -- including an American, an Israeli and a Tajik citizen -- until he was wrestled to the floor by the synagogue's chief rabbi, Yitzak Kogan, and other people.

Five of the injured remained hospitalized Thursday, two of them in critical condition, Interfax reported.

Investigators found 64 rifle cartridges and a list of three Moscow synagogues, including the Chabad Synagogue, while searching the Koptsev family's apartment, media reports said.

Moscow City Prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev said nationalist literature and "items with the Nazi symbol on them" were also found among the suspect's belongings. He did not elaborate.

Koptsev told investigators Thursday that he had been looking for "information of a nationalist nature" on the Internet, Zuyev said.

"Now, we have collected enough evidence to charge him, and we will do so soon," Zuyev said late Thursday afternoon. "Then we will ask a court to sanction his arrest."

Koptsev faces charges of attempted murder, assault and "actions aimed at hurting ethnic and religious dignity," which could carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Zuyev said Koptsev had never been in trouble with the law before and did not belong to an extremist organization.

He said the suspect would undergo a psychiatric examination but had not been registered as having psychological problems in the past.

Koptsev's father, whose name is also Alexander, said his son was "a quiet homebody" and suggested that he had snapped. "Last year, Sasha suffered a deep psychological trauma after his sister died of cancer," he said in an interview published in Kommersant on Thursday.

"My son has never been a member of any religious or political organization," he said.

Koptsev said his son had had trouble holding down a regular job and spent his free time playing computer games. He said his son's favorite was "Postal," a gruesome game in which a postman goes berserk and kills everyone he encounters with an arsenal of weapons, including a knife.

Chabad Synagogue

Vilen Polovitsky, 75, being treated at the synagogue right after the attack.

The father also recalled that he had recently seen an anti-Semitic book on a table in his son's room. "Sasha said the book was about how Yids sold Russia," he said.

Zuyev said investigators seized the book during the search and that experts found that the book carried multiple statements aimed at inciting ethnic and religious hatred.

Suggesting that the suspect is mentally unbalanced would be an easy way for the government and the public to dismiss the attack, warned Borukh Gorin, a spokesman for the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities.

"To blame this on lone mad people is dangerous because these mad people could explode the whole country," he said at a news conference.

He also called "hasty" Zuyev's statement that Koptsev did not belong to an extremist organization. "Such hasty conclusions put me on guard," he said.

Terry Davis, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights body, lumped the attack together with the recent murders of dark-skinned foreign students in several Russian cities, calling the incidents a worrisome trend.

Senior members of both houses of parliament, including Dmitry Rogozin, head of the nationalist Rodina party, condemned the stabbings and called for authorities to work harder to prevent further xenophobic attacks. State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said deputies might consider toughening the law on extremism.

Jewish leaders said authorities had shown leniency toward extremist groups and that that had led to the recent escalation in xenophobic attacks. "This is the result of what we have seen in Russia over the last few months," Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar said at the news conference, referring to the murders of foreign students and other dark-skinned people in St. Petersburg, Voronezh and other cities last year and in 2004.

He said xenophobia was growing because of "the propaganda of extremism and fascism, which is conducted openly and for which no one has yet been held accountable."

Extremist literature is sold widely across the country, and courts usually classify skinhead attacks as hooliganism, not racially motivated crime.

In November, about 3,000 young nationalists marched through central Moscow under xenophobic banners.

Xenophobic rhetoric flows freely in the Russian media, and that raises the specter of more attacks, said Alla Gerber, head of the Holocaust Foundation. "Authorities don't care to undercut extremism, courts do not see racial hatred, and no one makes any effort to introduce a project -- be it a television show or a publication -- that would teach tolerance," she said.

The country's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, called on the government to establish a program to teach tolerance, according to a statement on his web site.

It remained unclear how the hunting knife was brought through a metal detector into the synagogue. One account said the detector went off but a guard let Koptsev in after Koptsev pointed to a large metal belt buckle. Another account said Koptsev fought his way inside, wounding a guard with the knife.

Koptsev spent the night at the Sklifosofsky First Aid Hospital, where he was treated for injuries and a cut on the neck sustained when he was wrestled to the floor and held until police arrived.

Kogan, the rabbi, was the only person at the synagogue authorized to comment about the attack, and he could not be reached for details on Thursday.

Police posted patrols outside synagogues across the country.

"Where we had no armed guards, they have now appeared," Gorin said. "Police are patrolling every synagogue and every [Jewish] community center."

© Copyright 2006 The Moscow Times. All rights reserved.

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