Sunday, January 15, 2006

Russian jailed for synagogue attack in 2nd incident this week

By News Agencies and Haaretz Service

A 19-year-old Russian man was sentenced to five days in jail Saturday for an attack on a synagogue a day earlier in the southern city of Rostov-an-Don, in the second such incident in Russia in the past week.

The summary proceedings and sentencing came the morning after the man had forced his way into a synagogue and threatened several worshippers there with a broken bottle. Police arrived on the scene to overpower the attacker.

The accused man said he carried out his attack after seeing on television the reports about Wednesday's incident in a synagogue in Moscow by a 20-year-old who allegedly wounded eight worshippers with a knife.

On Friday, Russian authorities charged that attacker with racially-motivated attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm. Of the eight persons stabbed in the Moscow synagogue, four were still in hospital.

The Moscow prosecutors' office said Alexander Koptsev, 20, had said during interrogation that he had committed the crime "out of envy toward them (Jews), since they live better," and that he had been inspired by books and Internet sites. He also told investigators that one of his motivations was "my desire to die," it said.

A million Jews live in Russia, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities, and the Jewish community now is experiencing a revival after a wave of emigration to Israel and other countries. Rising xenophobia in recent years has seen hundreds of racially motivated attacks on targets including dark-skinned immigrants from former Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains region.

Rights activists say hate groups are emboldened by authorities' mild approach to prosecuting hate crimes and complain that literature from Nazis and other extremists is sold freely.

The lower house of parliament's legislative committee has prepared a package of bills to strengthen anti-extremist legislation, committee head Pavel Krasheninnikov said Friday, according to the Interfax news agency.

Jewish leaders, however, have demanded that authorities push for better enforcement of existing laws.

U.S. Ambassador William Burns visited the Moscow synagogue on Friday morning.

"The United States welcomes Russian government statements condemning the attack and Prosecutor General (Vladimir) Ustinov's intent to oversee personally the criminal case," Burns said in a statement at the synagogue.

"We urge the Russian authorities to use all legal means to prosecute the perpetrator of this crime, and stop any such attacks in the future. It is crucially important to fight extremism in all its forms," Burns said.

Russian lawmakers take on extremism

The speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament said Thursday that lawmakers might consider tougher legislation to prevent extremism after a knife attack on worshipers at a Moscow synagogue that wounded 11 people.

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. Jewish leaders said the attack should serve as a clear message to Russian authorities and the public to fight racism.

Russian political parties, religious communities and the Russian Foreign Ministry all condemned the attack.

Parliamentary Speaker Boris Gryzlov said that while Russia had adequate legal means to fight any form of extremism, "if it does not guarantee the absence of such incidents that means we should consider toughening this legislation."

"The provocations of those who would like to bring about discord in Russian society and ignite national and religious dissension, which have not succeeded, will not succeed," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. "We will continue an uncompromising struggle against all manifestations of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and religious intolerance.

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