Sunday, January 15, 2006

Skinhead Stabs 8 in Attack on Moscow Synagogue

MOSCOW, Jan. 11 - A skinhead armed with a hunting knife burst into Moscow's main synagogue today and stabbed eight people before he was wrestled to the floor, telling those who subdued him, "I came to kill," according to witnesses and police.

None of the wounds were life-threatening, doctors later told Russian news media, though the attack left puddles of blood in a second-floor hallway of the Chabad Lubavitch synagogue in central Moscow.

The attack appeared to be the first large-scale hate crime against Jews in recent years in Russia, though beatings and stabbings of immigrants and foreign students have been on the rise. Jewish gravestones were desecrated in St. Petersburg in October.

The attacker, wearing all black, his blond hair cropped close to his scalp, overpowered a guard at a metal detector near the synagogue's entrance around 5:30 p.m., according to Avraham Verkowitz, director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the former Soviet countries, a Lubavitch group.

He then moved toward a rabbinical school on the second floor and attacked people trying to flee down a hallway, Mr. Verkowitz said in a telephone interview from the scene. "The pools of blood are drying in front of me now," he said.

"The attacker was on a rampage to stab as many people as he could," Mr. Verkowitz said, adding that an American citizen was among the victims.

The son of the chief rabbi, Yosef Kogan, subdued the man, Mr. Verkowitz said.

The synagogue on Bolshaya Bronnaya street is the principal Chabad-Lubavitch center in Russia, located a few hundred yards from Moscow's central Pushkin Square. It was last the target of an anti-Semitic attack in 2000, when a time bomb was found and safely removed.

Anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant youth groups have blossomed in recent years, sometimes loosely tied to soccer fan clubs or nationalist-leaning political parties; they staged a march in Moscow in November.

Dozens of foreign students and members of ethnic minorities, some who are indigenous to Russia and others who are immigrants from former Soviet states, were beaten up last year. A rock musician was killed in St. Petersburg in November after he was threatened by skinheads.

Terror attacks by Muslims affiliated with the Chechen separatist movement have not specifically focused on Russia's Jewish community, Mr. Verkowitz said, and there were no indications that today's attack was related to that conflict. "It's coming from the neo-Nazis," he said.

The synagogue's chief rabbi, Yitzchock Kogan, said in a telephone interview that the young man shouted "'Heil Hitler!" during the attack. After he was wrestled to the ground, the man said, "I came to kill," Mr. Kogan recalled.

"He didn't know the interior layout," he said. "He just attacked the first people he found."

The police identified the attacker as Aleksandr Koptsev, according to Russia's Interfax news agency. Russian state television said he had no criminal record or known affiliation with neo-Nazi groups. Interfax said a police had told a reporter that the suspect had personal troubles that might have motivated the attack. Another report, however, said the attack was being investigated as a hate crime.

The attack drew condemnations from the Russian authorities, the Orthodox Church and the chief mufti, or Islamic cleric, in Russia.

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