Arrest Made in Gunfire Incident Near Temple Israel in Albany

Arrest Made in Gunfire Incident Near Temple Israel in Albany

ALBANY- A 28-year-old man, identified as Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, allegedly fired two rounds from a shotgun outside Temple Israel, shouting “Free Palestine” during the incident. No injuries were reported in the shooting near 2 p.m. on the synagogue grounds.

Alkhader was swiftly taken into custody and is under investigation by a counterterrorism task force in Albany. The FBI charged him with firearm possession, a felony carrying a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Temple Israel staff initiated a lockdown upon spotting the armed man, ensuring the safety of occupants, including children in an early childhood center. Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins confirmed shell casings were found on the synagogue’s staircase.

When police responded to reports of shots fired, they initially believed it was at a KeyBank branch but later discovered it wasn’t. A transit driver confronted the man with a shotgun, who claimed he was wronged.

Albany police apprehended him a block away. According to Chief Hawkins, the shooter mentioned “Free Palestine,” but it’s unclear if he made similar comments during the incident. The police and FBI are treating the case as a potential hate crime.

The shooting happened shortly before the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival. Rabbi Wendy Love Anderson mentioned lighting Hanukkah candles to bring light in darkness after the incident.

Governor Kathy Hochul held a separate news conference in New York City, coinciding with the one outside the synagogue by Chief Hawkins and Mayor Kathy Sheehan. The governor revealed that the suspect is a local resident with a criminal history, but details were not provided.

Chief Hawkins clarified that the suspect is not known to Albany police.

Governor Hochul emphasized the unacceptability of any act of antisemitism, especially on the first night of Hanukkah. She expressed relief that no one was injured in the incident.

Additionally, she announced heightened security measures, directing State Police and the New York National Guard to be on high alert and increase patrols at synagogues, yeshivas, and community centers.

An FBI spokeswoman in Albany confirmed that the bureau, along with city and state police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, is actively investigating. The statement highlighted the immediate deployment of multiple resources and ongoing collaboration with law enforcement partners, including the United States Attorney’s Office, to ascertain facts and uncover potential motives.

Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany assured its congregants via email that the Temple Israel incident appears isolated. The congregation is actively coordinating with Albany police and the Albany County Sheriff and Security Task Force as it prepares for its Hanukkah celebration on Friday night.

Governor Hochul emphasized the gravity of violence in places of worship, stating it’s an assault not just on the building but on the very fabric of society, freedom of faith expression, and our shared sense of safety. She declared a zero-tolerance policy for hate in New York and pledged to utilize every available resource as governor to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers.

On Thursday afternoon, there were no onlookers outside Temple Israel except for reporters gathered for a news conference with city officials scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. Governor Hochul had visited the temple on Oct. 7 to show solidarity with Israel following terror attacks by Hamas on that day.

The incident at Temple Israel happened amid a rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents across New York and the nation due to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York issued a statement on Thursday, urging the community to remain vigilant during this time of increasing antisemitism worldwide. They emphasized the importance of not succumbing to fear and intimidation while staying proud of Jewish heritage and traditions.

In September, Temple Israel was among several synagogues targeted with bomb threats, leading the congregation to evacuate as Rosh Hashanah commenced.

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