oday, is one of those days when reality comes far too close for comfort. Today, the wars of the Mideast blasted their way into the city I live in in the most visceral way possible. This is from a King5-TV online report:
One person has been killed and at least five others have been injured in a shooting at the Jewish Federation at 2031 Third Ave. in downtown Seattle. One suspect has been taken into custody.
Police have taken one person into custody but there may be more suspects in or around the building.
Sources told KING 5 the suspect is a Pakistani man with a criminal background. He is from the Tri-Cities but his citizenship is unknown.
According to the Seattle Times, a man got through security at the Jewish Federation and told staff members, “I’m a Muslim American; I’m angry at Israel,” then began shooting, according to Amy Wasser-Simpson, the vice president for planning and community services for the Jewish Federation…
One witness said the shooter shot a woman as she was walking into the building. Another witness said she saw a woman sitting down, bleeding, outside the building.
Several witnesses said they saw a man walk up to the entrance of the building and shoot a woman in the leg. The man then walked into the building and made it up to the roof.
Witnesses said they heard one shot while the man was on the roof. The man then went back inside and witnesses said they heard several more shots.
The suspect walked into the offices of the Jewish Federation building in downtown Seattle nearly two hours ago (4 PM PDT) and pulled out a weapon of some kind and started firing at the employees. Though the building has a visitor security system, the suspect got in by telling the receptionist he was upset about what was happening in the Mideast and wanted to talk to someone about it. Apparently, the Federation does not use metal detectors though I presume most Federations in the world will now get them if they don’t already have them.
While we know very little about the attacker and the motives for the attack other than they must be rooted in great Arab anger toward Israel and the Jewish community for the violence in Lebanon, what seems to link this attack to other terror attacks like the London bombings is a home-grown Arab suspect with possibly no direct or formal ties to Al Qaeda, but who nonetheless is inspired by it (or in this case possibly by Hezbollah) to commit such acts of violence.
Not since Argentine terror attacks in the 1990s, do I remember the offices of a Jewish communal group being attacked by an Arab terrorist. In the earlier incident, it is thought that Iran played some role in organizing the attack though it disputes that claim. Given that the suspect in this crime is Pakistani, it seems unlikely that such a link will be found. Though of course there may be other links to other organizations or countries.
I am going to say something that my fellow Seattle Jews may not agree with and my president certainly will disagree with but…this killing proves the absolute urgency of an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. How many more Jewish communal organizations will be targeted after the unbalanced or zealots decide to emulate this nutjob? And in case we needed incontrovertible proof of the immense reservoir of hatred the Lebanon war is building among the world’s Muslims and Arabs, Seattle is the perfect emblem of that hatred and what the future holds in store.
More as the situation unfolds…
UPDATE from Seattle Times 6:30 PM PDT:
An employee in the building said she was at her desk when she heard what she at first thought were balloons popping.
“It went ‘Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!’ and then we heard a woman scream,” said the employee, who asked that her name not be used.
“One of the receptionists told me that he shot her and then demanded that she call 911,” the employee said. “He told the police that it was a hostage situation and he wanted us to get our weapons out of Israel.”
“I saw one friend –– she had been shot twice in the stomach and was bleeding,” the witness said.
Most of the employees were able to leave through a back door.
…David Gomez, an assistant special agent-in-charge for the FBI, said there is nothing to indicate the gunman is part of a larger organization.
“We believe he is a lone individual with antagonism toward this organization,” he said.
There are two problems with Gomez’ statement above. First, it has become crystal clear that in this day and age of hyperhate it is no longer necessary for a terrorist to receive weapons training and indoctrination in an Al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan or Afghanistan. As the London underground bombings made clear, terrorists can be home-grown and their grudges are no longer nurtured by professional terrorists. There is so much hate out there that lone wolves are willing to take things into their own hands. And all they need is a gun and the ability to shoot straight. So the fact that he is a “lone individual” with no apparent organizational affiliations shouldn’t comfort us very much.
What has brought us to this pass? Undoubtedly the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq plays a role. And the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays an even larger role for people like our gunman. For him, the war in Lebanon was a proximate cause. But we must find a way to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict. This would be the release valve for pressure building within the Arab world as exemplified by this madman today. Fix this problem and the madmen will retreat from the light into the shadows where they belong.
The other problem with Gomez’s comment is that clearly the gunman was expressing “antagonism” toward far more than “this organization.” From the statements he made during the crime, he was angry at Israel for its prosecution of the war in Lebanon. He happened to lash out at the Jewish federation as the nearest target he could find. So his beef is with the State of Israel and the entire Jewish people. I think the FBI could be a little more careful in their comments.
U.S. Attorney John McKay said his office would consider prosecuting the shooting as a federal hate crime if , indeed, the suspect “was making hate-filled speech” during the shooting spree.
“That likely won’t happen until the local investigation is completed,” McKay said this afternoon.
Members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force had been called to the scene.
Sources told KING 5 the suspect is a 31-year-old Pakistani man with a criminal background. He is from Pasco and is a U.S. citizen, but it was not immediately known how long he has lived in the United States. Also unknown is what sort of criminal record he has. Officials are on the way to the Pasco to interview his family.
According to the Seattle Times, a man got through security at the Jewish Federation and told staff members, “I’m a Muslim American; I’m angry at Israel,” then began shooting, according to Amy Wasser-Simpson, the vice president for planning and community services for the Jewish Federation.
FBI spokesman David Gomez said officials believe the suspect acted alone and is not affiliated with a foreign organization.
A Harborview Medical Center spokesperson said five women were brought in, and three of them are in critical condition. They have not yet been identified. Their ages are 23, 27, 29, 19 and 43. The 43-year-old woman was reportedly shot in the abdomen. Two victims were in satisfactory condition: a woman, who’s 17 weeks pregnant who was shot in the arm and another victim with a knee injury.
A joint terrorism task force joined SWAT teams and a bomb disposal unit at the scene. The suspect’s vehicle, a pickup truck, was in a nearby garage in the Bed, Bath and Beyond building, at 1930 Third Ave. Police cordoned off part of the garage before they determined there were no explosives inside the vehicle.
The gunman forced his way through the security door at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle at 4 p.m. after an employee had punched in her security code, Marla Meislin-Dietrich, a database coordinator for the center, told The Associated Press.
“He said ‘I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel,’ before opening fire on everyone,” Meislin-Dietrich said. “He was randomly shooting at everyone.”
One staff member who was shot twice escaped through the back door, said Meislin-Dietrich, who was working away from the office and relaying information provided by coworkers who were at the building.
Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick said one person died at the scene of the shooting. Deanna Nollette, a police spokeswoman, said the deceased was a woman who was shot.
…A vehicle police believe belongs to the gunman — a white Mazda pickup with Washington license plates — was checked for explosives and towed away.
There are few silver linings regarding this horrible crime. But there is a single one. I have worked in Jewish federations in New York and California. From the point of view of a terrorist, the absolute worst time to attack a Jewish communal office is on Friday afternoon in summer. Staff take their summer vacations and observant staff leave early to prepare for Shabbat. So the toll could’ve been worse. Let’s be thankful it wasn’t while also comforting the victims who were unlucky enough to have been there.
UPDATE: I NEVER in my life thought I was quote Pajamas Media for anything but…they are reporting that KIRO 710 (radio) says the suspect’s name is Naveed Afzal Haq and that he’s been charged with one count of homicide, five counts attempted homicide.
PJM has already accused me of blaming Israel for the Seattle attack:
Richard Silverstein…thinks it really is Israel’s fault after all
It appears there is more than one nutjob lurking out there in the world. I don’t blame Israel for the attack. I blame a hate-filled nutjob. But a ceasefire would go a long way towards calming the hatred. Boy, with that PJM link I’m going to be mopping the floors with the hate-spew for the next few days. To quote my president, “bring it on.”
When the Federation sets up a fund to aid the victims and their families, I will post a link.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.