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Shooting at Pittsburgh synagogue condemned by religious groups, lawmakers

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Shooting at Pittsburgh synagogue condemned by religious groups, lawmakers

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Reactions and prayers poured in after a suspected gunman opened fire on a congregation at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, leaving eight dead and six injured, according to local officials.

The incident occurred Saturday morning in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which is home to a large Jewish population. Shortly after the suspect was taken into custody by police, he was identified by law enforcement officials as Robert Bowers, 46, a resident of the Pittsburgh area.

Various social media accounts in his name appear to show a history of anti-Semitic messages and hate speech. U.S.-based and international Jewish groups condemned the attack.

"This is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States," said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive for the Anti-Defamation League. "We are devastated. Jews targeted on Shabbat morning at synagogue, a holy place of worship, is unconscionable."

Another organization, HIAS, a nonprofit focusing on protecting refugees, wrote in a statement, "This loss is our loss, and our thoughts are with Tree of Life Congregation, our local partner Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) of Pittsburgh, the city of Pittsburgh and all those affected by this senseless act of violence."

The World Jewish Congress, an international organization representing Jewish communities, wrote in a statement, "This was an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole."

The group went on to say that these attacks must be condemned and "do everything in our power to stop these atrocities from happening again."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, who was born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, also responded in a statement: "This horrific act of violence perpetrated against a holy people on their holy day reminds us of the reality of evil and the need to counter its influence with courage and love."

Hatch added, "The hatred in this man's heart has no place in a society founded in the ideal of religious freedom."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted after his initial visit to the scene of the crime, "These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans." Wolf added his support of stronger gun laws saying, "Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harms way."

President Donald Trump's daughter and close adviser, Ivanka Trump, tweeted Saturday afternoon saying, "America is stronger than the acts of a depraved bigot and anti-semite." Trump converted to Judaism after marrying Jared Kushner in 2009.

The United States Holocaust Museum in D.C., the scene of a 2009 hate crime where an 88-year-old gunman fatally shot a security guard, wrote in a statement about Saturday's shooting, "Before opening fire, the alleged perpetrator reportedly yelled, 'All Jews must die!' The Museum reminds all Americans of the dangers of unchecked hatred and antisemitism which must be confronted wherever they appear and calls on all Americans to actively work to promote social solidarity and respect the dignity of all individuals."

According to the Anti-Defamation League's 2017 audit, incidents of anti-Semitism rose 57 percent, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number since they began tracking hate crime data in 1979.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, put the recent incident in context with previous attacks in places of worship.

"It reminds us of the slaughter of nine African American worshipers at Charleston's Mother Emmanuel Church in 2015, the killings of six Sikh worshipers at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2014, and, of course, the bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 that left four young African American girls dead," Cohen said in a statement.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, expressed their solidarity with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the attack.

"This barbaric attack on our neighbors, with whom we share our city and have visited and dialogued multiple times, is deeply disturbing and horrifying," CAIR-Pittsburgh Chapter President Safdar Khwaja said. "Such an act of terror affects all of us. We offer our full support and assistance in the aftermath of this tragedy, and our doors are open at all times to our neighbors."