Top rabbi blames growing fascist ‘plague’ for anti-Semitic upsurge
Moscow — A 20-year-old man wielding a knife stabbed eight people, four of them seriously, in a central Moscow synagogue Wednesday evening, in an attack that Russia’s chief rabbi said was part of a growing fascist “plague” in the country.
Police identified the assailant as Alexander Koptsev, a Muscovite.
He was eventually subdued by the son of the synagogue’s rabbi and held until police arrived.
The chief Moscow prosecutor, Anatoly Zuyev, said an American, an Israeli and a Tajik citizen were among the wounded.
“I will kill Jews,” shouted the man, according to witnesses interviewed by the Russian press.
“Where fascist ideas are propagandized, they will eventually manifest themselves, as it happened in Moscow today,” said Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, speaking to the Russian news agency Interfax from Israel.
Xenophobic and anti-Semitic violence is on the rise in Russia. Human rights groups say at least 50 people, many of them foreign students from developing countries, have been killed in racially motivated attacks by neo-Nazis and skinheads in Russia in the past year.
A report by the Israeli government ranked Russia among the worst places in Europe, after France and Britain, in terms of anti-Semitic violence.
The attack at the Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue came during an evening prayer service. “I heard some shouts,” said Rabbi Yitzhak Kogan. “I ran out and saw an unknown man trying to escape. Then I saw three or four slashed people down the corridor.”
Koptsev, described as having a shaved head, apparently set off an alarm at a metal detector when he entered the building. But he showed security guards a large belt buckle and was not searched further, according to a spokesman for the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities, Borukh Gorin. Koptsev then began randomly attacking people who crossed his path, witnesses said.
Moscow prosecutors said the incident would be investigated as an ethnically and religiously motivated crime.
In other cases, Russian prosecutors have drawn criticism from human rights groups for refusing to categorize attacks on foreigners and minority groups as hate crimes.
“The attacker was shouting words that showed he was motivated by ethnic and religious hatred,” Zuyev told reporters.
He said prosecutors had not yet determined whether Koptsev was affiliated with any group. Officials increased security at synagogues across the city.
“Law enforcement agencies and authorities and all of society must do everything so that such a thing is not repeated, either in the center of Moscow or anywhere else,” said the Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
“Attempting to kill people who came to a synagogue to pray to their god is an atrocity,” the chief mufti of the Russian Central Muslim Union, Talgat Tadzhuddin, said in an interview with Interfax. “Entering God’s temple with a weapon is despicable.”