Hate crime charges for California synagogue attack suspect

A teenager arrested for carrying out an attack on a California synagogue has been charged with federal hate crimes. (AFP pic)

LOS ANGELES: A teenager accused of shooting dead a woman and wounding three other people at a synagogue in California was charged on Thursday with more than 100 federal hate crimes and civil rights violations.

John Earnest, 19, had earlier been charged at the state level with murder and attempted murder in relation to the April 27 attacks at the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego.

But federal authorities added 109 new charges, saying Earnest was motivated by his hatred of Jews and Muslims. They said Earnest was also behind a March 24 arson at a California mosque.

If convicted, Earnest faces the maximum penalty of death or life without parole in both the state and federal cases, which can be tried separately.

“We will not allow our community members to be hunted in their houses of worship, where they should feel free and safe to exercise their right to practice their religion,” federal prosecutor Robert Brewer, Jr. said in a statement. “Our actions today are inspired by our desire to achieve justice for all of the victims and their families.”

The attack on the synagogue took place on the last day of Passover and six months after a white supremacist shot dead 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – the worst attack against Jewish people in the modern history of the United States.

Authorities said Earnest posted a manifesto online in which he claimed inspiration from the Pittsburgh attack as well as recent shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that left 51 people dead.

He also admitted in the manifesto to the arson of the mosque in Escondido, near San Diego.

The shooting at the synagogue left a 60-year-old woman, Lori Kaye, dead and three people injured, including the rabbi and an eight-year-old child.

Earnest was arrested after fleeing the scene and calling the emergency services and identifying himself as the shooter.

“I just shot up a synagogue. I’m just trying to defend my nation from the Jewish people,” he said, according to court documents.