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Mercury News - July 29, 2006

Seattle gunman `angry at Israel'

SEATTLE - One person was dead and five others were hospitalized Friday in a shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle building in downtown Seattle by a man who declared he was ``angry at Israel.''

Seattle police later arrested the alleged gunman, who reportedly had walked into the building and started shooting.

At least three victims were women, according to Seattle Fire Department medics. Their names haven't been released, but one woman, described as 43, had been shot in the abdomen. Another victim is 17 weeks pregnant, police said, and had been shot in the arm.

An employee in the building said she was at her desk when she heard what she 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.''

Most of the workers were able to leave through a back door.

A few minutes later, the man surrendered to officers.

The employee said the man apparently was allowed through a security door by a receptionist.

According to Amy Wasser-Simpson, the vice president for planning and community services for the Jewish Federation, the man told staff members, ``I'm a Muslim American; I'm angry at Israel,'' and then began shooting. Wasser-Simpson said she heard the account from staff members who witnessed the shootings.

``A number of staff people heard some popping sounds, then they heard a scream,'' Wasser-Simpson said. ``They escaped out the back door.''

One staff member who was shot twice escaped through the back door as well, Wasser-Simpson said.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, founded in 1926, is an umbrella organization for the local Jewish community. It raises money for Jewish social-welfare organizations, runs youth and adult Jewish educational programs, and engages in efforts in support of Israel. It was a sponsor of the Israel Solidarity Rally last Sunday.

The authorities said they did not believe the suspect was acting as part of a terrorist group, the New York Times reported.

``We believe at this point that it's just a lone individual acting out some kind of antagonism toward this particular organization,'' said David Gomez, the FBI agent who heads the counterterrorism unit in the agency's Seattle office.

Even as rabbis were trying to beef up security for tonight's services, Robert Jacobs, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, was advising every Jewish institution, synagogue and temple to evacuate their buildings ``until we find out if it's a lone incident.''

``We're trying to keep the community as calm as possible,'' he added. Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, which has locations in Seattle and Bellevue, Wash., had said he was checking with police to see if security there needed to be bolstered.

``It's heartbreaking,'' said Samina Sundas, the head of American Muslim Voice Foundation. The Palo Alto-based organization is in the midst of planning its annual peace-building convention Aug. 20 in Newark.

``When I hear stories like that, doesn't matter who it happens to, it's devastating,'' she said. ``Unfortunately, we focus on what divides us, rather than what binds us. Jews, Muslims and Christians are supposed to be from the same heritage. We are the same cousins.''

The convention, called ``Ordinary People, Extraordinary Heroes,'' will feature talks from people who have ``turned their pain into something that heals,'' including John and Bev Titus, whose flight attendant daughter, Alicia, died on United Flight 175 on Sept. 11, 2001.

Joel Schalit, managing editor of Tikkun magazine in Berkeley, called the shooting shocking, but perhaps something that was a only a matter of time as the tensions increased in the Middle East, among ``the diaspora, whether Muslims or Jews.'' (Seattle Times)