NEW YORK: A disturbed knife-wielding man stormed into a New York synagogue shouting “Kill the Jews” and stabbed an Israeli student in the face on Tuesday before being shot dead by police, officials said.
Rabbinical student Levi Rosenblat was in stable condition after the pre-dawn attack at the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, the movement’s Rabbi Motti Seligson said in a statement.
Seligson said witnesses to the incident in the Crown Heights district heard the assailant repeatedly saying “Kill the Jews.”
New York police said the department’s hate crimes unit was investigating reports of anti-Semitic remarks and described the assailant as a disturbed man with a history of acting out.
A spokesman for the community, an Orthodox branch of Judaism, said the attack occurred at about 1:40 am (0640 GMT).
Witnesses spoke of their distress.
“I see a student with a bloody face — he’s saying ‘help me, help me,” witness Chaim Grossbaum told WABC television.
Police officers who rushed to the scene told the assailant to drop the knife, which had a 9-inch (23 cm) blade.
Instead, he lunged at officers and was shot once in the torso, New York police spokesman Adam Navarro said.
Police identified the attacker as Calvin Peters, a 49-year-old black male from the New York suburbs.
Police said the motive for the attack was under investigation.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton ordered officers to step up security at Jewish religious institutions across the city while the investigation is under way.
On November 18, five Israelis were killed in a rare attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem by two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers in the city’s worst attack in years.
NYPD counter-terrorism chief John Miller told reporters that the incident did not appear to be terror-related.
Peters “has a history of being an emotionally disturbed person and acting out in other places,” Miller said.
US media said he had been arrested on 20 prior occasions.
Dramatic cell phone footage taken from inside the synagogue shows the assailant brandishing a knife and arguing in an area furnished with desks and covered in books.
Jewish scholars are shown begging Peters to drop the knife and interceding with officers not to shoot him.
A burly police officer is seen pointing a handgun at the suspect and screaming at him to drop the knife.
Peters eventually drops the knife and the officer holsters his gun. The incident appears to be over, but Peters then grabs the knife and starts lunging towards police.
An officer is heard screaming at him repeatedly to drop the knife before a single gunshot is heard.
The synagogue is open 24 hours a day and homeless people go inside at night to get warm.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the police response and said the city was working to improve access to mental health care.
“While any loss of life is tragic, we are fortunate that, thanks to the actions of our officers early this morning, more people were not injured or worse,” he said.
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of the educational and social services arms of the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement, described the attack as “deeply disturbing.”