Nov 26 (Reuters) – Police and federal agents searched on Sunday for a gunman who shot and wounded three students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, Vermont, in what investigators suspect was a crime motivated by hatred, authorities announced.
A man armed with a pistol shot the three victims on the street near the University of Vermont Saturday evening, then fled, Burlington police said in a statement.
Two victims are U.S. citizens and the third is a legal resident of the United States, all aged 20, police said. Two of the men were wearing keffiyehs, the traditional black and white checkered headscarf of Middle Eastern clothing, at the time of the attack, police said.
The victims spoke Arabic when they were attacked, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, a pro-Palestinian nonprofit advocacy organization, which also said the attacker opened fire on the three men after he started yelling at them and harassing them. Police say he fired four shots without saying a word.
The shooting comes amid a rise in reported anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic incidents in the United States since the latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed that erupted in the Middle East on October 7.
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident without suspecting that this may have been a hate crime,” Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement.
(1/3)First responders carry a victim to an ambulance after a gunman fatally shot three students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, Vermont, United States, November 25, 2023, in a still image from a video. Courtesy of Wayne Savage via REUTERS. Acquire license rights
“I have already been in contact with federal investigative and prosecutorial partners to prepare for this if it is proven,” Murad added, saying the criminal investigation is currently focused on apprehension of the suspect.
“That there are indications that this shooting may have been motivated by hate is frightening, and that possibility is being prioritized” by police, Mayor Miro Weinberger said.
The victims’ families issued a joint statement earlier today, urging authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, as did the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, an advocacy group based in the United States.
“The rise in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment that we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of this hatred turning violent,” said Abed Ayoub, national executive director of the ADC.
Families identified the victims as Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University in Rhode Island; Kinnan Abdel Hamid, student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Tahseen Ahmed, who attends Trinity College in Connecticut. All three graduated from Ramallah Friends School, a private Quaker secondary school in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the families said.
Two of the students were visiting the third student’s family home in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Police said all three were still under medical care Sunday, with two of them suffering gunshot wounds to the torso and one to the lower extremities. “Two of them are stable, while one suffered much more serious injuries,” police said.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Caitlin Webber; Editing by Josie Kao and Lisa Shumaker
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Gabriella Borter is a reporter on the U.S. national affairs team, covering cultural and political issues as well as breaking news. She has won two Front Page Awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York – in 2020 for her reporting on healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 2019 for her reporting on the firing of the police officer who killed Eric Garner. The latter was also a finalist in the Deadline Club Awards. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University and joined Reuters in 2017.
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