Investigators probe Jersey City attack as 'domestic terrorism'

The state's attorney general says the 'evidence points towards acts of hate' against Jewish community.

    Members of the Orthodox Jewish community mourned the dead on Wednesday [Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press]
    Members of the Orthodox Jewish community mourned the dead on Wednesday [Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press]

    A deadly attack on a kosher market in New Jersey is being investigated as "domestic terrorism" fuelled by "fuelled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs", the state's top prosecutor said on Thursday. 

    Tuesday's attack, which culminated in a four-hour standoff with authorities at the JC Kosher Supermarket in Jersey City, left three civilians and one police officer dead. 

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    New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, speaking at a news conference, said the attackers, identified as David N Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, had expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites, a fringe group whose members have been known to rail against white people and Jews.

    "The evidence points toward acts of hate," Grewal told reporters. "I can confirm that we're investigating this matter as potential acts of domestic terrorism fuelled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs."

    On Wednesday, the FBI searched the headquarters of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, which is the formal name of the Black Hebrew group, located in the New York City neighbourhood of Harlem, a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation told the Associated Press news agency. 

    Authorities said they were also examining social media posts and other evidence to learn more about the attackers' motives.

    Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop had previously said surveillance video made it clear that the attackers targeted the Jewish market, slowly and deliberately driving up to the grocery in a stolen rental van and immediately opening fire.

    Jersey City attack
    Authorities are investigating the attack as a hate crime [Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/The Associated Press]

    The victims killed in the store were identified as Mindel Ferencz, 31, who with her husband owned the grocery; 24-year-old Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student from Brooklyn who was shopping there; and store employee Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49.

    The alleged attackers are also prime suspects in the slaying of a livery driver found dead in a car trunk in nearby Bayonne over the weekend, according to Grewal.

    A community mourns

    Members of New York's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community gathered Wednesday night for funerals for Ferencz and Deutsch. Thousands of people followed Ferencz's coffin through the streets of Brooklyn, hugging and crying.

    More than 300 people also attended a vigil on Wednesday at a synagogue about a mile from where the shootings took place.

    The bloodshed in the city, which is across the Hudson River from New York City, began at a graveyard, where Detective Joseph Seals, a 40-year-old member of a unit devoted to taking illegal weapons off the street, was shot and killed by the assailants, authorities said.

    They then drove the van to the kosher market.

    The drawn-out gun battle with police filled the streets with the sound of high-powered rifle fire, as SWAT officers in full tactical gear swarmed the neighbourhood. Police later used an armoured vehicle to ram the store entrance. The attackers were killed at the scene. 

    Four weapons were later recovered from the store and another from the van they drove.

    If the motives are confirmed, the attack would be the latest in a series of hate crimes against Jewish communities in the US in recent times. 

    In October of 2018, in the deadliest attack on Jews in US history, 11 people were killed in a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. In April, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue near San Diego, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others. 

    SOURCE: News agencies