A suspect has been arrested in what police have called the “hate-motivated” shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in the US state of Vermont.
Police in the city of Burlington arrested the 48-year-old suspect, identified as Jason J Eaton, on Sunday afternoon, according to US news reports.
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The three victims, Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed, were shot on Saturday evening near the University of Vermont’s campus. The students, who attend different universities in the US, remain hospitalised with gunshot wounds.
The students, two of whom are American citizens and the third a legal resident, were visiting Burlington to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with families.
As more details of the attack emerge, police say they are investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement.
“That there is an indication that this shooting could have been motivated by hate is chilling, and this possibility is being prioritised” by police, Mayor Miro Weinberger said.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) stated that upon learning of the details of the shooting, the organisation had “reason to believe [it] was motivated by the three victims being Arab”.
“According to the information provided, the three victims were wearing a keffiyeh and speaking Arabic. A man shouted and harassed the victims, then proceeded to shoot them,” the group said in a statement.
This morning, ADC was contacted about the shooting, after reviewing the information, we have reason to believe that the shooting was motivated by the three vitims being Arab.
The three victims were wearing a Kuffiyeh and speaking Arabic. A man shouted and harassed the victims, pic.twitter.com/b8yoDvK8Nv
— ADC National (@adc) November 26, 2023
“Given the information collected and provided, it is clear that hate was a motivating factor in this shooting,” said ADC’s Director Abed Ayoub.
Rise in hateful sentiments
The incident came amid a rise in anti-Palestinian sentiment in the US, with both Republican and Democratic politicians backing Israel’s war in Gaza, despite the mounting Palestinian death toll and growing accusations of war crimes.
“The surge in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of that hate turning violent,” Ayoub said.
The victims’ families issued a joint statement urging authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime. “We need to ensure that our children are protected, and this heinous crime is not repeated. No family should ever have to endure this pain and agony,” they said.
Six-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al-Fayoume was killed when he was stabbed 26 times by his landlord in a suspected hate crime in the US state of Illinois last month.
Israel’s ground and air assault on the besieged Gaza Strip has so far killed more than 15,000 Palestinians, and left vast swathes of the enclave in ruins. The war was sparked when Hamas, the group that governs the enclave, attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 and taking around 250 hostages.