Three Palestinian students aged 20 shot in Vermont, US: What to know

According to police the victims were speaking Arabic and two were wearing keffiyehs when attacked in Burlington.

Three young Palestinian men have been shot near a university campus in Vermont in the US weeks after a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy was stabbed to death, raising alarms against rising Islamophobia in the country.

Critics say the media coverage and the political discourse in the US have caused anti-Arab and anti-Islam sentiment to rise amid Israel’s war on Gaza which has killed nearly 15,000 Palestinians.

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Here is what to know about the incident:

What happened in Vermont and when?

  • Three students of Palestinian descent were shot in what investigators suspect was a hate-motivated crime.
  • According to police, the victims were speaking Arabic and two of them were wearing a keffiyeh when attacked. Two were shot in the torso and one in the “lower extremities”.
  • Police were searching for the suspect after the attack at around 6:25pm (23:25 GMT) on Saturday, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement on Sunday.
  • Two of the men were in stable condition and the other suffered “much more serious injuries”, the police chief added.
  • The shooter, a man, without speaking, discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled, the police chief said.

Where in Burlington did the attack happen?

  • The attack took place on North Prospect street in Burlington near the University of Vermont.
  • According to local media reports the students were walking on the street while visiting the home of one of their families in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday when they were attacked by a man with a gun.
(Al Jazeera)

Who are the three Palestinian students who were shot?

  • The families identified the victims as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed.
  • All three are graduates of the Ramallah Friends School, a private Quaker secondary school in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the families said. All are 20 years old.
  • Two of the victims are US citizens and the third is a legal US resident, police said.

Hisham Awartani: 

  • Awartani was identified as Palestinian-Irish-American. He is a student at Brown University and described “as a math genius”.
  • Awartani’s great-uncle Marwan Awartani, a former Palestinian education minister, told The New York Times that “a bullet had struck Hisham’s spinal cord, and he lost feeling in the lower part of his body. He remained hospitalised on Sunday evening”.
  • He is “expected to survive his injuries”, Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University said in a statement.
  • “There are not enough words to express the deep anguish I feel for Hisham, his parents and family members, and his friends. I know that this heinous and despicable act of violence – this latest evidence of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and hate spiraling across this country and around the world – will leave many in our community deeply shaken,” Paxson added.

Kinnan Abdalhamid: 

  • Abdalhamid is currently a student at Haverford College.
  • In a statement, the college said it was in touch with his family “who live overseas”.
  • “Kinnan and his friends are all Palestinian students studying at US colleges and universities. Police are investigating the shootings, and we await word on whether it will be pursued as a hate crime,” the release said. “In the meantime, know that Haverford College condemns all acts of hatred.”

Tahseen Ali Ahmed:

  • Ahmed, a student at Trinity College in Connecticut, was reportedly shot in the chest.
  • “He is in stable condition at an area hospital, and he is aware this message is being released,” Trinity College said in a statement. “At this moment, please keep Tahseen and his friends in your heart,” the statement added.


Who was behind the attack?

  • Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Jason J Eaton, 48, while conducting a search of the shooting area in Burlington at 3:38pm (20:38 GMT) on Sunday, the Burlington Police Department said in a statement.
  • Authorities collected evidence during a search of Eaton’s apartment in a building in front of the shooting location. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday, police said.

What was the motive behind the attack?

  • Police chief Jon Murad said in a statement: “In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime.”
  • “And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven,” Murad added.
  • “The fact is that we don’t yet know as much as we want to right now,” the police chief added. “But I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”
  • The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee released a statement Sunday saying that there is “reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab”.

What are people saying?

  • The Institute for Middle East Understanding posted a statement on X that the institute said was from the victims’ families.
  • “We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children,” the statement said. “We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime. We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice.”

  • In response to the shooting, US House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries encouraged people to “unequivocally denounce the startling rise of anti-Arab hate and Islamophobia in America”.
  • Governor Phil Scott called the shooting a tragedy, calling on the state’s residents to unite and “not let this incident incite more hate or divisiveness”.
  • The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said on Sunday it would offer a $10,000 reward for “information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator or perpetrators” involved in the shooting.
  • Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, also denounced the shooting.
  • “It is shocking and deeply upsetting that three young Palestinians were shot here in Burlington, VT [Vermont]. Hate has no place here, or anywhere,” Sanders said in a statement.

  • “Three young Palestinian men… were shot last night on their way to a family dinner … Their crime? Wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh. They are critically injured,” Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK said on X.
  • “Six weeks ago, [a] six-year-old Palestinian child was stabbed 26 times in a hate crime in Illinois. The hate crimes against Palestinians must stop. Palestinians everywhere need protection,” he added.

  • The coalition of Ivy League students for Palestine asked for students across Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth College, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yales to “wear their keffiyehs and the colors of the Palestinian flag in solidarity. In the face of hatred, we will not stand down”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies