Pittsburgh Shooting Updates and ASIS Houses of Worship Resources

Physical Security
Pittsburgh Shooting: Updates and ASIS Houses of Worship Resources
 

​Shooting at Pittsburgh Jewish Temple: What We Know

  • A gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life Jewish temple​ Saturday morning in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, killing 11 people and injuring six.

  • The suspect, 46 year-old Robert Bowers, was taken into custody after the shooting, during which he was injured. He was armed with an AR-15 and three handguns during the 20-minute assault.

  • Squirrel Hill has one of the largest Jewish populations in Pennsylvania, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, with about 50,000 Jewish adults and children.

  • The gunman had previously posted anti-Semitic comments online under username "onedingo" on an online community called Gab. Gab has "attracted many far-right users," according to the Washington Post. The platform said it had turned messages from the shooter's alleged account over to the FBI.

  • Authorities immediately labeled the incident a hate crime, and U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said prosecutors are seeking to pursue the death penalty against Bowers.

  • U.S. President Trump suggested that the tragedy may have been prevented if the synagogue had employed an armed guard. "If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him, maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him, frankly," he said to a group of reporters on Sunday at Joint Base Andrews.

  • Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto rebuked Trump's comments in a press conference, and said officials should not try to "create laws around irrational behavior." 

  • The victims' names were released ​on Sunday. They include a 97-year-old woman, two brothers, and an elderly couple—several interfaith prayer vigils have been held ​memorializing the attack victims.

ASIS International Resources: Protecting Houses of Worship

Background Brief: With Tree of Life Shooting, Attacks On U.S. Jewish Community Continue

By Mark Tarallo

Domestic terror attack targets, like the Tree of Life Jewish temple in Pittsburgh, are usually not chosen at random, and some populations are targeted more than others. Of all religious groups, Jews continue to be the most targeted in the United States, according to the findings of a major report that was released last year.    

The report, Terrorist Incidents and Attacks Against Jews and Israelis in the United States, 1969-2016, examines the FBI's annual hate crimes report for the years under study. For example, in 2015, 1,354 hate crimes were recorded in the report. Of those, 695 incidents, or 51 percent, targeted Jews. "This is a consistent finding of the FBI report over many years," writes the report's author, counterterrorism expert Yehudit Barsky.

Going deeper, the report catalogs 104 incidents in 2015 to better characterize the attacks. The majority, 51 percent, targeted synagogues, followed by community institutions (14 percent), Jewish persons (13 percent), and educational institutions (10 percent). In terms of means of attack, arson, shootings, and explosive devices were used in about equal frequency.

Year-over-year, the total number of attacks has been declining, but they have been increasing in severity. The Tree of Life shooting, which left 11 dead, is believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history, the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement this weekend.

The threat against the Jewish people has been revived several times in the last few years. In October 2015, the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group directed its followers worldwide to kill Jews. ISIS' Al-Masra Foundation issued a video, The Slaughter of the Jews, which called for followers to "Stab the Jew with a knife or run over him with a car; poison him; bring back explosives, the [use of] explosive belts and IEDs; burn their faces and their houses."

Then in 2016, ISIS published an article in its Al-Naba publication that called for followers to help Palestinian Muslims by fighting Jews around the world: "killing them, destroying their property, and harming their interests in any way they can."

In addition, Jewish targets sometimes serve as precursors to larger attacks. The perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, for example, were previously involved in anti-Jewish attacks.

Given all these threats, there are some institutions and groups that are dedicated to the protection of the Jewish community. One such group is Community Security Service (CSS), a nonprofit group that sponsored the above report and whose mission is the protection of the people, institutions, and events of the American Jewish community. ASIS member Don Aviv, CPP, PCI, PSP, who is COO and director of physical security at Interfor International, is a founding member of CSS.

The founding philosophy of CSS is that security should be rooted within the community, according to the idea that no one can protect a community better than itself.  Volunteers from the community are trained in the basics of security, including practices such as recognizing threats and devising a system to report threats or other incidents.

The other key aspect of CSS's model is that security is achieved through a partnership among community members and volunteers, contract security, and law enforcement. This is accomplished through training and by building up a framework of interaction for all stakeholders. ​