Biden condemns shooting of Palestinian students in Vermont

biden condemns shooting of palestinian students in vermont

Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Joe Biden has expressed horror at the shooting of three Palestinian students in Burlington, Vermont and, amid heightened tensions with the crisis in Israel and Gaza reverberating in the US, reiterated on Monday that “there is no place for violence or hate in America”.

A suspect was arrested on Sunday after the shootings the night before that wounded the men, police said, adding that contrary to media reports the shooter did not speak before firing.

The victims – Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmed, all 20 years old – are undergraduate students at Brown University, Haverford College and Trinity College, respectively, and were on their way to Awartani’s grandmother’s house for a Thanksgiving dinner when a white man with a handgun fired on them.

Jason J Eaton, 48, was arrested on Sunday afternoon near where the men were shot, the Burlington police department announced. They said he lives in an apartment close to the scene, a search of which revealed evidence that gave investigators “probable cause to believe that Mr Eaton perpetrated the shooting”, police said.

On Monday afternoon, the US president and the first lady, Jill Biden, issued a statement from the White House.

“Jill and I were horrified to learn that three college students of Palestinian descent, two of whom are American citizens, were shot Saturday in Burlington, Vermont. They were simply spending Thanksgiving gathered with family and loved ones,” the statement said.

It continued: “We join Americans across the country in praying for their full recovery, and we send our deepest condolences to their families. While we are waiting for more facts, we know this: there is absolutely no place for violence or hate in America. Period. No person should worry about being shot at while going about their daily lives.”

Eaton pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing on Monday, where the judge ordered him held without bond.

Eaton appeared in court by video from jail, speaking only to confirm his identity. His attorney entered pleas of not guilty on his behalf.

According to a police affidavit, federal agents found a shotgun in Eaton’s apartment. He refused to identify himself, but told the officers he had been waiting for them.An attorney for Eaton, Margaret Jansch, declined to answer questions from reporters about the suspect’s religious affiliation or if his lawyers expect their client to be charged with a hate crime. Jansch told NBC it was “premature for us to speculate”.

Attorney general Merrick Garland said the US justice department is investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime, noting that there has been a sharp increase in threats directed against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities across the US since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

“There is understandable fear in communities across the country,” Garland said, adding that the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are assisting Vermont authorities in the investigation.

Of the victims, two of the men are reportedly in stable condition, according to police, but the third received “much more serious injuries” after being hit in the spinal cord. Two were reportedly wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh when they were attacked.

The chief of police, Jon Murad, recommended caution when it came to identifying a motive in the attacks. “The fact is that we don’t yet know as much as we want to right now,” Murad said. “But I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”

The mayor of the city, Miro Weinberger, said before the arrest that the investigation was focusing on whether the attack was a hate crime, while the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said on X: “We have reason to believe that the shooting was motivated by the three [victims] being Arab.”

According to a spokesperson for the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU), the committee’s attorney Abed Ayoub, who is in contact with the families, told the IMEU that the fact the shooter didn’t say anything first “makes it even clearer that authorities should be investigating this attack as a hate crime”.

“The fact that the shooter said nothing, and apparently targeted the students based on their kuffiyehs, suggests that this was a violent act motivated by anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment,” Ayoub said.

Police said two of the men are American citizens and the third is a legal resident.

Bernie Sanders, the senator of Vermont, issued a statement calling news of the shooting, “shocking and deeply upsetting”, adding: “Hate has no place here, or anywhere. I look forward to a full investigation.”

The families of the three victims put out a joint statement calling on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, “including treating this as a hate crime”.

The Ramallah Friends School issued a statement on Facebook naming the victims and describing them as graduates of the Palestinian high school.

The allegations about the shooting’s circumstances come amid a reported rise of Islamophobia and antisemitism in the US after the Israel-Hamas war erupted in Gaza in October.

Edward Helmore and Chris Stein contributed reporting

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