Man Stabs 8 in Moscow Synagogue

Times Staff Writer

A young man with a shaved head shouting "I will kill!" rushed into a downtown synagogue Wednesday and stabbed eight people before he was wrestled to the ground and disarmed by the rabbi and his son.

The latest incident of apparent anti-Semitic violence brought swift condemnation from the Russian government and religious leaders.

The suspect was taken into custody, and officials said they would investigate whether to charge him with ethnic and religious violence.

At least three of the victims were said to have suffered serious injuries. They included Michoel Mishulovin, a 34-year-old Los Angeles rabbi who had recently returned to work in his native Russia. He was stabbed in the stomach and hand and was undergoing surgery Wednesday night.

Witnesses said the suspect, identified by police as Alexander Koptsev, 20, of Moscow, rushed into the well-known Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue and Jewish cultural center about 5:30 p.m., when people had assembled to study, socialize and prepare for evening prayers.

The suspect apparently was able to make his way past the facility's metal detectors and attack one of the guards with a large butcher knife. Witnesses said he stabbed several people downstairs before moving up to the second floor. They said he shouted "Heil Hitler!" and "I will kill!"

On the second floor, he was confronted by Rabbi Itzhak Kogan and his son, Yosif, 18. The younger Kogan wrestled him to the ground and, with the rabbi's help, held him there while several other men fought to get the knife out of his hand.

"I caught him by the neck and struggled with him, brought him down to the floor. I noticed a huge knife in his hand," said the younger Kogan, whose plaid shirt was stained with blood.

Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States, said the incident at the historic synagogue left behind a scene of carnage.

"That hallway is a bloodbath: There is blood all over the walls, all over the floor. It's a horrific sight to see in a synagogue in Moscow," Berkowitz said. "This is not something that only the Jews have to stand up for .... Every free Russian and the government needs to fight against the growth of these skinheads and fascistic groups."

After decades of repression that prompted 1 million or more Jews to emigrate from the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of Jews have begun to return. Last month, a 24-foot-high menorah was lighted in front of the Kremlin in honor of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

But there have been a growing number of attacks against Jews and other minorities in recent years, with nearly 50 people killed in such violence in 2004. Two rabbis were severely beaten in a Moscow underpass in 2005.

Borukh Gorin, spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, said synagogues faced almost daily threats.

"What happened here today is an ordinary situation, and by that I mean that today, in Moscow, thousands of young men walk the streets who would repeat this attack with pleasure," he said.

Asked whether there was any evidence the suspect was insane, Gorin responded: "If you take a young man and from day to day poison his brain with just one publication out of a hundred which come out in Russia today, with wild anti-Semitic philosophical propaganda, in principle, he can turn insane.

"But if you look at it another way, there are about 100,000 such insane people in the country right now."

Mishulovin's father, David Mishulovin, is a Los Angeles Chabad rabbi. A ritual scribe and educator, the elder rabbi emigrated with his family from the Soviet Union to Los Angeles in the 1970s.

"They're a family that endured tremendous hardships during the Soviet times, and now sadly again, today," Rabbi Chaim Cunin of Los Angeles, who studied under the elder Mishulovin, said in a telephone interview.

He "would tell us how he had to fake being a cripple all his childhood in order to be able to go to a Jewish school -- people had to do that so they wouldn't be taken away from their families and sent off God knows where," Cunin said. "So this is an incredible tragedy to happen to, of all people, one of his kids."

Michoel Mishulovin recently returned to Russia and married the daughter of Rabbi Kogan, a well-known refusenik during the Soviet era. Mishulovin worked at the synagogue and recently helped organize a reception for Jewish war veterans during the ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Cunin's father, Rabbi Baruch Shlomo Cunin, was preparing to fly to Moscow on Wednesday night to be with Rabbi Kogan, who was slightly injured in the attack.

"He was a refusenik through and through, whose grandfather died under interrogation by the KGB in Leningrad," the elder Cunin said. "He's a giant."

The synagogue, located not far from Moscow's famous Pushkin Square, has been attacked at least twice before. In 1992, a bomb was lobbed into the room where the elder Kogan and Cunin were sleeping.

In 1999, an explosive device was discovered in the lobby by Yosif Kogan, then 12. The bomb was taken outside and safely detonated by experts.

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