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Man who fired shotgun outside N.Y. synagogue cited events in the Mideast, federal agent says

A menorah stands outside the entrance to Temple Israel in Albany, N.Y.
A menorah stands outside the entrance to Temple Israel on Thursday in Albany, N.Y. A 28-year-old suspect was in police custody on suspicion of firing two rounds from a shotgun outside the Jewish temple on Friday, just hours before the start of Hanukkah.
(Maysoon Khan / Associated Press)
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A man who fired a shotgun into the air outside a synagogue in New York’s capital city is an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen who told investigators he felt affected by events in the Middle East, a federal agent said in a court filing.

No one was injured by the gunfire Thursday afternoon outside Albany’s Temple Israel, but children attending preschool had to shelter in place while police searched the area.

Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, 28, was arrested a short distance away from the temple after laying down the shotgun, police said. He said, “Free Palestine,” when officers arrested him, according to Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins.

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The episode happened on the first night of Hanukkah amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from Israel’s intensifying war in Gaza.

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Federal prosecutors charged Alkhader with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person — a charge authorities said was related to his admitted use of marijuana. He could also face state charges. Hawkins said the episode was being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Alkhader was sent back to detention after a brief appearance in federal court Friday morning. He entered the court shackled and wearing a green jacket over his orange jail uniform. At times, he seemed to have difficulty following instructions from the judge.

“My English is limited,” he told the judge softly. He said he speaks Arabic.

Federal prosecutors and Alkhader’s public defender, Timothy Austin, declined to comment after the appearance. There was no date set for a preliminary hearing or a possible detention hearing.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she had directed the state police and New York National Guard to be on high alert and to increase planned patrols of at-risk sites during Hanukkah.

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Alkhader, who lives in Schenectady, which is near Albany, waived his right to remain silent and spoke with law enforcement officers after his arrest, a task force officer with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in a court filing.

The officer’s affidavit didn’t detail what Alkhader said about his motivation, but the officer wrote that he offered that “the events in the Middle East have impacted him.”

A person who answered the door at Alkhader’s address in Schenectady and identified himself as his father declined to be interviewed, but said his son was mentally ill.

FBI spokesperson Sarah Ruane praised the “swift coordination” between federal, state and local law enforcement.

Temple Israel Rabbi Wendy Love Anderson told reporters she was thankful to staff who ensured the safety of those inside the building, including the children attending preschool.

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