Man Federally Charged After Firing Shotgun Outside Jewish Temple in New York

Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins said the suspect yelled “Free Palestine,” noting the case is being investigated as a hate crime.
Man Federally Charged After Firing Shotgun Outside Jewish Temple in New York
This photo provided by the Albany County Sheriff's office shows Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, who was arrested for firing gunshots outside a Jewish temple in Albany, N.Y., on Dec. 7, 2023. (Albany County Sheriff via AP)
Lorenz Duchamps
12/9/2023
Updated:
12/9/2023
0:00

A 28-year-old Iraqi-born U.S. citizen accused of firing a shotgun into the air outside a synagogue in New York was federally charged on Dec. 8, authorities said.

Mufid Fawaz Alkhader of Schenectady, New York, was arrested a short distance away from Temple Israel—a synagogue in Albany—after he twice fired a Kel-Tec KS7 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of New York.

Mr. Alkhader was charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, a charge federal prosecutors said was related to his admitted use of marijuana.

If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison, up to 3 years of post-imprisonment supervised release, and a maximum fine of $250,000.

No one was injured in the incident, which happened outside the temple in Albany around 2 p.m. on Dec. 7, but children attending preschool had to shelter in place while police searched the area.

Speaking at a news conference on Dec. 7, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins said the incident is being investigated as a hate crime, pointing out that Mr. Alkhader made anti-Semitic remarks concerning the ongoing Israel–Hamas war.

“We were told by responding officers that he made a comment—‘Free Palestine,’” Mr. Hawkins said.

In addition to the Albany Police Department, the case is also being investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

“At any time that we have any firearms-related offenses that may be ... an active shooter type of situation, federal authorities are always involved whether it’s a hate crime or not, but in this case, it’s certainly being investigated as a hate crime,” Mr. Hawkins said.

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

The incident happened on the first night of Hanukkah—which is one of the principal holidays of the Jewish faith—amid a rise in anti-Semitism. Since the Israel–Hamas war started on Oct. 7, threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities have increased across the United States.

Security Increased

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned the gunfire while speaking from the synagogue in Albany on Dec. 8 during Shabbat services.
A menorah stands outside the entrance to Temple Israel in Albany, N.Y., on Dec. 7, 2023. (Maysoon Khan/AP Photo)
A menorah stands outside the entrance to Temple Israel in Albany, N.Y., on Dec. 7, 2023. (Maysoon Khan/AP Photo)

“Yes, there are security issues, but we are making sure that everything that can possibly be done is there to protect you and your families and your children,” she said.

Ms. Hochul also said in a statement that she directed state police and the national guard to be on high alert, and to increase patrols of at-risk sites for the Hanukkah holiday, which started on Dec. 7 and ends at nightfall on Dec. 15.
“Any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining public safety at a synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah is even more deplorable,” the Democrat governor said.

More Details

After a brief appearance in federal court on Dec. 8, Mr. Alkhader was sent back to detention. 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, adding he speaks Arabic.

Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, 28, is escorted by police out of the James T. Foley Courthouse following his court appearance in Albany, N.Y., on Dec. 8, 2023. (Will Waldron/Times Union via AP)
Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, 28, is escorted by police out of the James T. Foley Courthouse following his court appearance in Albany, N.Y., on Dec. 8, 2023. (Will Waldron/Times Union via AP)

Federal prosecutors and Mr. 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.

Hank Greenberg, a member of Albany’s Temple Israel and spokesperson for the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York, decried what he called the “heartbreaking reality” that Jewish houses of worship need police protection.

“Even with this grieving and suffering and fear we’re experiencing,” Mr. Greenberg said, “at the same time we know we will endure and prevail as we have in the past.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.