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3 Palestinian students shot in suspected Vermont hate crime

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Three young Palestinian students were shot and injured, one critically, in a suspected hate crime near the University of Vermont, U.S., police said Sunday.

(From L) The three victims of a hate crime Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali, and Kenan Abdulhamid, who were shot on their way to a family dinner, are seen in this undated photo, Burlington, Vermont, U.S.
(From L) The three victims of a hate crime Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali, and Kenan Abdulhamid, who were shot on their way to a family dinner, are seen in this undated photo, Burlington, Vermont, U.S.

Police were searching for the suspect after the attack around 6:25 p.m. Saturday near the UVM campus, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement.

Two of the men were in stable condition and the other suffered “much more serious injuries,” Murad said. The three, all age 20, were walking during a visit to the home of one of the victim’s relatives when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun, police said.

“Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled,” Murad said. “All three victims were struck, two in their torsos and one in the lower extremities.”

The victims are of Palestinian descent and two are U.S. citizens and one is a legal resident. Two of the men were wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, Murad added.

Murad, who expressed sympathies for the victims and their families, said there is no additional information to suggest a motive.

“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime. And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven,” he said.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee released a statement Sunday saying that the victims were Palestinian American college students and that there is “reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab.”

A man shouted and harassed the victims, who were conversing in Arabic, then proceeded to shoot them, the committee’s statement said.

The FBI in Albany, New York, posted a statement on X, formerly Twitter, late Sunday saying the bureau is actively investigating the shooting with the Burlington Police Department, ATF and other federal, state and local agencies.

The White House said President Joe Biden was briefed on the shooting and would continue to receive law enforcement updates.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations announced in a statement that it has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or conviction of the person or people responsible for the shootings.

The Institute for Middle East Understanding provided a statement on X it said was from the victims’ families.

“We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children,” the statement said. “We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime. We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice.”

In response to the shooting, U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries encouraged people to “unequivocally denounce the startling rise of anti-Arab hate and Islamophobia in America.”

“No one should ever be targeted for their ethnicity or religious affiliation in our country,” the New York Democrat said in the statement posted on X. “We will not let hatred win.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, also denounced the shooting.

“It is shocking and deeply upsetting that three young Palestinians were shot here in Burlington, VT. Hate has no place here, or anywhere. I look forward to a full investigation,” Sanders said in a statement.

The Vermont-New Hampshire chapter of Jewish Voice For Peace, which has urged an end to the Israel-Hamas conflict, released a statement saying it was “appalled by the shooting.”

“We are in solidarity with the students, their families and all those affected by this clear act of hate,” the organization said Sunday. “We are in solidarity with all Palestinian people in occupied Palestine, around the world, and here in Vermont – and we are committed to creating a Vermont that is safe and welcoming for all.”

The American Jewish Committee, an advocacy organization for Jewish people worldwide, also said via X it was “horrified” by the attack and urged “law enforcement to investigate this act as a possible hate crime.”

Last month, an Illinois landlord was charged with a hate crime after being accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old Muslim boy and seriously wounding his mother in Chicago. Police and relatives said he singled out the victims because of their faith.