New York (AFP) – Accused Pittsburgh synagogue gunman Robert Bowers is now facing 44 charges including federal hate crimes in connection with a shooting spree that left 11 people dead, as prosecutors unveiled an expanded indictment Wednesday.
Authorities say Bowers, 46, burst into the Tree of Life synagogue with an AR-15 assault rifle and three handguns, killing 11 worshippers at Shabbat services and wounding six others, including four police officers.
“While inside the Tree of Life Synagogue, Bowers made statements indicating his desire to ‘kill Jews,'” prosecutors said.
The charges allege that he carried out the killings while violating the victims’ constitutional right to the free exercise of religious beliefs — which is considered a hate crime under US law.
Under the expanded charges, he could face the death penalty, or life in prison without parole followed by a consecutive sentence of 535 years’ imprisonment, the Justice Department said.
“Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.
“Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety.”
Bowers espoused violent anti-Semitism and hate for immigrants online ahead of his rampage Saturday.
He was taken into custody after being wounded in a shootout with police and transferred to a local hospital. The extent of his injuries was unclear.
Bowers appeared in court Monday in a wheelchair, where he said nothing other than “Yes” and “Yes, sir” to a judge in response to procedural questions.