News World Synagogue gunman kills 11, may face the death penalty
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Synagogue gunman kills 11, may face the death penalty

Stunned and sobbing survivors find comfort in each other's arms after the horrific rampage. Photo: AP/Keith Srakocic
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Federal prosecutors in the US could seek the death penalty for the man who killed 11 people after storming a Pittsburgh synagogue and opening fire during a baby-naming ceremony.

The suspect, 46-year-old Robert Bowers of Pittsburgh, was taken into custody after a shootout with a SWAT team during which four police officers were wounded.

Federal prosecutors charged him with 29 criminal counts including 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.

“The actions of Robert Bowers represent the worst of humanity,” US attorney for western Pennsylvania Scott Brady told reporters.

“We are dedicating the entire resources of my office to this federal hate crime investigation and prosecution.”

Yelling “all Jews must die” the shooter attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood.

Officials said there were about 100 congregants in the synagogue when the first shots rang out.

Pittsburgh police released this picture of suspect Robert Bowers.

“It is a very horrific crime scene. It was one of the worst that I’ve seen,” said Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director.

Initial reports say Bowers was armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and a number of hand guns.

Bowers then attempted to leave the scene but was met outside by the first police officer to arrive.

The pair exchanged shots that left the officer wounded before Bowers retreated into the temple as SWAT cops arrived and set up a cordon.

Local residents were warned to stay in their homes while the tragedy unfolded.

“Do not come out of your home right now, it is not safe,” Pittsburgh police Commander Jason Lando warned local residents.

Michael Eisenberg, former president of the synagogue, told KDKA that police were normally only present at the synagogue for security on high holidays.

“On a day like today, the door is open, it’s a religious service, you can walk in and out,” he said.

Congregants gather outside the synagogue after police subdued the gunman. Photo: AP/Gene Puskar

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, called the shooting an “anti-Semitic attack”.

US President Donald Trump told reporters the shooting had little to do with gun laws and that if there had been protection inside the temple the results would have been different.

“This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil,” Mr Trump said.

“If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple maybe it could have been a much more different situation. They didn’t,” he added when asked about a possible link to gun laws.

The shooting shows that the United States should stiffen laws on the death penalty, Mr Trump told reporters before getting on Air Force One.

“I think one thing we should do is we would stiffen up our laws with guns with the death penalty,” Mr Trump said.

“When people do this they should get the death penalty.”

He also used the terms “madman” and “wacko” when talking about the shooting.

US federal prosecutors have charged Bowers with 29 charges, including using a firearm to commit murder.

The suspect’s social media postings are rife with paranoid accusations against Jews and Trump, whom he described as a puppet of Israel.

Australia’s political leaders have condemned as evil the latest deadly mass shooting in the US that has left 11 dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“The evil shooting of innocent Americans gathering together in faith in their synagogue in Pittsburgh is truly awful,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted.

“We send our love to their families and their community and to our own Jewish community here in Australia as they hear this terrible news.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also called the shootings evil.

“Our hearts go out to those who have lost a loved one and to everyone who shares in their grief, pain and fear today,” he said on social media.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who sped to the scene of the shooting, said it was “an absolute tragedy”.

“These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans,” he said in a tweet.

“We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life. But we have been saying ‘this one is too many’ for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way.

“We cannot accept this violence as normal.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “heartbroken and appalled” by the shooting.

“We stand together with the American people in the face of this horrendous anti-Semitic brutality and we all pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded,” Mr Netanyahu said in a statement.

-with wires