Three students of Palestinian descent shot dead in Vermont in suspected hate crime

Nov 26 (Reuters) – Police and federal agents searched on Sunday for a gunman who shot and wounded three college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, Vermont.

A man shot three victims on a street near the University of Vermont Saturday evening and ran away, Burlington police said in a statement.

Two of the victims are US citizens and the third is a US legal resident, all in their 20s. Police said two men were wearing traditional black-and-white checkered scarves of Middle Eastern dress during the attack.

The victims were reported to have spoken in Arabic during the attack, and the Institute for Middle East Understanding, a non-profit pro-Palestinian advocacy group, said the assailant opened fire on the three men after they began shouting and harassing them. Police say he fired four shots without saying a word.

The shooting comes amid rising incidents of anti-Islam and anti-Semitism around the United States since the latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed erupted in the Middle East on Oct. 7.

“At the time of this allegation, no one could have seen this incident and suspected it was a hate crime,” Burlington Police Chief John Murat said in a statement.

“I have already been in contact with federal investigative and prosecutorial partners to prepare for this if it is proven,” Murad added, adding that the criminal investigation is now focused on arresting the suspect.

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“There is an indication that this shooting may have been motivated by hate, and that possibility is being prioritized by police,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said.

The victims’ families issued a joint statement earlier in the day urging authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, as did the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Group, a US-based advocacy group.

“The rise of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiments we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is yet another example of that hatred turning violent,” said ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub.

The families identified the victims as Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University in Rhode Island; Kinnan Abdel Hameed, a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Tahseen Ahmed, who attends Trinity College in Connecticut. All three graduated from the Ramallah Friends School, a private Quaker high school in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the family said.

Two students were visiting a third student’s family home in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday.

All three were being treated Sunday for gunshot wounds to the torso and one to the lower extremities, police said. “Two are stable, one with very serious injuries,” police said.

Reporting by Gabriella Porter in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Caitlin Webber; Editing by Josie Cao and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Gabriella Borter is a reporter for the US National Affairs Group, covering cultural and political affairs and breaking news. She won two front-page awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York — for her beat reporting on healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and her spot story on the police officer-involved shooting of Eric Garner in 2019. The latter was also a finalist in the Deadline Club Awards. He joined Reuters in 2017 with a BA in English from Yale University.

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