US attorney general warns of 'extremists' after Vermont shooting

US attorney general warns of 'extremists' after Vermont shooting

Jason Eaton was arrested in connection with the Burlington, Vermont shooting of three university students of Palestinian descent
Jason Eaton was arrested in connection with the Burlington, Vermont shooting of three university students of Palestinian descent

NEW YORK - US Attorney General Merrick Garland warned Monday of increasing threats from "domestic violent extremists" amid growing attacks against minority groups, as he vowed a full investigation into the shooting of three men of Palestinian descent.

Police said a man had been arrested in connection with the wounding of the three university students in Burlington, Vermont, as authorities probe what they believe was a "hate-motivated crime."

Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said the suspect, 48-year-old Jason Eaton, was expected to appear before a judge Monday.

Garland said the Department of Justice was closely monitoring the impact that the Israel-Hamas war may have in "inspiring foreign terrorist organizations, home-grown violent extremists and domestic violent extremists both here in the United States and abroad."

"There is understandable fear," Garland said, as the United States experiences a "sharp increase" in threats and attacks against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities across the country since October 7, when Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip launched a deadly raid on Israel, sparking a brutal war.

The FBI and other federal agencies "are investigating the tragic shooting of three men of Palestinian descent in Vermont. That investigation, including whether this is a hate crime, is ongoing," Garland said in remarks delivered in New York city.

The Justice Department "is remaining vigilant in the face of the potential threats of hate-fueled violence and terrorism," he said.

- Rise in hate crime -

In Burlington, police searched Eaton's apartment, outside of which the shooting took place on Saturday.

Evidence seized there "gave investigators and prosecutors probable cause to believe that Mr Eaton perpetrated the shooting," Murad said in a statement.

Police had earlier described the shooter as a white man with a handgun.

"Without speaking," police said, "he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled on foot."

The incident occurred during high tensions, and occasional violence, on college campuses and elsewhere in the United States over the Israel-Hamas war.

A police statement said two of the victims were in stable condition, and the third suffered "much more serious injuries." It said two are US citizens and one a legal resident.

Police confirmed that two of the young men were wearing keffiyehs, the traditional black and white Palestinian scarf.

"In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime," Murad said.

All three victims were graduates of the Ramallah Friends School, a private Quaker school in the West Bank, and are now attending different universities in the northeastern United States, according to a statement from a spokesman for the victims' families.

"As parents," it read, "we are devastated by the horrific news that our children were targeted and shot.... We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation. We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice."

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee said, "We have reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab."

Bernie Sanders, the independent US senator from Vermont and a past presidential candidate, called the attack "shocking and deeply upsetting," adding, "Hate has no place here, or anywhere."

The shooting came as civil rights groups have warned of a rise in hate crimes against Arab and Muslim Americans -- as well as growing anti-Semitism.

Last month, a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy was stabbed to death in Illinois and his mother was wounded. A 71-year-old suspect has pleaded not guilty.

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