An armed man sprayed a Jewish centre with bullets, killing a woman and injuring at least five others before he was arrested.
The gunman, who employees said claimed to be a Muslim angry at Israel, forced his way through the security door at the Jewish Federation in Seattle yesterday after an employee had punched in her security code, said Marla Meislin-Dietrich, a co-worker.
Staff members said they overheard him saying: “I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel”, before opening fire, Meislin-Dietrich said. “He was randomly shooting at everyone.”
Police would not confirm the account.
David Gomez, an FBI assistant special agent in charge of counter-terrorism, said investigators believe the gunman targeted the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
“We believe at this point it’s a lone individual acting out antagonism towards this particular organisation,” Gomez said.
Authorities have been advising synagogues and Jewish groups to be watchful in the weeks since hostilities erupted between Israel and Lebanon.
The federation’s website describes its mission as “to ensure Jewish survival and enhance the quality of Jewish life by meeting needs locally, in Israel and worldwide”. It was among the sponsors of a Solidarity With Israel rally last weekend.
The shooting ended shortly after it erupted at about 4pm.
Jim Pugel, an assistant police chief, said the gunman called police and was talked out of the building.
Police blocked off several city blocks and evacuated several nearby buildings as they investigated. A SWAT team searched the federation building, looking for any other victims or any other possible shooters, police spokesman Rich Pruitt said.
But Pruitt said investigators were confident that the man they had in custody was the only suspect.
Patti Simon was at work at the federation’s newspaper on the first floor when she heard the commotion and what sounded like furniture crashing on the second floor.
“We heard this horrible screaming on the floor above us and shots,” said Simon, 52, who sells advertising at the paper. “We didn’t know what was happening.”
Simon called up to her co-workers on the second floor, but got no answer, so she called the police and fled the building.
“People got shot, some of our co-workers,” Simon said, her voice shaking. “I just got back from Israel and made it out of there a half hour before the rockets started.”
A small pool of blood remained outside a nearby coffee shop, where several witnesses said they saw a man walk up and shoot a woman in the leg on a pavement.
One person died at the scene of the shooting, and five women aged from 19 to 43 were taken to Harborview Medical Centre, three of them in a critical condition, Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick said.
The names of the victims were not immediately released.
When asked if the suspect was a Muslim, Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said at a news conference today: "You could infer that that was his background.'' Kerlikowske gave no further details about the man, except that he was between 30 and 40.
The gunman turned himself in to a SWAT team minutes after the shooting. He spoke with an emergency services dispatcher, a phone call that led police to call the shooting a hate crime.
Mayor Greg Nickels and Kerlikowske said officers were moving to protect synagogues and mosques around the city, but said there was no evidence of a broad threat.
“This was a purposeful, hateful act, as far as we know by an individual acting on his own,” Nickels said.
Kerlikowske said officers were protecting mosques “because there’s always the concern of retaliatory crime”.
Laura Laughlin, special agent in charge of the Seattle FBI office, said the suspect was a US citizen not from Seattle. Agents were working to contact his relatives, she said.