October 28, 2018 / 2:22 PM / 17 days ago

Mattis says Pittsburgh synagogue gunman a 'coward'

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis speaks during the second day of the 14th Manama dialogue, Security Summit in Manama, Bahrain October 27, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed

PRAGUE (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday the gunman who stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 worshippers was a coward and the “poorest excuse for a man you could ever come up with.”

“If there is one person responsible, this individual, I won’t even call him a man, he was (the) poorest excuse for a man you could ever come up with, who would use a weapon in a house of worship on unarmed innocent people,” Mattis told a group of reporters traveling with him to Prague.

“This is a coward and he is not a man by any definition that we use in the Department of Defense,” Mattis said.

Robert Bowers, 46, of Pittsburgh, was taken into custody after a shootout with a SWAT team on Saturday. Federal prosecutors charged him with 29 criminal counts including violence and firearms offences, and violating U.S. civil rights laws. 

“That is tough, on the neighborhood, on the members of that synagogue, on all of us who believe in freedom of religion, it is one of our most fundamental rights that our country was founded on,” Mattis said.

Earlier, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said federal prosecutors could seek the death penalty.

Bowers had made many anti-Semitic posts online, including one early on Saturday. In another, he slammed U.S. President Donald Trump for doing nothing to stop an “infestation” of the United States by Jews.

Mattis was also asked about a decision to send U.S. troops to the border with Mexico. He said preparations were being made to send the troops and some construction material was already moving. 

U.S. President Trump has hammered away at the issue of illegal immigration two weeks ahead of congressional elections. Taking aim at a caravan of Central American migrants, Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday he was “bringing out the military for this National Emergency. They will be stopped!”

Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by David Evans

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