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Russian Jewish Group Upset After Synagogue Attacker Sentenced

March 28, 2006
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A leading Russian Jewish group has sharply criticized the verdict of a man found guilty of stabbing nine people in a Moscow synagogue because the court failed to call the attack a hate crime. On Monday, the Moscow City Court sentenced Alexander Koptsev, 21, to 13 years in prison for attempted murder in the January incident. But the court cleared Koptsev of a second charge, inciting ethnic or religious hatred, effectively refusing to treat his crime as an act of anti-Semitism. The defense is expected to appeal.

The verdict is more evidence of “how the judicial system in our country is not willing to fight against racial and religious intolerance,” the Federation of Jewish Communities said in a statement Monday.

The group’s leader echoed this statement. “I have a dubious feeling about today’s sentence,” Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s chief rabbis said. “Yes, the sentence is severe and adequate for the gravity” of the crime. “But at the same time I’m concerned by nearly maniacal unwillingness of the courts to qualify crimes of this type as inciting ethnic and religious hatred,” Lazar said in a statement.

Lazar said the verdict “leveled the educational meaning” of the sentence as court found the man guilty only of his acts, not of the motives that made him act.

Yitzhak Kogan, the rabbi of the synagogue where the incident took place, refused to comment on the verdict.

In his final word in the court last week, Koptsev was unrepentant, although he asked those whom he injured to forgive him.

He added that his victims should not have been targeted because they “are not waging war against my people, as are their” fellow Jews “who are in power” in Russia. He added that enmity against Russians is in Jewish “genes.”

On Jan. 11, Koptsev stabbed nine people in the Bolshaya Bronnaya Street Synagogue in Moscow with a hunting knife before being pushed to the ground by the synagogue’s rabbi and several worshippers.

Investigators have established that Koptsev was an avid reader of anti-Semitic literature, although he was not an official member of any of the neo-Nazi groups active in Moscow.

Vadim Kluvgant, the victims’ lawyer, said he would appeal to reinstate the hate crime charge.

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