Four in court over brutal murder of British activist in Washington

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The Independent US

Four people have appeared in court to be arraigned with the murder in Washington of Alan Senitt, a young Jewish activist from London widely tipped to go on to a high-flying political career.

Mr Senitt, 27, was ambushed and had his throat cut in the early hours of Sunday morning as he was escorting a female companion home in the upmarket residential neighbourhood of Georgetown.

As they were arriving at the woman's house, they were set upon by three men armed with a gun and a knife, who demanded money and valuables.

But then the man carrying the gun grabbed the woman - whom police did not identify - and dragged her down a driveway and sexually assaulted her. The other two men turned on Mr Senitt, stabbing him and slashing open his throat.

Police said the three then escaped in a getaway car driven by the fourth member of the group, who police alleged was a 26-year-old woman named Olivia Miles. The four suspects were picked up within the next few hours.

Even though Washington has grown inured to violent crime - mostly drug-related but which has not spared even rich enclaves like Georgetown - the murder of Mr Senitt has come as a particular shock.

The area, which is about a mile west of central Washington, is one of the city's most expensive residential neighbourhoods, a mixture of imposing mansions and quaint row houses lining narrow leafy streets. It is a favourite area for wealthy members of Congress, TV personalities and local celebrities.

The area is however plagued by petty crime, especially on weekend nights when Washingtonians and tourists alike flock to the restaurants and bars that line Georgetown's central thoroughfares of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street.

In this case leads generated by investigations into two Saturday night robberies in June enabled the police to make quick arrests.

Detectives are now looking into possible links between the spate of crimes in Georgetown and three robberies in May on the Mall, the mile-long monumental park that stretches from the Capitol in the east to the Lincoln memorial in the west.

But for the Senitt family, of Pinner, north London, the events of early Sunday cannot be made good. "It will take us a lifetime to come to terms with our tragic loss. We have lost a much-loved son and brother," said a statement from the family, who have asked for their privacy to be respected. "The Jewish community as a whole has lost one of its bright young leaders, and the wider world has lost a champion of peace and goodwill."

Mr Senitt had twice been elected head of the Union of Jewish students, representing 5,000 college students. He subsequently worked for Lord Janner of Braunstone, formerly the Labour MP Greville Janner, a leading member of the Jewish community.

After standing as a Labour candidate in local elections in the Edgware ward in north London, Mr Senitt moved to the US and was about to start working for Mark Warner, the former Democratic governor of Virginia who is expected to compete for the party's 2008 presidential nomination.

The move, said the Board of Deputies of British Jews as it expressed its deep mourning for Mr Senitt's death, "should have been a further step in a glittering career".

"Alan became a true friend of those that he worked with," Jeremy Newark, head of the Jewish Leadership Council, said. "He was an outstanding and passionate advocate for Israel, while articulating a message of tolerance and co-existence."

Apart from Ms Miles, the three others arrested are Christopher Piper, 25, charged with murder and sexual assault; Jeffery Rice, 22, and a boy of 15 who has not been named because he is being charged as a juvenile.

Mr Senitt graduated from Birmingham University with a first in community studies and had recently completed a masters degree in diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

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