Lebanese charged over Brooklyn attack on Hasidic Jews: Police find arsenal of weapons in suspect's car, including 'street-sweeper' shotgun and bullet-proof vest

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The Independent Online
IN WHAT Mayor Rudolph Giuliani proclaimed as a 'stunning' piece of detective work by his police force, a 28-year-old Lebanese man was charged with Tuesday's shooting attack in Brooklyn on a van carrying Hasidic students. Four of the students were hit: one is brain-dead and another on the critical list with brain injuries.

The man charged is Assad Bahz, who entered the United States on a student visa in 1984 and has been living in Brooklyn. The police, who said they had 'not ruled out nor ruled in' a conspiracy in the shooting, found an arsenal of weapons in Mr Bahz's car and apartment, including an automatic shotgun known as the 'street-sweeper', two pistols, a bullet-proof vest and boxes of ammunition. 'This man was not going deer-hunting,' said the New York district attorney, Robert Morgenthau.

After an anonymous tip-off, police arrested Mr Bahz in a dawn raid on his Brooklyn apartment. He had been traced there from a car-repair shop where police said he had gone to replace the passenger-seat window of the car used during the shooting and which had been blown out by bullets. The police commissioner, William Bratton, said he was 'very comfortable that Mr Bahz is the shooter'.

Two other people were being questioned in connection with the shooting, in which the rabbinical students were wounded with shots from a 9mm machine pistol. Police said they had made no link so far with the mosque massacre last week in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The investigation was a political coup for the new Mayor and his new police chief. Mr Giuliani's predecessor, David Dinkins, had been criticised for responding too slowly to a riot between blacks and Jews in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in the summer of 1991.

In praising New York's 'finest', as the country's largest police department is known, the Mayor appealed to New Yorkers to 'show America and the world' that they could rise above their anger at the shooting and not blame a whole community because one of its members turned to violence.

The police department is on high alert as a result of the shooting, and also because the verdicts are expected any hour on four Islamic militants charged with the World Trade Center bombing a year ago.

Security has been increased at the 800 Jewish schools in New York attended by more than 130,000 students. The 15 students in the van that was shot up had been visiting Grand Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the spiritual leader of the Lubavitch sect, who was in hospital undergoing minor eye surgery. The rabbi, who is 91 and proclaimed by some as the Messiah, has steered the group from a poor Brooklyn-based sect of East European origin into a wealthy worldwide organisation.

The student declared clinically brain-dead, Aaron Halberstam, aged 15, was chosen by the rabbi when he was only three to be his personal student. Friends say Mr Halberstam wanted to become a schliach, a rabbinical messenger for the Lubavitchers who would travel to other communities and open schools of religious instruction. His Israeli-born father, Chesed Halberstam, was an intimate of the Grand Rabbi and once served as his caretaker and cook.

The other victims, one shot in the hand and the other in the buttocks, were between 18 and 20.