Man federally charged after firing shots outside New York synagogue, officials say

A man arrested in connection with shots that were fired outside a synagogue in Albany, New York, on Thursday has been federally charged, officials said.

Mufid Fawaz Alkhader was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, FBI spokesperson Sarah Ruane told NBC News.

Alkhader, 28, was born in Iraq and is now a U.S. citizen. He recently lived in Schenectady, New York, according to the criminal complaint. 

At a Friday court appearance, Alkhader was ordered to be detained pending a trial after he waived his right to a detention hearing, according to a the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.

No one was injured in the incident, in which the suspect fired two shots were fired outside Temple Israel around 2 p.m., Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins said. Police don’t know in what direction the shots were fired, he said. 

“We were told by responding officers that he made a comment, ‘Free Palestine,’” Hawkins said at a news conference.

The shooter fled but was confronted by another person in a vehicle in a lot, Hawkins said.

“The suspect at that point made some statement to this person who was in the vehicle to the effect of he feels that he’s being victimized,” Hawkins said.

The suspect then dropped the shotgun, and officers arrived and arrested him, said Hawkins, who emphasized that Al Khader acted alone and that there is no further threat to the community. There was also no damage to the building.

Hawkins said his understanding is that the suspect made the “Free Palestine” comment around the time he was taken into custody.

Hawkins initially said the incident was being investigated as a hate crime.

Alkhader was armed with a Kel-Tec KS7 12 gauge pump shotgun, which he was not allowed to own as an unlawful user of a controlled substance, marijuana, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

He faces up to 15 years in prison, up to 3 years of post-imprisonment supervised release and a maximum fine of $250,000, if convicted, the office said.

The FBI said in a statement that it was investigating the incident along with local, state and federal agencies.

“Our office immediately deployed multiple resources and will continue to work in concert with our law enforcement partners, to include the United States Attorney’s Office, to work through the facts and determine any potential motives,” the FBI said.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she had directed New York State Police and the New York National Guard to be on “high alert” at at-risk locations like synagogues, yeshivas and community centers, as Hanukkah begins Thursday night.

“Any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining public safety at a synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah is even more deplorable,” Hochul said. “We reject hate, antisemitism and violence in all forms. And we have no tolerance for the forces of evil who are trying to tear our communities apart.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams echoed Hochul’s sentiment, saying in a statement that the New York City Police Department is “already and remains on heightened alert.”

“With the start of the holiday, the NYPD is implementing pre-planned measures for elevated security around public Menorah displays and at all lighting events. Everyone in our city has a right to practice their faith in peace, and we will ensure that right is protected,” he said.