Moscow synagogue attacker charged with hate crimes

Alexander Koptsev, 20, the man accused of attacking worshippers at a Moscow synagogue, has been charged with racially motivated attempted murder, assault and actions aimed at humiliating national or religious groups.

Alexander Koptsev, 20, said in his interrogation that he had committed the crime "out of envy for them (Jews), since they live better" and that he had been inspired by books and Internet sites. He also told investigators that one of his motivations was "my desire to die," the Moscow prosecutors' office said in a statement.

Koptsev allegedly stabbed and wounded eight men during evening prayers at a central Moscow synagogue on Wednesday.

A million Jews live in Russia, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities, the Jewish community now enjoying a revival after a wave of emigration to Israel and other countries. Rising xenophobia has seen hundreds of racially motivated attacks in recent years, including on dark-skinned immigrants from former Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains region.

Rights activists say hate groups are emboldened by authorities' mild approach to prosecuting hate crimes and complain that Nazi and other extremist literature is sold freely.

The lower house of parliament's legislative committee has prepared a package of bills to strengthen anti-extremist legislation, committee head Pavel Krasheninnikov said Friday, according to the Interfax news agency.

Jewish leaders, however, have demanded that authorities push for better enforcement of existing laws.

U.S. Ambassador William Burns visited the synagogue on Friday morning.

"The United States welcomes Russian Government statements condemning the attack and Prosecutor General (Vladimir) Ustinov's intent to oversee personally the criminal case," Burns said in a statement at the synagogue.

"We urge the Russian authorities to use all legal means to prosecute the perpetrator of this crime, and stop any such attacks in the future. It is crucially important to fight extremism in all its forms," the AP reports.

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