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Rashid BAZ

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


The Brooklyn Bridge Shooting
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Hate crime
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 1, 1994
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1966
Victim profile: Aaron Halberstam, 16 (rabbinical seminary student)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to 141 years in prison with no possibility of parole on January 18, 1995
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Brooklyn Bridge Shooting was an incident that took place on March 1, 1994, when Lebanese-born Rashid Baz, armed with a Glock 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol and a 9-millimeter Cobray machine gun, shot on a van carrying members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish movement on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Four students were injured in the attack, two seriously with gunshot wounds to the head. One of the victims, Ari Halberstam, a sixteen-year-old, died of his wounds four days later and the other still suffers major speech impediments till this day.

While under arrest, Baz confessed to the shootings and was subsequently convicted of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 141 years in prison. Although he stated the motive for the shooting was "road rage," a later report by the FBI reclassified the shootings as "the crimes of a terrorist."

The incident took place one week after the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre on February 25, 1994, when Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein, wearing his Israeli army uniform, entered a room serving as a mosque in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and opened fire at Muslims, killing 29 and wounding 125. Some have hypothesized that Baz' actions were related to a sermon he heard regarding the incident.

Shortly before the attack, Baz attended the Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, whose imam frequently incited anti-Semitism and called for the support of groups such as Hamas. At Baz's trial, it was revealed that the imam told those in attendance, "This [attack] takes the mask off the Jews. It shows them to be racist and fascist and as bad as the Nazis. Palestinians are suffering from the occupation, and itís time to end it."

The entrance ramp to the bridge on the Manhattan side was named the Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp in memory of the victim.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Rashid Baz (1966-) is a Lebanese-born immigrant and convicted murderer who shot and killed 16-year old Ari Halberstam on March 1, 1994 while driving on the ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge (re-named the Ari Halberstam ramp in 1995).

The Shooting

While driving on the approach ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge from the FDR Drive Baz took out two 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistols and fired on a van carrying 15 members of the Lubavitcher sect of Judaism, who were returning from a visit to the hospital where the Lubavitcher Rebbe had undergone minor surgery. Ari Halberstam was shot in the head and died four days later in the hospital; three other students were seriously wounded in the attack.

Trial

Baz' defense team portrayed him as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to his childhood exposure to violence during the Lebanese Civil War. They argued further that Baz' actions were triggered by the killing of 29 Muslims just 4 days earlier by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron. The jury rejected this argument, and on December 1, 1994 Baz was convicted on one count of murder, 14 counts of attempted murder, and one count of criminal use of a firearm.

Sentencing

On January 18, 1995 Baz received a term of 141 years in person with no chance of parole. Judge Harry Rothwax stated that Baz deserved the "most severe punishment."

Justice Department Inquiry

Despite the conviction of Baz, the Halberstam family and others wanted the case reclassified as a terrorist attack and wanted a further investigation to probe any terrorist links to Baz. On August 26, 1999 the Justice Department and FBI agreed to open an investigation into Baz. The investigation did not yield any new leads connected to terrorist organizations but the Justice Department did formally reclassify the incident as an act of terrorism.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Sequence of Events

The Attack

On March 1, 1994, A gunman in a car opened fire on a van carrying more than a dozen Hasidic students as it began to cross the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, critically wounding two young men and injuring two others.

The lone gunman, driving a blue Chevrolet Caprice equipped with a submachine gun, two 9mm guns, and a "street sweeper" shotgun, pursued the van full of terrified students across the bridge. He fired in three separate bursts, spraying both sides of the van. He then disappeared into traffic as the van came to a stop at the Brooklyn end of the bridge. The injured Yeshiva students were among dozens who were returning from a Manhattan hospital where the spiritual leader of the Lubavitch movement, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, had undergone minor surgery.

The attack occurred less than a week after the massacre of Muslims by a Brooklyn-born Jewish settler in the West Bank. The shooting began at 10:24 A.M. on the ramp that leads from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive to the Brooklyn Bridge. The van that was fired on, a white Dodge Ram 350 carrying 15 students, was one of perhaps 20 vehicles en route back to Crown Heights from Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, where Rabbi Schneerson was being treated.

Initially, the gunman followed the Rebbe's entourage to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. When he found that it was closed to other vehicular traffic, he reversed his course and traveled north to the Brooklyn Bridge. When the gunman saw the students garbed in their Hasidic dress, he immediately opened fire. In the first burst of gunfire, the gunman strafed the passenger side of the van, striking three of the students and blowing out the rear windows.

The van came to a stop, and two of the students stumbled out as the driver and the others attempted to see if anyone had been hit. Gunfire then erupted again from the blue four-door Chevrolet, this time raking the driver's side. The driver of the van then sped off toward Brooklyn, leaving the two students on the bridge. They were later picked up by an emergency medical technician.

The gunman followed the fleeing van with shouts of "Kill the Jews," hailed in Arabic. He once more fired shots at the passenger side of the vehicle before it swerved off the bridge at the Cadman Plaza exit. The van, with at least six bullet holes in its body and windows destroyed, finally came to a halt at the Brooklyn entrance to the bridge.

The Wounded

All the shooting victims were immediately rushed to St. Vincent's Hospital. The most severe of the wounded was 16-year-old Ari Halberstam who was shot in the head. He suffered from profound brain injuries and died five days later. Nachum Sosonkin, 18, also shot in the head, underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. He still has a bullet lodged in his brain, but has made a miraculous recovery. He is deaf in one ear and has trouble walking unaided. Two other students, Yaakov Schapiro, 17, and Levi Wilhelm, 18, suffered less serious gunshot wounds. One lost part of his intestines. Needless to say, every one of the 14 boys on that van will carry the trauma of these experiences for the rest of their lives.

The Funeral

At least ten thousand mourners gathered in front of 770 Eastern Parkway, the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Cries of anguish could be heard as the coffin bearing the body of Ari Halberstam was carried to the funeral hearse. The hearse drove Halberstam for a final tour of Crown Heights, past the yeshiva on Troy Avenue where he studied, past the Lubavitcher Rebbe's former home on President Street. It stopped in front of the Halberstam home on Eastern Parkway, where members of the family made a small incision into their clothing, and Ari's father, mother and siblings ripped another three inches deeper, saying, as is customary for the Jewish mourner, "Blessed is the True Judge."

They then put on their coats and walked slowly down Eastern Parkway and knew this funeral would not be private. Their Ari now belonged to history, a history of martyrs, mentioned in the same breath as Yankel Rosenbaum and the Six Million. Thousands of Jews swelled across Eastern Parkway and down Kingston Avenue. They all came, Reform, Conservative, Viznitz, Belz, Agudah. Dozens of Hasidim watched from fire escapes. Mayor Giuliani and Gov. Mario Cuomo watched from the podium.

More than 250 police officers joined in the funeral procession to guard against any incidents that might take place. Rabbi Sholom Ber Hecht, a cousin of the Halberstam family addressed the masses, in a rare eulogy for Lubavitcher Chasidim, who only eulogize martyrs.

On the last Sabbath of Halberstam's life, said an emotional Hecht, "When the Torah scroll was read in the main synagogue, a mistake, a defect was found in the Torah. The word echod; meaning oneness or unity, was found to be written incorrectly," rendering the entire scroll unfit for use. "Upon reflection, an amazing thought comes to mind. The Hebrew letters of the word echod comprise the initial letters of Halberstam family, Aaron, the child, and the parents, Chesed and Devorah. "The unity of this family has now been shattered by a terrorist's bullet. Our sages tell us, every Jew is a letter in the Sefer Torah. When the life of one family is devastated, then the entire Sefer Torah is affected; the life of the entire Jewish people is shattered and, clearly, this is a sign from on High that there is imperfection in the unity of the Jewish people... He has been offered up as a sacrificial lamb, and his life has been taken as a family and the entire Jewish people."

Hundreds of drivers got out of their cars and stood to pay tribute as the hearse carried Ari Halberstam's body to the chapel in Montefiore Cemetery in Queens. The Chevra Kaddisha (those involved in Jewish burial) lowered Halberstam into the grave just across the aisle from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's wife, of blessed memory. Down with the casket went some sand from the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's grave and some holy soil from the Land of Israel, to ease the resurrection. Befitting the ideology, the Kaddish was said: "May His Great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world which He will create anew, where He will resuscitate the dead...and rebuild the city of Jerusalem." The Halberstam's went home to Eastern Parkway, the little ones cried and ate bagels and eggs. (This is a Jewish customs for mourners.

After the funeral, neighbors provide the mourners with their first meal, a "meal of condolence." It is customary to eat round foods at this meal (e.g., eggs, lentils, bagels), symbolic of the cycle of life and death; also, the circle has no opening, just as the mourners cannot yet find the words to express their grief.)

The Arrest

Soon after Rashid Baz strafed the fan full of students, he drove his damaged car to a Brooklyn repair shop and shoved a gun against an employee's head. "Fix my car and fix it fast," he demanded. The employee of the Hilal Auto Repair Service in Red Hook contacted police after the suspect drove from the lot, one car window shattered during the shooting spree, still unrepaired. That tip and others, directed detectives to Baz, 28, a Lebanese national arrested March 2, 1994, and charged with 15 counts of attempted murder in the Brooklyn Bridge attack that inflamed fears of Arab retaliation for the massacre of mosque worshippers on Israel's West Bank just a few days earlier.

The Beirut-born Baz, who entered the United States on a student visa in 1984 and briefly attended Rockland Community College, was arrested at 2:30 a.m. at a 242 45th St., Brooklyn residence he shared with an aunt and uncle. Bassam Reyati, 27, who runs the Pioneer Car Service that employs Baz and owns the Chevrolet Impala the suspect drove through his alleged spree, was also arrested, as was Hilal Mohammed, 32, is an acquaintance of Baz and owner of the repair shop.

Both Jordanians living in Brooklyn, they were charged last night with hindering prosecution and illegal weapons possession. Investigators turned up four illegal weapons in Reyati's home - a 9mm Cobray handgun, a Glock 17 semiautomatic, a "street sweeper" 12-guage shotgun and a .380-cal semiautomatic pistol. Police also recovered a stun gun, a bulletproof vest and two 50-round ammunition clips for the Cobray.

Baz told police he bought the weapons after being robbed six weeks ago. In a statement to detectives, Baz reportedly insisted he began firing only after the vanload of students taunted him on the FDR drive over his Muslim headdress, a kaffiyeh. Baz told detectives that the attack began as a traffic dispute at the FDR exit to the bridge. Detectives armed with search warrants for the repair shop and the blue 1978 Impala, found a few blocks from Hilal Auto Repair Shop, retrieved shell casings that matched bullets fired at the students.

The suspect apparently tossed spent shells into the dumpster after cleaning out the vehicle at the 237 Hamilton Ave. shop, not far from the bridge. Search warrants were also executed for Baz' 45th Street apartment and a hallway adjacent to it. Detectives found anti-Jewish literature in the apartment, which is leased to his uncle. Baz did not have a livery cab driver license from the city. Pioneer Car Service was also operating without a license.

The Sentencing

On December 1, 1994, Rashid Baz was convicted of one count of second-degree murder and 14 counts of attempted murder, one for each of the surviving students in the van.

On January 18, 1995, he was sentenced to 141 years in prison for the attack. Mr. Baz sat placidly throughout the hour-long proceeding and chose not to speak on his own behalf. Barring a successful appeal, he will probably spend the rest of his life in jail.

According to the state law, a prisoner must serve at least the minimum of his sentence before being eligible for parole. In Mr. Baz's case, the minimum is 141 years and 8 months.

Justice Harold Rothwax of State Supreme Court sentenced Mr. Baz to 25 years to life for the second- degree murder charge, and consecutive terms of 8 1/3 years to 25 years for the attempted murder counts.

During his five-week trial a psychologist and a psychiatrist testified for the defense that Mr. Baz, who at age 9 had joined one of the armed militias, had suffered serious trauma while growing up amid the warfare.

His lawyer, Eric Sears, argued that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder on the day of the shooting. Upset by the massacre of Muslim worshippers in Hebron, Baz suffered a flashback when he saw the van of Hasidic students and believed that they were attacking him. But a prosecution psychiatrist described him as angry man with an antisocial personality.

In pleading for leniency, Mr. Sears said that Mr. Baz had acted spontaneously and said the court should consider the trauma of Mr. Baz's early years and lack of an arrest record. Judge Rothwax said that Mr. Baz deserved the most severe punishment and that the court will recommend against release of this defendent on parole ever.

There was silence in the court room as Mr. Baz walked toward a side door, turned his head to look toward the audience once, and then again, both times for a long time. He had no expression, and he seemed to be looking for someone he knew, but there was apparently no one there for him. Or else, it was to stare at the Hasidic Jews, who stared back at him across the rail of the courtroom that separated them.

Hari Halberstam Memorial Site

 
 

The Brooklyn Bridge Shooting

An Independent Review and Assessment

Yehudit Barsky
Director of the Division on Middle East and International Terrorism
American Jewish Committee

Introduction

This review and assessment examines the murder of Aaron Halberstam, the 16-year-old rabbinical seminary student who was murdered in the Brooklyn Bridge shooting that took place on March 1, 1994.

In May 1999, the family of Aaron Halberstam requested the assistance of the American Jewish Committee to provide an expert review and assessment of the attack on the Brooklyn Bridge. The purpose of this document is to provide the Middle Eastern context in which the attack occurred and an examination of the lessons to be learned from this incident for U.S. counter-terrorism policy.

There is another measure of justice due to Aaron Halberstam that goes beyond the conviction of his murderer, Rashid Baz. That aspect of the incident is its classification as a homicide under New York State law without a full examination of the Middle Eastern political context that provided Rashid Bazís motivation for the March 1, 1994, attack. Moreover, while a determination of motive is not necessary for the successful prosecution of a murder case, an understanding of the motive that produced this incident is instrumental in raising the awareness of government agencies to the potential for the recurrence of such attacks in the future.

The release of this review and assessment comes at a time when Jewish communities in the United States and throughout the world are experiencing a marked increase in attacks against Jewish institutions as well as individuals as a result of tensions in the Middle East. These incidents appear to be inspired by recent fatwas - Islamic religious rulings - calling for holy war, or jihad, against Jews by the leaders of Islamic extremist movements.

Such leaders include Sheikh ĎUmar Abd Al-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the World Trade Center bombing. Abd Al-Rahman issued a call for attacks against Jews from his prison cell in the United States, declaring, "I call on Islamic scholars to play their role and issue a collective fatwa urging the Islamic nation to fight and kill Jews everywhere.(1)" Other calls for similar action have come from the Hamas and Hizballah terrorist organizations, and Al-Muhajirun, a British Islamic extremist organization that has expressed support for Usama Bin Ladin. Bin Ladin is the leader of Al-Qaíida, the terrorist organization considered responsible for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and is suspected of involvement in the recent suicide bombing of the USS Cole.

These calls have also emanated from Muslim clerics appointed by the Palestinian Authority, including Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya, an official appointee to its "Fatwa Council." Abu Halabiya called upon worshippers at a sermon that took place on October 13, 2000, to "have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them where they are. Wherever you meet them, kill them." He concluded, "Allah, deal with the Jews, your enemies and the enemies of Islam. Deal with the Crusaders, and America, and Europe behind them, O Lord of the worlds.(2)" The sermon was broadcast live on Palestinian Authority Television(3).

The similarities between the events of the past six weeks and the Brooklyn Bridge shooting should serve as a reminder that statements uttered by the leaders of such movements who cloak themselves with religious legitimacy have far reaching and, in many cases, almost immediate effects. It is the responsibility of government officials, law enforcement agencies and communal leaders to recognize the consequences of such calls to violence and to be alert to the dangers that are created by them.

The Incident

The Brooklyn Bridge March 1, 1994 10:30 a.m. Armed with a Glock 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol and a 9-millimeter Cobray machine gun, Rashid Baz opened fire three times on a white van transporting 15 Lubavitch Chasidic rabbinical seminary students. The attack took place as the students were traveling from Manhattan to Brooklyn, traversing the southbound ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge. The young men had just completed a prayer vigil for the spiritual leader of the Lubavitch Chasidic movement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who had undergone cataract surgery earlier that morning at the Manhattan Ear, Eye and Throat Hospital(4). They were traveling home from the hospital when the attack occurred.

Shooting out of the passenger window of his car, Baz initially opened fire with the Cobray machine gun on the students sitting at the rear windows and right passenger side windows of the van(5). Holding the gun outside of the driverís side window(6), Baz pursued the van across the span of the bridge, and strafed the driverís side of the van(7) with machine gun fire until its firing mechanism jammed(8). Baz then picked up the Glock semi-automatic pistol, the second weapon that he had placed on the floor of the front seat of his car. He opened fire for a third time and continued to shoot at the students until that weapon became jammed as well(9). A third weapon that Baz had taken with him in the trunk of his car was a 12-gauge Streetsweeper shotgun that was not used in the attack(10).

Two of the students were gravely injured in the attack. Aaron Halberstam and Nachum Sasonkin were both shot in the back of the head during the attack, and two other students were injured. On March 5, 1994, four days after the attack, Aaron Halberstam died.

Rashid Baz was convicted of murder in the second degree with intent to cause the death(a) of Aaron Halberstam in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on December 1, 1994(11). He was also convicted of fourteen counts of attempted murder in the second degree with intent to cause death, and criminal use of a firearm in the first degree. He was sentenced to 141 years in prison(12).

Two other men who assisted Baz in concealing evidence of the attack were also convicted and sentenced. In a plea bargain, Bassam Reyati, the owner of the car that Baz was driving, admitted that he helped Baz conceal evidence by removing the car's shattered windshield, placing it in the trunk of the car, and leaving the car on the street near his office. He was convicted of hindering prosecution and was sentenced to 5 years of probation and a $1000 fine on October 16, 1996(13).

Hilal Abd Al-Aziz Muhammad, the owner of the auto repair shop that Baz drove to after carrying out the shooting, also admitted that he helped Baz dispose of evidence connected to the attack. Muhammad concealed evidence of the shooting by concealing the weapons used in the attack(14), helping to remove the car's broken windshield, throwing out shell casings that he swept from the inside of the car, and calling Bassam Reyati to dispose of the vehicle(15). He was convicted of hindering prosecution and sentenced to five years of probation on May 17, 1995(16).

(a) According to New York State law, murder in the second degree is premeditated murder. A charge of first degree murder would only apply to the murder of a law enforcement officer, a judge, or murder for hire.

The Middle Eastern Context

According to testimony presented at his trial, Rashid Bazís motivation for opening fire on a van of Lubavitch Chasidic seminary students was an incident that took place in the West Bank town of Hebron on Friday, February 25, 1994 during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. On that day, Baruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn born doctor from the neighboring Israeli town of Kiryat Arba, entered what is known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. He opened fire, killing 29 Muslim worshippers. Goldstein was beaten to death by the remaining worshippers(17).

The overwhelming reaction throughout the Muslim world was to call for acts of vengeance against Jews. Within hours of the incident in Hebron, an address broadcast from a mosque loudspeaker by an activist from the Palestinian Authority's Fatah organization declared, '"Oh brothers, we promise not to let this pass. We will declare war after this aggression.(18)"

On the afternoon that the incident occurred, angry Muslim worshippers broke out in massive rioting at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The riots were partially considered to have been incited by a sermon that was given during the prayers that called for revenge to be taken for the Hebron massacre(19).

For almost three hours, Arab youths threw rocks down from the Temple Mount onto hundreds of police officers stationed in the Western Wall Plaza. In an effort to attack Jewish worshippers in the Western Wall Plaza below, dozens of Arab youths rushed out of the Mughrabi Gate, which directly leads from the Temple Mount into the plaza. Israeli Police and Border Guards fired rubber bullets and tear gas to push them back into the Temple Mount compound. A number of the youths, many of whom were masked, screamed "Allahu Akhbar," Ė "God is Great," climbed on the Temple Mount walls, and from there continued to throw stones on the policemen stationed below(20).

On the day of the massacre, Abu Muhammad Mustafa, the Hamas movementís official representative in Damascus, Syria issued a statement declaring that the "military wing" of the organization, the Iz Al-Din Al-Qassam Battalions, "will avenge the Hebron massacre.(21)" A separate statement from the Al-Qassam Battalions announced: "Very soon Israel will be in mourning and put up black flags because Iz Al-Din [Al-Qassam] will strike harder than even the Zionist terrorists can imagine.(22)"

In Beirut, Lebanon, 10,000 Palestinians and supporters of the Hizballah terror organization demonstrated in the streets. Officials of Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups led the demonstration, with Lebanese police acting as escorts. The demonstrators shouted "Death to America, Death to Israel," and waved Palestinian flags and raised placards that condemned the massacre. The protestors included participants from Palestinian refugee camps and Beirut's Shiíi southern suburbs who are supporters of Hizballah. At the end of the demonstration, they formed a symbolic funeral procession for the worshippers killed in the Hebron mosque(23).

In an appeal to Muslims throughout the Arab world, Iranian state radio broadcast a call to carry out a "jihad operation" - an act of holy war - through its Arabic language service: "But a single jihad operation in southern Lebanon or in the occupied territory is sufficient to teach the Jews many lessons. It will teach them that their security will always be threatened because security cannot be based on usurpation, terrorism and the logic of force.(24)"

In Cairo, Egypt, the Islamic extremist Muslim Brotherhood movement urged Palestinians to retaliate for the attack with violence(25). The militant Islamic extremist group Gama'a Al-Islamiya Ė Islamic Group - stated two days after the incident that its "armed units" were ordered to carry out attacks for the purpose of avenging the massacre in Hebron:

We, the Gama'a al-Islamiya, announce that our military operations from now until the end of the month of Ramadan will be [carried out] as a dutiful revenge to the martyrs of the Ibrahimi Mosque and as a modest support to the strugglers of Palestine(26).

The statement continued, "We cannot but order our armed cells to escalate their holy operations in retaliation and as a just punishment to Mubarak, the biggest agent of Zionism in the region.(27)"

The Gama'a Al-Islamiya called on all Islamic extremist groups in the Middle East, including Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hizballah "to raise their rifles" and take action. The organization did not indicate as to whether its revenge attacks would be carried out in Egypt or elsewhere and if Western tourists would be targets as they had been in the past(28).

A statement issued by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad asserted: "The blood of the people will not be shed for nothing. The bullets of the Islamic fighters will be our immediate answer to the Zionists.(29)"

Two then left-wing opponents of the Palestinian Authority also vowed revenge. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine vowed to take vengeance for the mosque killings. The statement declared, "We vow to avenge the killings and to punish the Israeli occupation forces and the Zionist settlers.(30)"

Immediately following such calls for revenge came a stabbing attack on a 77-year old British tourist in the center of the Jordanian capital, Amman, while thousands of angry Palestinians cloaked in black flags demonstrated to mourn the dead of Hebron. According to the British Embassy in Amman, the victim, Howard Long, was lightly wounded. The Jordanian Interior Ministry called on its citizens to show restraint and announced that his assailant, Khalid Husni Al-Korashi, was arrested(31).

Initial media reports of the investigation into the Brooklyn Bridge shooting related Rashid Bazís version of the incident, in which he claimed that the shooting was the result of a traffic dispute. During the trial, however, Bazís motivation to carry out the shooting was clearly demonstrated through testimony from his own psychiatrist indicating that he was enraged(32) over the incident in Hebron and carried out the shooting as an act of vengeance.

An examination of the Middle Eastern context at the time of the attack as well as evidence presented at the trial indicates that Rashid Baz was inspired by and identified with the ideology of Islamic extremist movements in the Middle East. His behavior and attitudes prior to the shooting indicate that Baz Ė born in Lebanon of a Druze father and a Palestinian Muslim mother(33) - became a convert to Islam and became inculcated in the Islamic extremist doctrine of jihad, or holy war, a tenet which does not exist in the Druze religion and is rejected by mainstream Muslims. His actions on March 1, 1994, were reflective of the calls for revenge against Jews that were emanating from the Middle East at that time.

Rashid Bazís Background

Rashid Baz was born to a relatively well to do family in Lebanon in 1965(34). Following the shooting on the Brooklyn Bridge, his father, Najib Baz, who is of Druze background, gave an interview to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Hayat from the familyís home village of Baíazaran outside of Beirut(35). His mother, Suhaila Akel Baz, a Palestinian, was interviewed by the same newspaper from the familyís apartment located off Rue Verdun(36) in an exclusive section of the city known a Rías Beirut(37).

In various interviews with the media, members of the family insisted that they are Druze and their son, Rashid, was Druze as well. His father, Najib Baz, insisted, "We are a Druze family. He is Druze. He never went to a mosque in his life. He likes girls and cars and sports. I sent him to college in the States in 1984 so that the militias couldn't make him fight in the war in Lebanon. I sent him there to keep him out of trouble.(38)"

The Druze originated as a heterodox religious sect that broke away from Islam in the 11th century(39). The Druze consider themselves to be a religion separate from Islam and refer to themselves as "muwahidun," or "Unitarians." A follower of the Druze religion would therefore never refer to himself as a Muslim. Since their emergence in the 11th century, members of the Druze religion have been severely persecuted by both Sunni and Shiíi Muslims who reject their legitimacy on theological grounds, and consider them to be heretics.

The religious tradition and practices of the Druze do not have parallels in Islam. For example, the Druze do not have the equivalent of a house of worship that they attend once a week. Instead, there are special places for individuals to engage in meditation called khilawat. Thus, Najib Bazís insistence that his son never went to a mosque is not a declaration of his irreligiousity but simply a statement indicating that Rashid Baz, at least while he was still in Lebanon, was not a Muslim.

The Druze are a secretive sect and do not permit conversion to their religion. In contrast to Islamic law, or shariía, which stipulates that the child of a mixed marriage inherits the religion of his father, according to the religious tradition of the Druze, both parents are required to be of Druze origin in order for a child to be considered a Druze. Since Bazís mother is of Palestinian Muslim origin(40), he was of questionable religious status among the Druze. Moreover, because his father is Druze, according to Islamic religious tradition he would not be accepted as a Muslim, either. The only way for him to be considered a Muslim would be for him to convert to Islam.

It is therefore not surprising to read a description of Baz in The New York Times which relates that a Brooklyn neighbor of his, Halim Haggar, as asking him before his marriage to an American Christian woman, "What are you Rashid? Catholic? Jewish? Muslim?" He was answered by Baz, "I donít know.(41)"

It is also not surprising that an acquaintance of Baz said of him, "He didnít even know how to pray." The acquaintance described taking Baz to a mosque in order to teach him "some basics of Islam.(42)" And after Baz was arrested, he telephoned a friend of his in Brooklyn and asked him to bring books about Islam to the prison for him(43).

Although Rashid Baz may have arrived on the shores of the United States as an individual with a questionable religious status according the traditions of Lebanon, by September 1992 he appears to have chosen to identify as a Muslim. On September 4, 1992, he crashed a borrowed car into the rear end of a car in front of him on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway near Atlantic Avenue. The driver of the car in front of him recalled that after the accident Baz got out of his car and declared, "I am a Muslim.(44)"

In addition to his apparent conversion to Islam, it appears that Baz came to identify himself as a Palestinian Muslim rather than a Druze. In Bazís videotaped confession, he describes himself as Palestinian on a number of occasions, but specifically refers to his openly identifying himself as a Palestinian through wearing a Palestinian keffiyah, or headscarf, around his neck during the Brooklyn Bridge shooting(45).

Baz became friends with Muafaq Askar, a Palestinian who worked in a Sunset Park, Brooklyn pizza shop who described Baz as calling him his "Palestinian uncle.(46)" Askar also described himself as being Bazís "one true friend.(47)" It was apparently through Askarís friendship with Baz that Baz agreed to attend prayers(48 at Masjid Musíab bin ĎUmayr, the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn.

Vengeance for Hebron

Testimony presented at Bazís trial in November 1994 clearly demonstrated his motivation for carrying out the attack. Part of the evidence presented by Bazís defense attorney included psychiatric testimony intended to support the notion that the attack on the Brooklyn Bridge came about as the result of Baz suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD. Baz, according to this scenario, suffered from PTSD from having spent the earlier part of his life in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. The attack on the Brooklyn Bridge therefore came about as the result of a "flashback" that was triggered as the result of his hearing about the Hebron massacre. During the cross-examination of Bazís own psychiatrist, Dr. Douglas Anderson, Bazís reaction to the incident in Hebron was revealed: Q. You mentioned earlier the incident in Hebron, the massacre in Hebron?

Anderson: Yes.

Q. Do you know when that incident was in relation to the events on the Brooklyn Bridge?

Anderson: That was Friday, February 25th.

Q. That would be some three or four days before the event on the Brooklyn Bridge?

Anderson: Four days.

Q. In your opinion, Doctor, did the Hebron(49) incident or Mr. Bazís reaction to the Hebron incident have any impact on his state of mind during that time?

Anderson: Yes. It had an enormous impact.

Q. In what way?

Anderson: He was enraged. He was absolutely furious. He was - - I think Hebron put him from condition yellow to condition red(50).

Later in the testimony, Anderson further described Baz as being "as angry as heís ever been in his life.(51)"

In his videotaped confession, Baz describes himself as being "upset" over the incident in Hebron, and expresses support for acts of vengeance:

Q. How upset were you?

Baz: I was upset, but not upset to go do something.

Q. Were you upset to say something?

Baz: To say something?

Q. I mean, did you make comments about it? You know, about what should be done about that?

Baz: Should be done about that?

Q. Yeah. In other words, did you, when you were talking to your friends did you express your view of how you - - how you as - - a Lebanese man from Beirut - -

Baz. [Nods affirmatively.](52)

Q. - - should deal with the situation? Like what had happened in Lebanon?

Baz: I told them itís not fair.

Q. Ahum.

Baz: And they should take revenge.

Q. And they should what?

Baz: Take revenge.

Q. That they should take revenge.

Baz: Right.

Q. That who should take revenge?

Baz: The people over there(53).

According to press reports, Bassam Reyati, Rashid Bazís employer at the Pioneer Car Service, told investigators that Baz was "very angry(54)" after the Hebron massacre. Mistakenly referring to the Hebron incident as "Jerusalem," Reyati related:

When Jerusalem happened, Ray [Rashid] was very angry and mad. He said we should kill all the Jews who did this. He was always very short-tempered. Jerusalem [i.e., Hebron] really upset him. He said, ĎWeíre supposed to kill all those Jews.(55)'

An "Arab Soldier Crusader"

Prior to his carrying out the shooting, Baz visited the pizza shop where his Palestinian friend Muafaq Askar worked. A conversation ensued about the events in Hebron, and Askar expressed the view that he would be eager to "make jihad," or holy war against the Israelis(56). Baz later accompanied Askar to the mosque, where they heard a sermon relating to the incident in Hebron. In the following excerpt from the trial testimony, Dr. Anderson relates Muafaq Askarís description of Bazís state of mind on February 25, the date of the Hebron massacre:

Q. Now, you spoke to Muafaq, the defendantís friend at the pizza place?

Anderson: Yes.(57) . . .

Q. And Moufaq described for you the events which occurred on February 25th at the pizza parlor concerning the report of the Hebron incident. Is that correct(58)?

Anderson: Yes, it is correct.

Q. What was your accounting, your own version of the emotions that the defendant felt at the time, upon learning that?

Anderson: Well, he was furious, he was terribly upset.

Q. In fact, Muafaq describes it like sparks were flashing from his eyes?

Anderson: Thatís what he said.

Q. And this was a terrible rage that he was experiencing at what this bearded Jewish doctor from Brooklyn had done to his fellow Moslems in the mosque in Hebron?

Anderson: He had never seen him before, Baz, being that angry before.

Q. All right. And what did Moufaq tell you what they did then?

Anderson: They went to the mosque.

Following their conversation in the pizza shop, Baz accompanied Askar to the mosque at Islamic Society of Bay Ridge(b). At the mosque, they heard a sermon that was similar to statements being made in the Middle East on that same day:

Q. And at the mosque they heard an Imam or a religious leader, a Moslem religious leader speak. Is that correct?

Anderson: That is correct.

Q. Now, just before the defendant had said in response to hearing about Hebron(59), "They did it. The bastards did it."

Anderson: That is right.

Q. And then he went to the mosque and according to Moufaq he heard the Imam say that "this takes the mask off of the Jews. It shows them to be racist and fascist as bad as the Nazis. Palestinians are suffering from the occupation and itís time to end it." Isnít that what Moufaq told you the Imam said while he and the defendant were in the audience in that mosque?

Anderson: Yes(60).

Later in the testimony, Bazís psychiatrist describes him as asserting that all Arabs and Muslims should feel the same way about the Hebron incident, and told him that the distinction between Israelis and all other Jews, including American Jews, had become blurred:

Q. Now Doctor, didnít the defendant tell you that all Arabs and Moslems should feel the same?

Anderson: Yes.

Q. Didnít he tell you that after hearing about what happened at Hebron that the distinction between Israelis and all other Jews, including American Jews, became blurred for him?

Anderson: Yes.

Despite Bazís statement that he felt that revenge for the incident should be taken in the Middle East, after he heard the Imamís sermon he took two of the guns that he usually kept in the trunk of his car and moved them to the front seat of his car. The two guns were the weapons that he used in the shooting.

Q. And didnít he tell you that after hearing that, hearing the Imam, he went to his taxi cab and he moved the machine gun from the trunk of that cab into the front seat of the car?

A. I donít know exactly what point of time it was, but it was after Hebron and before March 1(61).

Anderson went on to describe Bazís arsenal of weapons and his preparation for the shooting. In contrast to his usual routine in which he simply carried a pistol to protect himself, on that occasion Baz equipped himself with the Glock semi-automatic pistol, the Cobray machine gun Ė referred to in the trial transcript as an "Uzi," and a 12-gauge Streetsweeper. Bazís choice of these weapons indicated his intent to carry out a very serious attack. The fact that Baz moved this array of high-powered weapons from the trunk of his car to under the front seat of his car also reveals that the attack on the Brooklyn Bridge was a premeditated one. According to Dr. Anderson, Bazís preparation for the attack was consistent with his view of himself as an "Arab soldier crusader:"

Anderson: Before Hebron he had a pistol under his seat, which is probably not uncommon for gypsy cab drivers in New York City. And he also had a fully automatic pistol, an Uzi(c) I think it was, in his trunk.

Q. Now, that would be consistent with his identity as an Arab soldier crusader.

Anderson: After Hebron he told me that he moved the Uzi from the trunk to under the seat along with the semi-automatic pistol, so he was well armed for combat by March 1st.(62)

Additional testimony indicates that Baz viewed himself as a mujahid, or one who carries out jihad - holy war, according to the ideology of Islamic extremist movements. Lacking the terminology employed by Muslim extremists to describe this concept, Bazís psychiatrist describes him in Western terms as thinking of himself as an "Arab soldier crusader":

Q. In addition you yourself described the defendantís self-perception as being that of an Arab crusader?

Anderson: Yes.

Q. Or an Arab soldier crusader?(63)

Anderson: Yes.

Q. In fact, the defendant, you had been shown a poem which the defendant wrote concerning an Arab crusader, a poem in Arabic. Isnít that correct?

Anderson: It was a poem from and about the Crusades back in the Middle Ages.

Q. And about being a hero in the Crusades?

Anderson: I donít know the poem but IĎm told itís a heroic, heroic poem.

Q. About going off and fighting the infidels?

Anderson: Yes.(64) (b)On May 24, 1998 the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge was among the co-sponsors of a program held at Brooklyn College entitled "Palestine Ė 50 Years of Occupation" where anIslamic extremist cleric from Egypt, Sheikh Wagdi Ghuneim, gave an anti-Jewish sermon. Speaking in Arabic he declared, "The Jews distort words from their meanings . . . They killed prophets and worshipped idols." He continued, "The Prophet [Muhammad] said: ĎThe Jews will not cease to hate you [Muslims], ever, ever." Ghuneim went on to teach a song to the assembled participants that included the lyrics, "No to the Jews, the descendants of the apes. We vow to return [to Palestine] despite the obstacles." Ghuneim also exhorted the crowd to support jihad, declaring, "Allah says he who equips the warrior of jihad is like the one who makes jihad himself." (The Forward, August 7, 1998) Pro-Hamas literature was offered for sale at the event. ("Hate Speech in Brooklyn," The New York Post, July 30, 1998) The organization that held the event was the Islamic Association for Palestine. (IAP: "50 Years of Occupation," New York Evening Program, Muslim Studentsí Association News, May 23, 1998) The Islamic Association for Palestine is a group that has distributed Hamas literature in the United States.

(c) Anderson refers here to the Cobray machine gun, which is similar to an Uzi.

An Act of Terrorism

While Rashid Bazís ties to a known terrorist group have not been established, his act nevertheless was an act of terrorism - violence carried out against civilians for the purpose of making a political statement or of furthering a political goal. It is clear that Baz subscribed to the ideology of Islamic extremist movements that promote the concept of violent acts as the expression of their war against Israel and the United States, and in his particular case, he selected Jewish civilians as his target. In Assistant District Attorney Armand Durastantiís words:

All of these things culminated on the morning of March 1 with the defendant committing an act which, based on the psychiatric testimony that weíve heard in this case, can only be considered as an act of terrorism; insofar as what appears to be clear is that the defendant targeted these youths, targeted innocent civilians to make what was in essence a political statement. In this case, the political statement based on the political situation in the Middle East, which, as we heard from the defense psychiatrist, the defendant has always deeply personalized(65).

And more particularly on the events that had occurred three or four days earlier in Hebron, where a Jewish settler from Brooklyn had killed a number of Arabs praying at a mosque. It seems clear that the defendant targeted these boys because they were obviously Jewish (66).

Ten days after the Brooklyn Bridge shooting, the Hamas movement in Gaza(67) released a communiquť praising Rashid Bazís attack on the van. With great pride the movement embraced his act and bestowed upon him the title of mujahid, a holy warrior and ibn Islam, a son of Islam, meaning one who serves as a role model and inspiration to others:

We will retain the cry of condemnation on your heads and our hand is backed by millions of Muslim hands that are ready to carry out their execution role against Jews.(68)

The communiquť continued:

Only Islam is the legitimate and exclusive representation of our people and its predicament; and the living proof of this is namely the holy warrior and Lebanese immigrant Rashid Al-Baz, the son of Islam who took action against the souls of the evil dregs of the Jews in Brooklyn in America. His deed proclaims that you [i.e., the Jews ] do not have the ability to tear Palestine away from our hearts, may a curse be on your heads.(69)

Although Rashid Bazís act of terrorism was clearly based on his desire to act as a mujahid to avenge the victims of Hebron, the Brooklyn Bridge shooting has never been recognized as such an act. While the case has erroneously been characterized as stemming from "road rage," the context in which Baz acted demonstrates the need for the record to be corrected.

As result, over the last six years, the Halberstam family has made efforts to have the case investigated at the Federal level to determine whether any additional charges, including possible civil rights violations, may have been committed by Rashid Baz or by others. The Halberstam family has requested that the attack be re-classified as an act of terrorism as well. The case was reopened in August 1999 and is still pending.

Seen in the light of its Middle Eastern context, Rashid Bazís act of terrorism should be understood as an attack to undermine the fabric of our society. There can never be any justification for anti-Jewish violence or violence directed at any other minority. Islamic extremists who call for acts of violence against Jews make those pronouncements with the intent that their calls will be taken seriously and that such manifestations of their "holy war" will be carried out worldwide, either by their own followers or admirers of their movements. They also hope that they will succeed in not being held responsible for such pronouncements. The responsibility of governments, law enforcement agencies and community leaders is to take them at their word and to recognize the dangers that are created by such calls to commit acts of terror.

Endnotes

1)"Egyptian Militant Urges All Muslims to Kill Jews," Jerusalem Post, October 6, 2000.

2)"Palestinian Authority TV Broadcasts Call for Killing Jews and Americans," Middle East Media and Research Institute, Special Dispatch Ė PA - No. 138, October 14, 2000.

3)"A Parallel Mideast Battle: Is It News or Incitement?," New York Times, October 24, 2000.

4)"Terror on the Brooklyn Bridge," The New York Jewish Week, March 10, 1994.

5)People of the State of New York vs. Rashid Baz, 2463:2-3.

6)People vs. Baz, 2463:7-9.

7)People vs. Baz, 2467:12-19.

8)People vs. Baz, 2472:12-14.

9)People vs. Baz, 2472:14-17.

10)People vs. Baz, 2472:23-24.

11)Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, People of the State of New York vs. Rashid Baz, Part 31/56, 1872-94, Sentence, January 18, 1995, 24: 17-21.

12)Ibid. 24: 22-25, 25:1-18.

13)"Man Is Sentenced in the Hiding Of Evidence in Terrorist Slaying," New York Times, October 17, 1996.

14)People vs. Baz, 343: 17-24; 344: 2-19; 345: 4-25; 346: 2-3.

15)"Mother of Slain Student Assails Deportation Delay," New York Times, March 5, 1997.

16)"Man Is Sentenced in the Hiding Of Evidence in Terrorist Slaying," New York Times, October 17, 1996.

17)"Rabin warned of violence at holy site before massacre: radio," Agence France Presse, March 20, 1994.

18)"Ramadan Friday of death, sorrow for Palestinians," United Press International, February 25, 1994.

19)"Rioting breaks out on Temple Mount after massacre," The Jerusalem Post, February 27, 1994.

20) "Rioting breaks out on Temple Mount after massacre," The Jerusalem Post, February 27, 1994.

21)"Hebron massacre gains Arafat sympathy of outside world and wrath of his Palestinian detractors," Mideast Mirror, February 25, 1994.

22)"Islamic Militants Threaten To Kill More Jews To Avenge Mosque Deaths," AFX News February 25, 1994.

23)"Palestinians Protest Hebron Massacre, Arafat's Peaceful Drive," United Press International, February 28, 1994.

24)"Radio commentary in Arabic says single jihad action will teach Jews many lessons," Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran external service, Tehran, in Arabic 1730 GMT, February 26, 1994, in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, February 28, 1994.

25)"Egyptian Extremists Condemn Mosque Attack," United Press International, February 26, 1994.

26)"After the Hebron bloodbath: Open season on Israel and the U.S.," Mideast Mirror, February 28, 1994.

27)"After the Hebron bloodbath: Open season on Israel and the U.S.," Mideast Mirror, February 28, 1994.

28)"After the Hebron bloodbath: Open season on Israel and the U.S.," Mideast Mirror, February 28, 1994.

29)"Islamic Militants Threaten To Kill More Jews To Avenge Mosque Deaths," AFX News February 25, 1994.

30)"Hebron massacre gains Arafat sympathy of outside world and wrath of his Palestinian detractors," Mideast Mirror, February 25, 1994.

31)"Hebron massacre gains Arafat sympathy of outside world and wrath of his Palestinian detractors," Mideast Mirror, February 25, 1994.

32)Bazís psychiatrist testified, "He was enraged. He was absolutely furious. He was - - I think Hebron put him from condition yellow to condition red." People of the State of New York vs. Rashid Baz, 1967: 6-8. Nuha Abudabbeh, Bazís Palestinian psychiatrist, described him as being "very angry over the events that had occurred in Hebron." Ibid, 1860: 22-25.

33)"Complex Picture is Emerging of Suspect in Van Shootings," New York Times, March 4, 1994.

34)People of the State of New York vs. Rashid Baz, 2542: 9-15.

35)Al-Hayat, March 6, 1994.

36)Al-Hayat, March 6, 1994.

37)Interviews with two former residents of Beirut, September 26 and 28, 1999. According to both interviewees, prior to the civil war, Rue Verdun was considered the "Fifth Avenue" of the city.

38)"'Terrorist' Son Leaves Parents Bewildered;" The Independent (London), March 7, 1994.

39)"Druzes," Cyril Glasse, Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, London: Harper, Row, and Publishers, 1989, p. 103-104.

40)"Complex Picture is Emerging of Suspect in Van Shootings," New York Times, March 4, 1994.

41)"íWhat Are You, Rashid?í" New York Times, March 14, 1994.

42)"íWhat Are You, Rashid?í" New York Times, March 14, 1994.

43)"íWhat Are You, Rashid?í" New York Times, March 14, 1994.

44)"íWhat Are You, Rashid?í" New York Times, March 14, 1994.

45)According to the transcript of the videotaped confession Baz says: "And they could tell Iím Palestinian, because -- " Q: -- "okay. Because you had the scarf on." People vs. Baz, 124:12-14.

46)"Indistinct Picture of Shooting Suspect, New York Times, March 4, 1994.

47)"Indistinct Picture of Shooting Suspect, New York Times, March 4, 1994.

48)"Indistinct Picture of Shooting Suspect, New York Times, March 4, 1994.

49)People vs. Baz, 1967:15-25.

50)Ibid, 1968: 2-8.

51)Ibid. 1968: 21.

52)Ibid, 131:4-25.

53)Ibid, 132: 1-11.

54)"New Focus on Motives Focus in Killing on Bridge," New York Times, April 7, 1994.

55)"New Focus on Motives Focus in Killing on Bridge," New York Times, April 7, 1994.

56)"Indistinct Picture of Shooting Suspect, New York Times, March 4, 1994.

57)People vs. Baz, 2107: 16-18.

58)Ibid. 2107: 22-25.

59)Ibid, 2108: 2-25.

60)Ibid. 2108:2-19.

61)Ibid, 2110: 19-25.

62)Ibid, 1975: 2-12.

63)Ibid,2106: 21-25.

64)Ibid. 2107: 2-14.

65)Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, People of the State of New York vs. Rashid Baz, Part 31/56, 1872-94, Sentence, January 18, 1995, 6: 13-25.

66)Ibid. 7: 1-5.

67)"Hamas Issues Veiled Warning on Revenge," Kol Yisrael (Voice of Israel Radio) in English, 1600 GMT, March 11, 1994 in Foreign Broadcast Information Service Ė Near East and South Asia, March 15, 1994.

68)"Islamic Militants Threaten Revenge in Brooklyn," Associated Press, March 11, 1994.

69)"Islamic Militants Threaten Revenge in Brooklyn," Associated Press, March 11, 1994.

 
 

The victim


16-year old Ari Halberstam

 

Ari Halberstam's collage

 

The shooting

 

The funeral

 

 

 
 
 
 
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