LONDON: Three young men of Palestinian descent who were in Burlington for a Thanksgiving holiday gathering were shot and injured — one seriously — near the University of Vermont, police said Sunday. Authorities said the attack may have been a hate crime.
Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ahmed and Kinnan Abdalhamid are students at Brown University, Yale University and Harvard University.
The shootings occurred at about 6:25 p.m. Saturday near the UVM campus, according to Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad. He said police are searching for the shooter.
Two of the men are in stable condition and the other suffered “much more serious injuries,” Murad said in a news release Sunday. The three, all age 20, were visiting the home of one of the victim's relatives and were walking when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun.
“Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled,” Murad said in a news release. “All three victims were struck, two in their torsos and one in the lower extremities.”
Murad said all three men are of Palestinian descent. Two are U.S. citizens and one is a legal resident. Two of the men were wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves.
Murad said there is no additional information to suggest the suspect's motive.
“My deepest condolences go out to the victims and their families,” Murad said in the news release. “In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime. And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven.”
He added, "The fact is that we don’t yet know as much as we want to right now. But I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”
Before Murad issued his news release, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee released a statement Sunday saying that the victims were Palestinian American college students and that there is “reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab.”
The ADC said a man shouted and harassed the victims, who were conversing in Arabic, then proceeded to shoot them.
The FBI said it is aware of the shootings.
“If, in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate," Sarah Ruane, an FBI spokesperson based in Albany, New York, said in a statement.
The White House said that President Joe Biden was briefed on the shooting and will continue to receive updates as law enforcement gathers more information.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or conviction of the person or people responsible for the shootings, the organization said in a statement.
The Insitute for Middle East Understanding provided a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, that it described as being from the families of the victims.
“We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children,” it said. “We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime. We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, denounced the attack.
“It is shocking and deeply upsetting that three young Palestinians were shot here in Burlington, VT. Hate has no place here, or anywhere. I look forward to a full investigation," Sanders said in a statement. "My thoughts are with them and their families.”
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said that any indication that the shooting could have been motivated by hate is “chilling." Gov. Phil Scott called it a tragedy.
“I urge Vermonters to unite to help the community heal, and not let this incident incite more hate or divisiveness," Scott said. "We must come together in these difficult times — it is the only way to put a stop to the violence we’re seeing.”
Demonstrations have been widespread and tensions are escalating in the United States as the death toll rises in the Israel-Hamas war. A fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the militants freed more hostages in a third set of releases under a four-day cease-fire deal.
Allegations regarding the shooting follow a reported rise in Islamophobia in the US in recent weeks.
From early October to early November, the Council on American-Islamic Relations received 1,283 requests for help and reports of bias, a 216 percent increase over the same period the previous year.
The Palestinian foreign ministry called on US authorities to bring those responsible for the shooting to account.