One of the three Americans killed in an attack at a synagogue in Israel has ties to New Jersey and New York City, NBC 4 New York has learned.
Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, the father of Rafael Twersky, a rabbi and student at a yeshiva in Lakewood Township and brother-in-law of Bronx rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, was killed when two Palestinian cousins armed with meat cleavers and a gun stormed a Jerusalem synagogue during morning prayers Tuesday. Police killed the attackers in the shootout.
Mosheh Twersky, the grandson of a renowned rabbi from Boston, was the head of Yeshivas Toras Moshe, a religious seminary for English-speaking students. His son Rafael studies at Beth Medrash Govoah, a Haredi yeshiva, according to Lakewood Township Mayor Menashe Miller, and Rosenblatt, his brother-in-law, is the senior rabbi at the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx.
Rosenblatt called Twersky a "gifted and beloved teacher" who lived "in the image of a gentle God."
Along with Twersky, a British man, Avraham Goldberg, was killed in Tuesday's attack, as well as Americans Aryeh Kupinsky and Cary William Levine. All held dual Israeli citizenship. Authorities announced later Tuesday that an Israeli policeman also was killed.
The attack, Jerusalem's bloodiest in years, ratcheted up fears of sustained violence in the city, which is already on edge amid soaring tensions over its most contested holy site.
The NYPD said it was stepping up security at New York City synagogues as a precaution after the attack in Har Nof, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood that has a large population of English-speaking immigrants.
Mayor de Blasio said he was "horrified and heartbroken" by the attack.
"New York City stands in solidarity with Israel at this difficult time, and we hope and pray for a peaceful and secure future for all of its people," de Blasio said, adding the NYPD was in close contact with its liaison post in Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "respond harshly," describing the attack as a "cruel murder of Jews who came to pray and were killed by despicable murderers."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke to Netanyahu after the assault and denounced it as an "act of pure terror and senseless brutality and violence."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, the first time he has done so since a recent spike in deadly violence against Israelis. He also called for an end to Israeli "provocations" surrounding a sacred shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims.
The attack was the deadliest in Jerusalem since a Palestinian assailant killed eight students at a Jewish seminar in March 2008.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri identified the assailants as Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal from the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood in east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians as their capital.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small militant group, said the cousins were among its members, though it did not say whether it had instructed them to carry out the attack.
Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, praised the attack. In Gaza, dozens took to the streets to celebrate, with some offering trays full of candy.
Associated Press footage showed wounded worshippers being assisted by paramedics, and a bloodied meat cleaver lay nearby. Footage released by the Israeli government showed blood-soaked prayer books and prayer shawls on the floor of the synagogue. A photo in Israeli media showed a body on the floor, covered with a prayer shawl.
Soon after the attack, clashes broke out outside the assailants' home, where dozens of police officers had converged. Residents hurled stones at police, who responded using riot dispersal weapons.
Israel has been on edge with a spate of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, killing at least six people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Tel Aviv in recent weeks before Tuesday's casualties.
Israel's police chief said Tuesday's attack was likely not organized by militant groups, making it more difficult for security forces to prevent the violence.
"These are individuals who decide to do horrible acts. It's very hard to know ahead of time about every such incident," Yohanan Danino said.
The FBI routinely investigates attacks abroad in which U.S. citizens are killed and is expected to be involved in this investigation as well, a U.S. official in Washington said.