Mattis on Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter: 'He Is Not a Man'

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis talks to the media in the presence of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev following their meeting at the government building in Skopje, Macedonia, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis talks to the media in the presence of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev following their meeting at the government building in Skopje, Macedonia, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter a "coward" who preyed on the defenseless in an attack on one of the nation's foundational tenets: freedom of religion.

"This is a coward, and he is not a man by any definition that we use in the Department of Defense," Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Prague, according to Reuters.

"If there is one person responsible -- this individual, I won't even call him a man -- he was [the] poorest excuse for a man you could ever come up with, who would use a weapon in a house of worship on unarmed innocent people," he said, according to the report. "That is tough, on the neighborhood, on the members of that synagogue, on all of us who believe in freedom of religion. It is one of our most fundamental rights that our country was founded on."

Earlier Sunday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said federal prosecutors could seek the death penalty for Robert Bowers, 46, of Pittsburgh.

He was reportedly a truck driver who lived by himself in an apartment not far from the "Tree of Life" synagogue in Pittsburgh's close-knit Squirrel Hill neighborhood, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Bowers allegedly went to the synagogue Saturday with an AR-15 rifle and three handguns and killed 11 worshipers before being wounded and taken into custody by a police SWAT team.

He has a scheduled court appearance Monday.

Jewish organizations have said the deadly rampage was the worst attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

Mattis noted that he has spoken before about the increasing divisiveness in the nation and the "loss of respect and fundamental friendliness toward one another," but added that in the Pittsburgh shootings, "there's one person responsible."

In travels that started with a visit last week to Manama, Bahrain, and now continue on to Europe, Mattis has been pressed to comment on other issues dominating political debate in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 elections.

On the issue of the so-called "caravan" of mostly Central Americans headed to the U.S. border, Mattis gave no timeline for when an expected additional 800 U.S. troops would be sent to join the estimated 2,100 National Guard troops already supporting U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

He said the additional troops are a "response to the caravan directed by the president based on what [Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen] says we need in order to address that issue."

"On the border, we are preparing what we call Defense Support for Civilian Authorities. Right now, it will be phased," Mattis said to reporters aboard his plane to Prague.

A transcript was provided by the Pentagon.

"So, right now, we're planning it, how we're going to do it," he said, and "we're planning the logistics. Right now, logistics are always a tough part where you have to actually line up first to gear up, where the troops are at, what are the dimensions."

"The orders are being drafted and some material is moving," Mattis added.

The troops currently on the border have no law enforcement authorities and are limited to surveillance and support of CBP.

Mattis said the rules of engagement for the additional troops being sent are still being worked out.

"I'll come back to you when we have it finalized, the details, the rules that the troops will be under. I'll give that," he said, but "I do not have that at this time."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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