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Synagogue shooting in California leaves at least one dead and three wounded

Nineteen-year-old man is in police custody after shooting at synagogue in suburban San Diego
Chabad of Poway Synagogue after shooting on Saturday in suburban San Diego, California, community (AFP)

A gunman walked into a San Diego area synagogue crowded with Sabbath worshippers on Saturday and opened fire with an assault-style rifle, killing one woman and wounding three people in a possible hate crime carried out on the last day of Passover, authorities said.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore told a news conference that a 19-year-old man from San Diego had been detained, and added that investigators were reviewing his social media activity and establishing the legitimacy of an open letter published online.

"We have copies of his social media posts and his open letter and we'll be reviewing those to determine legitimacy of it and how it plays into the investigation," he added.

He said police were called shortly before 11:30am local time after the man entered the synagogue and opened fire with an "AR-15 type" weapon, AFP reported. AR-15 assault rifles have been used in many mass shootings in the United States.

The suspect, whose identity was not immediately made public, fled the scene by car and was arrested a short time later when he pulled over and surrendered to police, authorities said at the news conference, according to Reuters.

The gun violence at the Congregation Chabad Synagogue in the town of Poway, California, about 23 miles (37km) north of downtown San Diego, happened six months to the day after 11 worshippers were killed and six were wounded by a gunman who stormed a synagogue in Pittsburgh yelling, "All Jews must die."

Saturday's Passover violence also follows a recent spate of deadly attacks on houses of worship around the world. Suicide bombings during Easter Sunday services at several churches in Sri Lanka killed more than 250 people. Weeks earlier a gunman who opened fire at two mosques in New Zealand left 49 people dead and more than 40 wounded, some as they knelt in prayer.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, speaking from a police command centre, characterised Saturday's shooting as a "hate crime," saying his assessment was based on statements uttered by the gunman when he entered the synagogue.

"We are grateful to those in the congregation there that engaged the shooter and prevented this from being a much more horrific incident," he said.

A man who lives nearby, Christopher Folts, said on CNN he heard six to seven gunshots, then a man yelling, followed by six to seven more shots.

Speaking with reporters at the White House, President Donald Trump said: "My deepest sympathies go to the people that were affected." He added that "it looks like a hate crime" and that authorities will "get to the bottom of it."

Gore told reporters that four people were struck by gunfire and taken to the Palomar Medical Center, where one of the victims, an "older woman", died. The three other patients - "two adult males" and a "female juvenile" - were listed in stable condition, Gore said. The identities of the victims were not given.

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Gore said that as the shooter was making his getaway, an off-duty Border Patrol agent opened fire on him, striking the vehicle but apparently missing the suspect.

The man was eventually apprehended by a K-9 officer who had been monitoring dispatch radio and raced to the scene, added San Diego Chief of Police David Nisleit.

"He clearly saw the suspect's vehicle, the suspect jumped out with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody by the San Diego police department."

He said the assault-style rifle believed to be the murder weapon was found on the front passenger seat of the car.

San Diego television station KGTV reported that a woman whose husband was still inside the synagogue said the rabbi was among those shot.

Minoo Anvari, an Iranian refugee who said her husband was attending services inside when gunshots rang out, told KUSI-TV that the wounded included a female friend and the rabbi, who was shot in the hand.

"Just one message from all of us, from our congregation, that we are standing together," she said. "We are strong. You can't break us. We are all together."

On Twitter, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she was "heartbroken" by news of the shooting.

"We have a responsibility to love + protect our neighbours," she said."

"The hatred and violence has got to stop," added California Representative Mike Levin.