Mattis says Pittsburgh synagogue gunman a 'coward'

PRAGUE, Oct 28 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday the gunman who stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 worshippers was a coward and the "poorest excuse for a man you could ever come up with."

"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," Mattis told a group of reporters traveling with him to Prague.

"This is a coward and he is not a man by any definition that we use in the Department of Defense," Mattis said.

Robert Bowers, 46, of Pittsburgh, was taken into custody after a shootout with a SWAT team on Saturday. Federal prosecutors charged him with 29 criminal counts including violence and firearms offenses, and violating U.S. civil rights laws.

RELATED: Memorial for victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: 

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Memorial for victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
People hold candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A crowd attends a memorial service at the Sixth Presbyterian Church in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh for the victims of the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire earlier, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A crowd gathers at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh during a memorial vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire earlier in the day Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A crowd holds candles on the lawn of the Sixth Presbyterian Church at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh during a memorial vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire earlier in the day, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A crowd gathers at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh during a memorial vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire earlier in the day, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A couple embrace at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, during a memorial vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire, killing multiple people and wounding others, including several police officers, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A young boy holds a sign at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh during a memorial vigil for the victims of the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue where a shooter opened fire, killing multiple people and wounding others, including several police officers, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Holding candles, a group of girls wait for the start of a memorial vigil at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire, killing multiple people and wounding others, including sevearl police officers, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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"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," Mattis said.

Earlier, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said federal prosecutors could seek the death penalty.

Bowers had made many anti-Semitic posts online, including one early on Saturday. In another, he slammed U.S. President Donald Trump for doing nothing to stop an "infestation" of the United States by Jews.

Mattis was also asked about a decision to send U.S. troops to the border with Mexico. He said preparations were being made to send the troops and some construction material was already moving.

U.S. President Trump has hammered away at the issue of illegal immigration two weeks ahead of congressional elections. Taking aim at a caravan of Central American migrants, Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday he was "bringing out the military for this National Emergency. They will be stopped!" (Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by David Evans)

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