Jersey City gunmen targeted Jewish grocery for lethal attack - mayor

Dec 11 (Reuters) - Police in the New York metropolitan area were put on high alert to protect Jewish neighborhoods after an hours-long gunbattle with two men around a Jersey City kosher market that killed six people, authorities said.

The police shoot-out with two men armed with high-powered rifles erupted after midday on Tuesday in Jersey City, New Jersey's second-largest municipality directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The six dead included three civilians, one police officer and both gunmen, authorities said.

Jersey City police said initially that the gunmen's motive was not known. But Mayor Steven Fulop said on Tuesday night that two gunmen had deliberately targeted the Jewish JC Kosher Supermarket where the four-hour gunbattle played out.

"Based on our initial investigation (which is ongoing) we now believe the active shooters targeted the location they attacked," Fulop said in a tweet.

"Due to an excess of caution the community may see additional police resources in the days/weeks ahead," Fulop wrote. "We have no indication there are any further threat(s)."

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that while there was no known specific threat to the city, he had placed city police on high alert, in particular to protect Jewish residents.

"Tonight NYPD assets are being deployed to protect key locations in the Jewish community. Tomorrow we will announce additional measures," he said.

"This tragically confirms that a growing pattern of violent anti-Semitism has now turned into a crisis for our nation. And now this threat has reached the doorstep of New York City."

Police had said earlier on Tuesday they believed the kosher grocery was randomly singled out by the gunmen.

Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly told reporters there was no immediate evidence the bloodshed was a hate crime or terrorism-related, "but that's certainly on the table."

Some local media reported the initial confrontation between the suspects and police near the Jersey City cemetery, about a mile away from the supermarket, was linked to a previous homicide investigation.

The dead police officer was shot at the cemetery shortly before the shootout around the grocery began.

A police bomb squad was also investigating a possible explosive found in the stolen U-Haul vehicle the gunmen drove.

The identities of the two gunmen were not immediately released.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter: "Just received a briefing on the horrific shootout that took place in Jersey City, NJ. Our thoughts & prayers are w/ the victims & their families during this very difficult & tragic time."

Last year, a 47-year-old Pennsylvania man, Robert Bowers, was arrested and accused of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue with a semi-automatic rifle and shooting 11 people to death. The October 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue was the deadliest attack ever on Jewish Americans in the United States.

Bowers now faces the death penalty on multiple murder charges. (Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta with additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Culver City, Calif. Editing by Mark Heinrich)