NEW YORK — Meir Kahane, the controversial founder of the militant Jewish Defense League and a fierce proponent of the expulsion of Arabs from Israeli territories, was shot to death after giving a speech here Monday night.
Kahane, 58, was answering questions from the audience of about 100 people when a man approached and shot him in the neck. He was pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital.
The assassin was described by one witness as "smiling and looking strange" as he walked toward Kahane. Police said he pulled out a .357-caliber revolver and began firing.
The assailant was later captured after being wounded in a gun battle with a postal policeman about a block from the hotel where Kahane was killed. The assassin was identified by police as El Sayyid A. Nosair, 35. He was listed in critical but stable condition at Bellevue early this morning.
"We believe he (Nosair) lives in New Jersey," said chief of Detectives Joseph Borelli. "We are not sure he is an American citizen. I don't know if it's a political assassination. I'm just taking a homicide."
Borelli said "we have witnesses in the room where the incident occured, and every indication is he was acting alone."
Kahane, a former member of the Israel parliament, had been addressing a meeting of a group of his supporters. The event was advertised as the founding conference of Z.E.E.R.O.--Zionist Emergency Evacuation Rescue Organization.
Police Sgt. Mary Wrensen said Kahane was shot at 9:05 p.m. as he attended the conference on the second floor of the Marriott Halloran House in Midtown Manhattan.
"Kahane was answering questions when a young man walked up to him, smiling and looking strange, drew a gun and shot him in the head and body," one witness, Richard Dunetz told Reuters. "There were two shots."
"All of sudden a shot rang out and my grandson pushed me down. I heard another shot. It looked like the gunman aimed straight for Kahane's head. He looked extremely bad," said Elca Weinman, another witness.
After shooting Kahane, Nosair shot another man in the leg after he fled the room, police said. Nosair got into a taxicab and went about a block. As he left the cab he ran into Carlos Acosta, a uniformed postal policemen. Nosair fired at Acosta, but the bullet bounced off Acosta's bulletproof vest, police said. Acosta returned the fire, striking Nosair in the neck.
Borelli said that Kahane had not requested any police protection. "We know very little at this point," he said.
Outside of Bellevue Hospital about a dozen Kahane supporters gathered in pouring rain. Two carried Israeli flags and held a brief memorial service at the door of the hospital.
"This is the final sacrifice," said Reuven Kahane, 23, a cousin of the murdered rabbi. "He's been receiving threats since day one."
He said Kahane left a wife and four children in Israel.
"We came down to say a service, to sing a psalm for Rabbi Kahane," said one of his followers.
Irv Rubin, national chairman of the Jewish Defense League, said Monday night in Los Angeles that he was "shocked and stunned" by Kahane's assassination. Rubin said Kahane had been expected in Los Angeles next week for speaking engagements to the Jewish community.
Kahane left the JDL in 1985 to pursue his political career in Israel, Rubin said, "and appointed me his successor. It's a very, very sad event. World Jewry has lost a very great leader. He left a different type of Jew to pursue his ideology which literally means that never again will Jews submissively go to their deaths.
"The death of Meir Kahane will not stop the movement. The god of Israel will take vengeance on any Arab terrorist who wants to hurt Jews."
A statement from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said that while "we totally disapproved of (Kahane's) politics and rhetoric on the Middle East, we strongly condemn this deliberate act of terrorism . . . We call on the federal authorities to conduct a full investigation to ascertain if the heinous crime was the act of a lone gunman or part of a wider plot by Arab terrorists." Kahane was born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn in 1932, the son of a fervently Zionist orthodox rabbi. He became a member of the Zionist youth group Betar, and at age 15 was arrested for throwing rocks at the limousine of the British foreign minister to protest British rule of Palestine.
By the late 1950s, Kahane had obtained a rabbinical degree from Brooklyn's Mirrer Yeshiva and a degree in international law from New York University.
He founded the Jewish Defense League in 1968, which he said was needed to counter growing anti-Semitism which he blamed on the black power movement.
Its "Never Again" slogan, referring to the Nazi Holocaust, was a rallying cry for hundreds of young Jews. Kahane organized patrols on Halloween to keep hostile gangs from overturning gravestones in Jewish cemeteries.
But the JDL soon ran afoul of the law and was accused of involvement in a series of violent anti-Soviet attacks. Kahane spent a year in jail for conspiring to make bombs.
He moved to Israel with his wife and children permanently in 1971.
Staff writers David Treadwell in New York and Edward J. Boyer in Los Angeles contributed to this story.