ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT — The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter who is accused of firing on citizens gathered to worship Saturday is “the poorest excuse for a man you could ever come up with,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday.

Eleven people were killed and six wounded when accused shooter Robert Bowers, 46, fired upon them as they gathered for a bris.

The shooting is tough “on all of us who believe in freedom of religion as one of our most fundamental rights that our country was founded on,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to the Czech Republic.

“This individual — I won’t even call him a man — he’s 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 and even shoot four policemen, then surrender himself,” Mattis said. “This is a coward. He is not a man by any definition that we use in the Department of Defense.”

Mattis has occasionally addressed troops about the loss of civility in America, and their role in defending the nation during such inflamed times.

“The U.S. military — what I expect from our troops and what I see of them — is men and women working respectfully alongside each other, people who look at other people’s religion as a private matter to be respected,” Matis said. “The U.S. military, I believe, represents what it’s all about in America where you work together to solve things. But also in the U.S. military, our job is to protect this democracy. We’re devoted, focused like a laser beam, on that.”

Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.

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