The man accused of killing nine black church members last month in Charleston, South Carolina, was indicted Wednesday on 33 federal counts, including hate crimes, firearms violations and obstructing the practice of religion, which could include the death penalty.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the federal grand jury indictments of 21-year-old Dylann Roof. The charges have been expected since Roof was arrested following the June 17 shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty against Roof.
Roof "decided to seek out and murder African-Americans because of their race," Lynch said. Because South Carolina has no state hate-crimes law, the federal charge was needed to adequately address the shooter's motive, she said.
Roof, who is white, appeared in photos waving Confederate flags and burning or desecrating U.S. flags, and purportedly wrote of fomenting racial violence. Survivors told police that he used racial insults during the attack.
Lynch said the church had welcomed Roof into its Bible-study group. "The parishioners had Bibles. Dylann Roofhad his .45-caliber Glock pistol, and eight magazines loaded with hollow-point bullets."
Roof already faces state charges including nine counts of murder.
Hate crime cases are often challenging for the government because it must prove that a defendant was primarily motivated by a victim's race or religion as opposed to other factors frequently invoked by defense attorneys, such as drug addiction or mental illness.
Last year, a federal appeals court in Ohio overturned hate-crime convictions against Amish men and women accused in beard- and hair-cutting attacks against fellow Amish who were thought to have defied the community leader.
The court held that the jury had received incorrect instructions about how to weigh the role of religion in the attacks and that prosecutors should have had to prove that the assaults wouldn't have happened but for religious motives.
Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina.