Grace Beahm / Getty Images

Charleston shooting suspect charged with federal hate crimes

Dylann Roof, the white suspect behind the brazen murder of nine black churchgoers, could face the death penalty

The man accused of slaying nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, was indicted on 33 federal charges Wednesday, including 12 federal hate crimes, some of which could result in the death penalty.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the charges against the suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof — a move that has been expected since his arrest after the June 17 shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston.

Among the indictments are firearms violations and obstructing the practice of religion.

Roof, who is white, appeared in photos with Confederate flags, and survivors told police that he hurled racial insults during the attack. A racist manifesto that appeared to be authored by Root appeared online after the killings.

Roof has already been charged with nine counts of murder in South Carolina. Those charges could result in the death penalty as well. He also faces three counts of attempted murder.

The Justice Department hasn't said whether it will seek the death penalty against Roof.

Announcing the hate crime charges, Lynch said Roof targeted the victims "because of their race and in order to interfere with their exercise of religion." Federal officials previously said the shootings generally meet the legal requirements for a hate crime and that federal charges were likely. South Carolina does not have a hate crimes statute.

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.

Al Jazeera and wire services

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter