A 22-year-old Tucson man was charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee, two days after six people were killed in an attack at a political gathering outside a Tucson shopping mall. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured when she was shot in the head at close range.

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Wounded: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

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Last November, Giffords narrowly defeated Tea Party candidate Jesse Kelly. ((Office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords/Associated Press))

Gabrielle Giffords, known for her centrist stance, has been called a rising political star with a rare ability to appeal across entrenched party lines.

The 40-year-old congresswoman was shot Saturday at a public constituents meeting in Tucson, Ariz. A bullet went through the left hemisphere of her brain.

Giffords represents Arizona's Eighth Congressional District, a southern region of the state that includes the border with Mexico. A self-described "blue dog" democrat who favours fiscal conservatism, Giffords has actively defended gun rights and called for immigration reform and tighter border security. She also supported the divisive health-care reform bill — a move that angered some of her constituents. In March 2010, Giffords's office windows were shattered by gunfire.

Last November, Giffords narrowly defeated Tea Party candidate Jesse Kelly. Supporters suggested her hard-fought victory spelled greater future success.

"When you're talking about a future gubernatorial race or anything else, when you've run three times in a Republican district in a state that still has a narrow Republican majority, she goes to the top of the list," Don Bivens, state Democratic Party chairman, told The Associated Press.

Giffords studied at Cornell University and Scripps College, where she was named a Fulbright scholar. She worked briefly for PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York before returning to Tucson to run her family's auto business El Campo Tire Inc.

In 2001, she won election to the Arizona legislature, representing Tucson. In 2004, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate. Two years later she was elected to Congress and became the state's first Jewish congresswoman.

An avid motorcycle rider, Giffords said she had plans to one day ride her bike to Argentina. She is also an equestrian and plays the French horn.

Giffords is married to Capt. Mark Kelly, a navy pilot and NASA astronaut. The couple met while participating in a fellowship program in China in 2003.

The accused gunman: Jared Lee Loughner

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The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is in custody and has been charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee. ((Arizona Daily Star, Mamta Popat/Associated Press))

In his YouTube videos, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner rambles on about how the U.S. currency is unconstitutional and how most students and teachers at Pima Community College in Tucson "don't know English grammar and are illiterate." His postings are rife with grammatical errors.

Shortly after Loughner was identified as the suspect in the weekend shooting that killed six people and left Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords critically injured, the college issued a statement saying Loughner had been a student from the summer of 2005 to last fall. He was suspended on Sept. 29 for conduct violations. The statement said he agreed to withdraw from the college on Oct. 4.

The statement said that between February and September 2010, Loughner had five contacts with college police for disrupting classrooms and the library. The college had told Loughner that if he wanted to return to school, he would have to resolve his conduct violations and get a written report from a mental health professional saying that his presence in school would not be a danger to himself or others.

Loughner's MySpace page, which was removed within minutes of police identifying him as the gunman, included a mysterious "Goodbye friends" message published hours before the shooting. It also exhorted his friends to "Please don't be mad at me."

In a video posted to YouTube three weeks ago, he said his ambition "is for informing literate dreamers about a new currency; in a few days, you know I'm conscience dreaming!"

Police said Loughner bought the gun used in the attack at Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson in November.

Loughner lived with his parents in a middle-class neighbourhood about a five-minute drive from where the shooting occurred at a shopping mall in Tucson. Neighbours said he kept to himself and was often seen walking his dog.

High school friends said that Loughner was never very social and that he had become even less so over the past year.

In one of his videos, Loughner described himself as a military recruit, but the army released a statement saying he had tried to enlist in December 2008 but was rejected because he failed a drug test.

Saturday's shooting was not the first interaction between the suspect and the wounded congresswoman. Investigators found a note from Giffords in Loughner's home, thanking him for attending a meet-and-greet session at a local shopping mall in 2007 - an event similar to the one where the shooting occurred.

This was the first political shooting in the United States since a lone gunman tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan to impress an actress.