Temple attack probed for links to organized crime

LAPD detectives are investigating whether the shooting of two men at a North Hollywood synagogue in October is the work of Israeli-connected organized crime.

The Oct. 29 shooting ignited fear that it was a hate crime, but Los Angeles police officials quickly ruled that out. In the last few weeks, LAPD investigators have concentrated their resources on the idea that the shootings were designed to silence someone.

“It is something we are looking at, but we have made no definitive conclusions,” Deputy Chief Michael Downing, head of the LAPD’s Counter Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, told The Times.

Several law enforcement sources said that one of the men shot in the attack was believed to be the target of the shooting, and the other was shot because he was in wrong place at the wrong time.

The shooting occurred about 6:19 a.m. after the victims parked their cars in the underground garage of Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Synagogue, a small congregation on a quiet residential street. Morning services were underway.

A young gunman, dark-skinned and wearing a dark, hooded sweat shirt, approached one man near a stairwell and tried to shoot, police said, but his gun jammed.

The second congregant noticed the commotion and approached the gunman, who shot both men in the legs.

The victims have been identified as Maor Ben-Nissan, 37, and Allen Lasry, 38.

Such nonfatal shootings have been a part of the Israeli organized crime scene for some time, according the law enforcement sources.

A similar shooting occurred a year ago in another part of the San Fernando Valley, where a man was shot in the leg.

LAPD sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said that the shooting has sparked fear in the community and that detectives are struggling to get cooperation from some parties.

Rabbi Amran Gabay, who was in the sanctuary at the time of the shooting, said Wednesday that he knew of no one among his congregants who was reluctant to cooperate with police.

He said police have not returned to the temple or interviewed any congregants since the shooting.

Gabay agreed with reports that the incident was not a hate crime. “This was personal,” he said. “If it was a hate crime, they could have walked into the temple and shot 40 people.”

Since the incident, the synagogue has increased security and a new entry buzzer is being installed at the front entrance of the attached religious school.

Since the mid-1990s, Israeli organized crime has operated in Los Angeles with the growth of the Ecstasy drug trade.

In September 2006, Hai Waknine, a powerful Israeli crime figure, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on federal racketeering charges.

Officials said detectives in the North Hollywood shooting are still trying to determine the motive for the attack.

Downing, who was recently in Israel, was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying, “The two victims had been kneecapped. That’s not indicative of terrorism. It resembled a targeted, surgical strike,” the Post reported. “They were targeted as part of a stern warning linked to a criminal organization.”

But in an interview with The Times, the deputy chief said no one has absolutely decided the shootings were related to organized crime.

Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.