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Police exploring background of Seattle man arrested in vehicle attack outside L.A. synagogue

Police exploring background of Seattle man arrested in vehicle attack outside L.A. synagogue
An LAPD motorcycle officer rides past Congregation Bais Yehuda on Monday in Hancock Park. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Authorities are trying to determine the motivations and background of a 32-year-old Seattle man who allegedly tried to run down two men outside of a synagogue in Hancock Park last week in an attack that police have described as a hate crime.

Mohamed Mohamed Abdi was arrested outside of Congregation Bais Yehuda in the 300 block of La Brea Avenue Friday night and held on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon after he yelled a number of anti-Semitic insults and barreled his car toward the two men around 9 p.m., Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Horace Frank said.

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Abdi was driving a rental car past the synagogue when he began yelling profanity at a group of worshipers near La Brea and Oakwood Avenues, Frank said.

Concerned by Abdi’s actions, two men walked away from the larger group but kept their eyes trained on Abdi, who then made a U-turn and ran a red light while accelerating toward them, Frank said. The two men managed to evade him, and Abdi crashed into a parked car a short time later.

“That monitoring, that vigilance, saved their lives,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said at a news conference Monday.

No one was injured at the scene, and Abdi is being held in lieu of $55,000 at Men’s Central Jail downtown, police said. A knife was found in Abdi’s car, but Frank said police do not believe he owns any firearms.

Frank expects the LAPD will ask the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office to pursue assault charges against Abdi. The department is working in conjunction with the FBI’s Los Angeles field office to investigate Abdi, and federal prosecutors may consider possible hate crime or domestic terror charges against him.

Mohamed Mohamed Abdi was arrested for asault with deadly weapon with a vehicle.
Mohamed Mohamed Abdi was arrested for asault with deadly weapon with a vehicle. (LAPD)

The attack comes in the wake of increasing concerns about anti-Semitic vitriol and violence across the U.S. The number of hate crimes targeting Jewish victims across the nation rose by 37% in 2017, according to an FBI report published earlier this month, and in October a gunman shot and killed 11 people inside a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Earlier this month, the LAPD also arrested a man who was snatching coverings off the heads of Orthodox Jewish women in North Hollywood.

But hate crimes in Los Angeles are relatively static this year, Frank said. There were 223 reported hate crimes in the city at this time in 2017, compared with 231 this year, he said. Police have not established any links between Abdi and known terror or hate groups, but Frank cautioned the department’s investigation was in its earliest stages.

Moore said the national uptick in hate and bigotry has become an increasing concern for law enforcement leaders, as they try to contend with what happens after a person decides to turn their racist thoughts to action.

“Hate in America is on the rise. That has to change,” Moore said.

A native of Mogadishu in Somalia, Abdi is a U.S. citizen who emigrated to the Seattle area several years ago, Frank said. He rented a car and drove to Los Angeles sometime last week, though it was not clear if he knew anyone in the area or why he came to the city.

Investigators did not say if Abdi specifically targeted Congregation Bais Yehuda. A call to the synagogue seeking comment Monday was not returned, and the Seattle Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what, if any, history they had with Abdi.

Frank said Abdi’s chosen method of attack — driving toward a crowd of pedestrians — and the fact that he was carrying a knife were “very concerning.” He noted that Abdi’s actions mirror those of other terror attacks in recent years, where so-called lone wolf assailants have used a rented vehicle rather than a firearm or explosive device to cause carnage in open spaces.

Last November, a man accused of supporting Islamic State extremists used a rented U-Haul truck to kill eight people near a bike path in New York City.

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The spate of anti-Semitic attacks have left some in the city’s Jewish community fearful.

Matthew Kest, the security coordinator for Young Israel of Hancock Park, said one of his congregants was riding a bicycle to the synagogue earlier this month when a man came up to him and shouted, “The Jews won’t be around for long.”

Kest expressed concern that media coverage of one anti-Semitic attack might motivate other bigots to act on their hate.

“Some of the things that they say we shouldn’t be doing is releasing the perpetrator’s name, because they are looking for fame,” he said.

4:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details of the incident and comments from Chief Moore.

This article first published at 3:10 p.m.

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