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Driver Caught On Video Trying To Run Down Pedestrians Outside Synagogue Faces Hate Crime Charges

HANCOCK PARK (CBSLA) – A driver is charged with a hate crime after he allegedly tried to run down two people outside a synagogue in Hancock Park Friday night before being involved in a violent wreck.

Thirty-two-year-old Mohamed Abdi Mohamed of Seattle was arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. The case has been classified as a hate crime, Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Horace Frank said at a news conference at LAPD headquarters. On Tuesday, the L.A. County district attorney's office charged Abdi with two felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon, a vehicle, as well as a hate crime allegation. He was expected to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon.

Driver Caught On Video Trying To Run Down Pedestrians Outside Synagogue Could Face Hate Crime Charges
At the scene of a crash in Hancock Park on Nov. 23, 2018. The driver of one of the cars was caught on video trying to run down pedestrians outside a nearby synagogue. He was arrested at the scene of the crash. (CBS2)

Detectives were investigating whether Mohamed was yelling anti-Semitic remarks at people as they were departing a synagogue, Los Angeles police Capt. Steve Lurie reported Saturday.

The incident occurred at around 9:30 p.m. Friday in the 300 block of North La Brea Avenue.

Mohamed Mohamed Abdi hate crime charges Hancock Park
Mohamed Abdi Mohamed, 32, is charged with a hate crime after authorities say he tried to run down two people outside a synagogue in Hancock Park, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2018. (LAPD)

A man told CBS2 he was walking with a friend when Mohamed drove his car directly at them while they were in a crosswalk. He told CBS2 that they were able to jump out of the way.

Security footage provided to CBS2 showed the car in question making a hard U-turn and driving at the men.

"We both scrambled in different directions, so he slammed on his brakes and obviously missed us, thank God," said the man, who asked to remain anonymous.

"He's yelling out hateful remarks regarding Jewish heritage and regarding these people of faith," LAPD Chief Michel Moore said Monday. "They watch him as he then turns his vehicle directly at them."

Cameras then caught the car reversing course and trying to strike the men again.

"He clearly was going at us, and it was even more clear on round two," the victim said.

The intersection where the alleged attack took place has two synagogues. It also happened on the Sabbath, where many Jewish people are walking in traditional attire.

"Why he chose us?" the victim asked. "Probably because of the yarmulkes on our heads."

Moments later, home surveillance video captured footage of the same car running a stop sign and careening into another oncoming car.

Mohamed was arrested at the scene. A knife was found in his vehicle, but there was no indication the suspect was driving under the influence, Frank said. A photo snapped by a bystander showed a Koran on the dashboard of his car.

There was no word of any serious injuries.

Frank said Abdi, who remains in custody on $55,000 bail, was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and lives in the United States as a U.S. citizen. The FBI was involved in the investigation, and Abdi could face federal charges, Frank said.

"Hate in America is on the rise," Moore said. "That has to change. And a portion of that is that every community recognize that when such acts occur, that the department -- LAPD -- that our federal and state partners will bring the full weight of the law to hold accountable those who believe that there would be some other type of response."

Moore said Abdi had been in the Los Angeles area for "a very short period of time," but he declined to elaborate.

Moore said investigators believe Abdi was acting as a "lone individual" and not as a member of a group, but the investigation was continuing into his background and associations, including his social media connections.

Synagogues across the U.S. have been on heightened alert since the Oct. 27 massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue in which a gunman killed 11 people.

A few days after that attack, on Oct. 31, an Irvine synagogue was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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