LA police, FBI Investigate Potential Jewish Hate Crime

The Los Angeles Police Department announced its investigation into a potential hate crime in a Jewish neighborhood after the suspect attempted to drive his car into two men and yelled racial slurs as they walked down the street after exiting a synagogue.

Mohamed Mohamed Abdi, 32, was arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon after eventually slamming into a car in the Hancock Park neighborhood, the LAPD announced during a press conference on Monday. Officials said Abdi also faces a special enhancement of a hate crime.

Abdi allegedly tried to run over the two men twice before colliding with the vehicle. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney General's office have joined the investigation, according to the report.

In a press conference, LAPD authorities described the scene, parts of which were caught on video:

Two men, ages 37 and 57, reported that while leaving a synagogue on the Sabbath at about 9 p.m. Friday following an event at Congregation Bais Yehuda, 360 N. La Brea Ave., they saw a driver ran a red light. The driver then drove directly at them as they walked toward Oakwood Avenue. But they ran separate ways barely in time to avoid getting hit.

"We both scrambled in different directions so he slammed on his brakes and missed us thank God," one of the targeted congregants told CBS Local TV in Los Angeles. He asked to remain anonymous.

LAPD Deputy Chief Horace Frank said the men hid behind a traffic light pole and an electric box to avoid getting hit. The congregants reportedly watched the driver make another U-turn and accelerate toward them again.

"He clearly was going at us and it was even more clear on round two," one of them said. "Why he chose us? Probably because of the yarmulkes on our heads."

The driver then ran a stop sign and plowed into a vehicle, as caught on video. Police said no one was injured during the incident.

Police found a knife in Abdi's vehicle and believe have acted alone, according to the report. Abdi, who is originally from Mogadishu, Somolia, is a U.S. citizen. Police also confirmed that he's only been in the Los Angeles area for a few days. KTLA-TV reported that Abdi previously lived in Seattle for several years.

Meanwhile, the investigative team is checking into Abdi's background, travel and social media accounts.

Police referenced the mass killings at the Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27, when a lone gunman killed 11 congregants and injured seven – considered to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in recent U.S. history -- during the press conference.

Frank said Los Angeles County has had 231 reported hate crimes compared to 223 a year ago, referencing a recent Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations report.

"We want people to step forward and report it when they see something suspicious," said Frank.

LIVE: LAPD Press Conference to Provide Details on Hate Crime Investigation

— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) November 26, 2018

LAPD Chief Michel R. Moore said many hate incidents and hate speech remain underreported.

Moore commended the vigilance of the two men Abdi targeted in what he said could have been a more serious incident.

"Hate in America is on the rise," said Moore, adding that communities must pay attention. "That has to change. When such acts occur, that the LAPD and their federal and state partners will bring the full weight of the law to hold accountable those who believe there will be some other type of response.

"I look forward to an aggressive and active prosecution of this individual," added Moore. "There's so much more work to be done."