A Seattle resident who allegedly tried to run over two men last November near a synagogue in a Jewish neighborhood in the Wilshire area while yelling anti-Semitic remarks was ordered Wednesday to stand trial.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Deborah S. Brazil found sufficient evidence to require Mohamed Abdi Mohamed, 33, to stand trial on two counts each of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon -- a vehicle -- along with a hate crime allegation.
He could face a potential life prison term if convicted. Los Angeles Police Department Detective Easley De Larkin told the judge that the victims -- who were dressed in traditional Jewish garb -- told police that they were afraid that Mohamed was "going to kill them."
Top news of the day
The men, who escaped injury, were walking on a sidewalk when they were targeted about 9:30 p.m. Nov. 23 near La Brea and Oakwood avenues. They reported that they heard Mohamed repeatedly yelling anti-Semitic slurs before he allegedly ran a red light, made a U-turn and drove toward them at high speed as they took cover behind a light pole, according to the detective.
Both of the men said they feared for their safety, De Larkin told the judge.
The vehicle stopped about three feet away from the pair, who subsequently ran in opposite directions, with Mohamed driving a second time toward one of the men and coming within about three feet of him as he hid behind an electrical box, according to the detective.
Both of the men subsequently identified Mohamed as the man who had driven a vehicle toward them, De Larkin said. The detective testified that police subsequently found a copy of the Koran on the dashboard and a large, serrated buck knife between the passenger seat and passenger door, along with a cell phone that included Google searches about celebrating the 9/11 tragedy, former FBI director James Comey and a similar vehicle attack in New York.
Authorities discovered that he had unsuccessfully tried to buy a gun at two Seattle-area gun stores, and a search of Mohamed's Seattle home turned up an anti-Semitic pamphlet, De Larkin told the judge.
Brian Michael Jenkins, an expert on vehicle ramming attacks, concluded that what happened that night was consistent with other attacks throughout the world in which vehicles are used to cause death or great bodily injury, the detective testified.
Under cross-examination, De Larkin acknowledged that he has not seen any video footage of the alleged attack. Mohamed -- who is acting as his own attorney -- did not make a motion to dismiss the case. He was handcuffed and led back to a courtroom lockup after being ordered to return to a downtown Los Angeles courtroom April 17 for arraignment.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore told reporters last November that the pair had just left a synagogue when they encountered Mohamed.
"He's yelling out hateful remarks regarding Jewish heritage and regarding these people of faith," Moore said then. "They watch him as he then turns his vehicle directly at them."
Mohamed was arrested by police after crashing into another vehicle several blocks away. Mohamed, a U.S. citizen who was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, had been in the Los Angeles area for "a very short period of time" prior to the attack, according to the police chief. He said investigators believe Mohamed 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.
At Mohamed's first court appearance Nov. 27, a prosecutor told a judge that authorities believe Mohamed traveled to California specifically to commit the crime, while an attorney who was representing him at the time countered that the prosecution's theory was "purely speculative."
At another hearing three days later, Brazil ordered Mohamed's bail to be doubled from $500,000 to $1 million and suspended criminal proceedings after a defense attorney expressed doubt about the defendant's mental competency. He was later found competent to stand trial.
Mohamed tried to speak several times during a subsequent hearing, telling the judge at one point, "Your honor, I'm not a terrorist."
At a Jan. 10 hearing, the judge refused the defense's request to lower Mohamed's bail or to release him on his promise to return to court.
She noted that she had considered electronic or GPS monitoring for Mohamed, who has no local ties, and determined that it would be "insufficient to ensure the public is protected."