(CNN) — Police in Los Angeles have charged a man with two hate crimes after he allegedly shot two different Jewish men earlier this week, US Attorney Martin Estrada said in a news conference Friday.
The 28-year-old is accused of targeting and shooting two Jewish men “because they were Jewish or he believed them to be Jewish” and was “motivated by hate,” Estrada said. If convicted on both hate crime charges, the suspect could face up to life in prison, according to Estrada.
The man was arrested Thursday and taken into federal custody, he said. He is expected to be arraigned sometime Friday afternoon, he said.
An “exhaustive” search for the suspect was launched after the victims were shot separately in the city’s western Pico-Robertson neighborhood on Wednesday and Thursday, about three blocks apart, the Los Angeles Police Department said in a release.
Both victims were Jewish men, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said. Officials have not publicly identified the two men, who were dressed in a manner that visibly identified their Jewish faith as they wore black coats and head coverings, Estrada said.
“These attacks against members of our Jewish community in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood are absolutely unacceptable,” Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement. “At a time of increased anti-Semitism, these acts have understandably set communities on edge. Just last December, I stood blocks away from where these incidents occurred as we celebrated the first night of Hanukkah together.”
Bass said she’s been speaking with community and religious leaders regarding the attacks and said that many residents felt unsafe in their community.
The shootings come amid a rise in antisemitic violence nationwide. According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic attacks reached an all-time high in the US in 2021 — up 34% from 2020.
Estrada expressed “great concern” over the rise in hate crimes and said “federal law enforcement will continue to do everything possible to carry out our important mission to safeguard the community, to uphold civil rights and to uphold the rule of law.”
Regional Director of Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles, Jeffrey Abrams, said the Jewish community has felt “terrorized” since the attacks, despite a suspect in custody.
The suspect was found in Riverside County, about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles, police said. Detectives found several pieces of evidence, they said, including a rifle and handgun.
The announcement of the arrest confirmed earlier reporting by CNN, which was the first news organization to report the suspect was taken into custody.
Earlier, authorities said they were searching for a suspect described as an Asian male with a mustache and goatee, possibly driving a white compact car. A license plate recorded near the scene of one of the shootings assisted authorities in locating and arresting the suspect, a law enforcement source told CNN.
“The facts of the case led to this crime being investigated as a hate crime,” Los Angeles police said.
The FBI is also investigating the attacks as hate crimes, Bass said in her statement.
Federal agents responsible for domestic terrorism and hate crime investigations are examining the suspect’s past to determine possible violations of federal law, a source familiar with the investigation told CNN.
At around 10 a.m. Wednesday, the first victim was walking to their vehicle when a man drove by and shot twice before fleeing the scene, a police spokesperson told CNN.
The following day, at around 8:30 a.m., the second victim was walking toward his home nearby when a man drove up and shot at him from inside a car, and then fled, the spokesperson said.
Both victims were taken to local hospitals and were in stable condition, the spokesperson said.
They were walking home from places of worship when they were shot, said Laura Fennell, Director of Communications for the Anti-Defamation League West.
The man shot Thursday is a member of the Beit El synagogue, which is about two blocks away from where police say he was shot, the synagogue confirmed to CNN. They did not identify the victim but said his injuries were minor.
“The victim that was shot today is a pillar of our community here at Beit El. He has been a dear member for many years,” Beit El said in an email Thursday. They added, “The victim had just concluded morning prayer services, walked to his car donned in his kippah, and was shot three times at point-blank range.”
“Our community is shaken to its core,” by the two shootings, Beit El said. “But we are strong and united.”
The synagogue said it is working with police to implement security measures. Los Angeles police and the sheriff’s department also said they are increasing law enforcement presence and patrols around the neighborhood and Jewish places of worship.
“The Los Angeles Police Department is aware of the concern these crimes have raised in the surrounding community. We have been in close contact with religious leaders as well as individual and organizational community stakeholders,” the department’s release said.
The investigation, which also includes state authorities, is ongoing and more information will be released in the coming days, police said.
The shootings in Los Angeles happened just a week after San Francisco authorities added a hate crime enhancement to charges against a man they said fired a replica gun inside a Bay-area synagogue earlier this month. No one was hurt.
The hate crime allegation against the suspect is tied to statements he made during the incident as well as social media posts he made involving “several postings of an individual in Nazi-type clothing,” San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said in a news conference. An attorney for the suspect, Deputy Public Defender Olivia Taylor, said outside the courthouse that the man is “not guilty of any hate crime.”
Days earlier in New Jersey, a man allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Bloomfield in an arson attempt. The suspect has been charged with a federal crime.
And in December, a 63-year-old man was assaulted in New York’s Central Park in what police called an antisemitic attack.
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