A Seattle man was charged Tuesday with a hate crime after prosecutors say he tried to run down two men outside of a Los Angeles synagogue.
Mohamed Mohamed, 32, yelled religious epithets at the men out of his car window, and tried to hit them on Friday in the city’s Hancock Park neighborhood, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. The victims, who were walking on a sidewalk, were unharmed.
Mohamed drove away and crashed into another vehicle shortly after, police said. He was arrested at the scene.
Mohamed was arraigned on two felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon – his vehicle – as well as the hate crime. He entered a not-guilty plea, according to Paul Eakins, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
His court-appointed public defender, Michael R. Enger, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Mohamed, who was being held on $500,000 bail, faces a possible maximum sentence of eight years and eight months in state prison if convicted, prosecutors said.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore noted that the incident on Friday took place about a month after a gunman killed 11 worshippers and injured at least six more at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
That attack was believed to be the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Horace Frank told reporters on Monday the two victims, a 37-year-old and 57-year-old man, had just left an event at a synagogue, when they noticed a suspicious driver.
“The victims, obviously were caught off guard by this and they maintained attention on the individual as they crossed the street,” Frank said. “At some point, they saw the individual run a red light and make a U-turn, accelerate the vehicle at a high rate of speed, deliberately driving that vehicle towards them.”
“That monitoring, that vigilance is what saved their lives,” Moore said of the victims.
One of the men, who asked to remain anonymous, told CNN affiliate KCAL/KCBS: “We both scrambled in different directions, so he slammed on his brakes and obviously missed us, thank God.”
A security camera captured the car reversing and trying to strike the men again, according to KCAL/KCBS.
“He clearly was going at us, and it was even more clear on round two,” the victim told the station.
Mohamed was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, but lives in the United States as a US citizen, said Frank, who declined to release additional details on Mohamed. Police said he gave the name Mohamed Mohamed Abdi when he was taken into custody.
Authorities said they haven’t identified a motive and don’t believe Mohamed’s alleged actions were part of a larger plot.
“We believe at this point that this is a lone individual who … expressed anti-Semitic remarks and then acted on those by attacking these two individuals repeatedly with his vehicle,” Moore said. “However, we are not naive to the extent that he could have relationships or connections with other similarly like-minded individuals, and we’re mindful of that.”
Nationwide, hate crime incidents reported to the FBI increased about 17% in 2017 compared with 2016, according to statistics released this month by the FBI.
Read the FBI’s annual “Hate Crime Statistics” report.
In the city of Los Angeles, Frank said the number of reported hate crimes has slightly increased. There were 231 reported hate crimes year-to-date compared with 223 during the same time last year, according to Frank.
In a message to the Jewish community and all residents, Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Koretz said: “This type of hate and violence will not stand.”
CNN’s Stella Chan contributed to this report.