Los Angeles synagogue gunman evades capture

By Tom Tugend, November 5, 2009
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The Los Angeles Jewish community remained on alert this week as police continued their hunt for a gunman who shot and wounded two congregants at a Sephardic synagogue.

The shooting occurred last week in the underground garage of the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Synagogue in suburban north Hollywood.

A young man, described as dark-skinned and wearing a dark, hooded sweat shirt, approached one worshipper arriving for early morning services and tried to shoot him, but the gun jammed.

When a second congregant approached, the gunman shot both men in the legs, then fled and has not been found. The victims were identified as Maor Ben-Nissen, 53, and Allen Lasry, 38.

Yehuda Oz, 57, was inside the synagogue with about 20 other congregants, when he heard four shots. Then one of the victims ran into the synagogue, bleeding and screaming for help, Oz said.

Police immediately alerted all Los Angeles synagogues and Jewish institutions, which have maintained high levels of security since a shooting rampage 10 years ago at a Jewish community centre in the same San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. In that incident, half a dozen youngsters were wounded and a postman was killed.

Among the first on the scene at Adat Yeshurun was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, joined by the Hatzolah emergency aid team and representatives of Chabad, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Tensions throughout the city’s 60,000-strong Jewish community rose two hours after the synagogue shooting, when a police bomb squad arrived at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in mid-town Los Angeles to investigate a suspicious-looking canvas shopping bag on the premises.

After cordoning off the Reform synagogue, the oldest Jewish place of worship in Los Angeles, and conducting a three-hour search, police announced an all-clear.

The Sephardic synagogue’s membership of some 150 families is made up mainly of North African Jews, with a sprinkling of Latin American and Israeli Jews. It is located in the heart of a growing Orthodox community.

This week investigators had largely ruled out a hate crime or robbery as possible motives and suggested the shooting might have been related to a personal dispute.

Last updated: 3:06pm, November 2 2010