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L.A. synagogue shooting might be tied to Israeli organized crime

December 2, 2009 |  1:32 pm

LAPD detectives are investigating whether the shooting of two men at North Hollywood synagogue in October is the work of Israeli-connected organized crime.

The Oct. 29 shooting ignited fear that it was a hate crime, but Los Angeles police officials quickly ruled that out.  In the last few weeks, LAPD investigators have concentrated their resources on the idea that the shootings were designed to silence someone.

"It is something we are looking at, but we have made no definitive conclusions," Deputy Chief Michael Downing, chief of the LAPD's Counter Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, told The Times. 

Downing in recent days on a trip to Israel was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying, "The two victims had been kneecapped. That's not indicative of terrorism. It resembled a targeted, surgical strike," the Post reported. "They were targeted as part of a stern warning linked to a criminal organization."

But in an interview with The Times, the deputy chief said no one has absolutely decided the shootings were related to organized crime. Several law enforcement sources, however, say the investigation into the shootings has been focused  on criminals within the Israeli immigrant community. They say that one of the men shot in the attack was believed to be the target of the shooting, and the other was shot because he was in wrong place at the wrong time. 

The shooting occurred at 6:19 a.m., after the victims parked their cars in the underground garage of Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Synagogue, a small congregation on a quiet residential street. Morning services were underway. A young gunman, dark-skinned and wearing a dark hooded sweat shirt, approached one man near a stairwell and tried to shoot, police said, but his gun jammed.

The second congregant noticed the commotion and approached the gunman, who then shot both men in the legs.

LAPD sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because the investigation is ongoing, said that the shooting has sparked fear in the temple community and that detectives are struggling to get cooperation from some parties.

--Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Los Angeles Times